Scottish National Standardised Assessments: recommendations from P1 Practitioner Forum

The P1 Practitioner Forum was formed to give P1 teachers a voice in the debate concerning the Scottish National Standardised Assessment (SNSA) for P1, and to generate practical advice to address the well-documented challenges and discussions that arose from SNSA’s first year of implementation.

Executive Summary

The establishment of a P1 Practitioner Forum was one of the recommendations of the Scottish Government’s 2017/18 Scottish National Standardised Assessment (SNSA) User Review report published in August 2018. The objective was to create a professional Forum to advise the Scottish Government and education policy and practitioner communities on the implementation and use of SNSA in Primary 1 classrooms. The Forum has an independent chairperson and the majority of members are Primary 1 practitioners nominated by local authorities and professional networks. Other members are school leaders with responsibility for administering SNSAs, representatives from stakeholder groups, including Unions and independent bodies, academics and researchers. Where possible these people also have Primary 1 teaching experience. The Forum has served to give P1 practitioners a voice in the debate on standardised assessment and an opportunity to discuss with other professionals the implementation of the Scottish National Standardised Assessments in P1.

The decision to establish the Forum was taken in advance of the separate decision by Ministers to set up an independent review of P1 assessments led by David Reedy. One possible outcome of that review is a decision to stop the assessments. The work of the Forum does not pre-judge the outcome of the review, but helps ensure that, if the P1 assessments are to continue, steps are being taken to enhance their value and to improve the experience of those involved.

The Forum has considered recommendations about the SNSAs’ suitability for, and fit with, Early Level curriculum planning and assessment principles and with Primary 1 play-based pedagogies. The recommendations in this report are relevant to Primary 1 practitioners and school leadership teams and to politicians, third sector organisations, local authorities, Regional Improvement Collaboratives, Education Scotland, and the Scottish Government. The report suggests some of the agencies and system actors that might be responsible, with partner organisations, for ensuring the collaborative implementation of each recommendation.

This report on the discussions and recommendations of the Forum is organised under the following four topics:

  • The purpose of the SNSA
  • The SNSA fit with play-based pedagogies
  • The implementation of the SNSA
  • Using the SNSA data

"I don’t think the purposes were very clear from the start. I’m fine if it’s a snapshot of the children at a point in time in some areas of learning. I’m even fine if it’s about national standards in those areas. I’m not fine if it’s a high-stakes, be-all-and-end-all assessment."

In relation to the purposes of the SNSA, the Forum recommends that the Scottish Government should ensure:

1a That there is a clear national rationale setting out the possible purposes and uses of the SNSA within the broader assessment framework of Scottish schools. [Responsibility: Scottish Government and Education Scotland]

1b That this rationale is publicly available. [Responsibility: Scottish Government]

1c That each school indicates its own specific purposes and policy for SNSA, accounting for the school context, its wider assessment policy and how the SNSA and other data are woven into professional conversations. There should be a clear link between these stated purposes and the procedures for ensuring that SNSA and other data inform teaching and learning discussions, planning, monitoring and assessment. [Responsibility: Scottish Government, Local Authorities, Schools]

In relation to the SNSA fit with play-based pedagogies, the Forum recommends that the Scottish Government should ensure:

2a That there is support for play-based approaches as an important pedagogy to deliver the learning that Curriculum for Excellence articulates, and practical exemplars and explanations of how play-based literacy and numeracy learning/teaching in P1 address a wide range of the Curriculum for Excellence experiences, outcomes and benchmarks. [Responsibility: Scottish Government, Education Scotland]

2b That there is detailed consideration of the format and presentation of every SNSA item added to the item-bank to ensure it is appealing and intuitive for P1 children to use. [Responsibility: Scottish Government]

2c Clear guidance is available on how the SNSA might be presented in ways that offer P1 children choice and agency, and be interrupted if children need a break, and perhaps a mechanism to record such interruptions. [Responsibility: Scottish Government, Education Scotland]

2d Worked examples are made available detailing how SNSA data might be triangulated with observational data from play-based activities and interactions to provide robust evidence of learning and/or attainment, with a choice of sustainable and time-efficient recording formats. [Responsibility: Scottish Government, Education Scotland]

In relation to the implementation of the SNSA, the Forum recommends that the Scottish Government should ensure:

3a Implementation guidance and training are available online, outside of the SNSA system and maybe on a protected forum such as ‘GLOW’, so that all educators can access it easily at a time that is convenient to them. [Responsibility: Scottish Government, Education Scotland]

3b A list of the online training opportunities about how to implement SNSA is available, with clear signposts to indicate the suitability for class teachers, other school staff, senior school leaders or local authority staff. [Responsibility: Scottish Government]

3c Online staff development videos are made available on how SNSA implementation has been organised in different school/class situations, including play-based and non play-based classrooms. They should offer advice on using the practice assessments as playful activities and on children choosing the school technology they use for the SNSA. [Responsibility: Scottish Government, Education Scotland]

3d That school staff make their own decisions about when and how SNSAs are conducted, and how the SNSA data are woven into professional conversations about children, teaching and the curriculum. [Responsibility: Scottish Government, Local Authorities, Schools]

3e That clear expectations are set that senior leaders in schools will discuss the SNSA implementation arrangements with P1 class teachers, and will seek their views and advice on this and on working with particular children. [Responsibility: Scottish Government, Local Authorities, Schools]

3f A succinct ‘Implementation Checklist’ is published which includes an ‘Administration Checklist’ of practical things senior leaders and class teachers should consider/decide before implementing the SNSAs. [Responsibility: Scottish Government, Education Scotland]

3g Stronger guidance is made available to inform how teachers interact with, and support, children during the SNSA, particularly on: how much help to give P1 children; the kinds of help not to give; how to choose the materials provided; when it is appropriate to offer a break, and specific kinds of support for children with Additional Support Needs or English as an Additional Language. [Responsibility: Scottish Government, Education Scotland]

3h That there are time-efficient ways for educators to record their professional observations of P1 children’s SNSA experience if they so wish. These may be paper-based and outside the SNSA system. [Responsibility: Schools]

In relation to the use of SNSA data, the Forum recommends that the Scottish Government should ensure:

4a Training opportunities are available to help practitioners explore the nature of SNSA data, its links to Curriculum for Excellence and the information it can generate about the learning of both individual children and groups of children. [Responsibility: Scottish Government]

4b Clear signals in the SNSA reporting and recording formats to show which items contribute to professional judgements about which experiences, outcomes and benchmarks. This will widen understanding of what SNSA does and doesn’t do. [Responsibility: Scottish Government, Education Scotland]

4c The publication of case studies and exemplar material showing how educators use the SNSA data and triangulate it with other assessment evidence to make robust, holistic judgements and detailed analysis of a child’s learning. [Responsibility: Scottish Government, Education Scotland]

4d Online staff development materials showing effective and time-efficient use of SNSA data for analytical and responsive teaching, class planning, school management and professional evaluation purposes. [Responsibility: Scottish Government, Education Scotland]

4e The publication of technical reports on SNSA data and on teacher judgement data to assist educators, researchers, Education Scotland and local authority staff in making educationally sound decisions about how to respond to children’s needs, and not overplay the reliability or predictive capacity of the standardised assessment data. [Responsibility: Scottish Government]

4f Detailed measures are in place to avoid the SNSA becoming ‘high stakes’ for children or for educators. This might include creating a ‘Code of Practice’ for data-use that outlines responsible, ethical, attainment discussions and decision-making processes, with systemic checks and balances that prevent misuse. [Responsibility: Scottish Government, Education Scotland]

4g That the teaching unions and school/local authority staff work to establish a forum for educators to debate ethical data-use, to discuss any concerns about data-use that may breach the Code of Practice, and processes that allow them to raise concerns with those who can act on them. [Responsibility: Scottish Government, Education Scotland, Local Authorities, Schools, Practitioners, Unions]



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