The P1 Practitioner Forum
Introduction: Scottish National Standardised Assessments
In 2017-18, as part of the National Improvement Framework for Scottish Education, the Scottish Government introduced Scottish National Standardised Assessments. The assessments provide a standard set of information that gives a snapshot of some aspects of the literacy and numeracy attainment of children in P1, P4, P7 and S3. They are intended to complement the assessment information that teachers gather as they observe and interact with children during normal classwork and play situations. In combination with observational and classwork data, the Scottish National Standardised Assessment data provide information to support teachers in identifying children’s progress. They can also help teachers to use the flexibility afforded by Curriculum for Excellence to adopt a diagnostic approach to curricula provision and to children’s learning.
The assessments address Curriculum for Excellence outcomes and benchmarks. They are adaptive, so the questions get easier or harder depending on how a child is doing. There is no pass-mark, and schools rather than the government or local authorities, decide when the assessments take place. They are provided free to local authorities and schools. Teachers can get instant feedback on the children’s attainment and can automatically generate a report on individual children, on groups of children or the whole class.
The P1 Practitioner Forum
There was much discussion of the Scottish National Standardised Assessments in the media and amongst politicians, unions, charities and pressure groups. These debates voiced particular concern about the appropriateness of SNSA for children in Primary 1, given the very different experiences of literacy and numeracy that young children bring to school and the play-based curriculum that operates in some Primary 1 classrooms in Scotland.
The Primary 1 Practitioner Forum was established to give Primary 1 practitioners a clear voice in these discussions. The main function of the Practitioner Forum is to share experiences and to offer advice to obtain an appropriate balance between assessment as part of ongoing learning within a play-based learning environment and the need to ensure teachers are supported in making nationally consistent judgements about children’s learning and progress. The outcome of the P1 Practitioner Forum is to inform national debates and support teachers, schools, local authorities, Regional Improvement Collaboratives, Scottish Government and Education Scotland by making recommendations about best use of the SNSAs in:
- Early level curriculum planning and assessment
- Play-based learning
Forum members were recruited by invitation through local authority and stakeholder networks. There was an emphasis on ensuring representation by professionals with practical experience of teaching Primary 1, of administering and managing the SNSA in school, and of using the data it generates. All nominating bodies were asked therefore, to nominate staff with experience of teaching Primary 1, who had a commitment to play-based or playful teaching approaches, and experience of implementing the SNSA in its first year.
To ensure that the Forum membership profile represented a range of opinions on the SNSA, all members were asked, before the first meeting, to provide up to four comments on their experience of the SNSAs. We categorized these comments as positive, negative or neutral. This analysis indicated that the members held a range of initial views about standardised assessment in Primary 1: 44.5% of the comments were broadly positive, 50% were broadly negative and 5.5% of the comments were neutral.
The work of the Forum is available for open scrutiny and after each meeting, the agenda, the meeting notes and the presentations were posted on Education Scotland’s National Improvement hub (see: Scottish National Standardised Assessment P1 Practitioner Forum). The independent chair located speakers and ensured a suitable level of scrutiny, focus and challenge.
The Forum members debated the extent to which standardised assessment data, when triangulated with other information about children’s learning, can inform Primary 1 teaching and planning decisions. In the context of this report, ‘triangulating data’ means considering the various insights offered by data derived from many different sources and making judgements that lead to a meaningful moment of practice. Such data might include: SNSA item scores; observations of children; conversations with children; children’s interests, home lives and outside school activities; their friendship groups; and their classwork. The term ‘triangulation’ suggests an active use of professional knowledge to verify data and forge more complete professional insights before determining what it might mean for teaching and learning. Debate of these issues in the Forum was informed and underpinned by the experiences, knowledge and observations of the P1 practitioners and senior school leaders, and by presentations from researchers, key stakeholder groups, assessment experts and academic knowledge brokers.
The Forum discussions repeatedly revisited particular topics. These included:
- the use of play-based pedagogies in Primary 1;
- the structure and focus of the SNSA and its links to Curriculum for Excellence;
- the purpose of standardised assessment in relation to teaching and learning;
- the role of observation and assessment in Primary 1;
- the limitations and affordances of the SNSA data, and implications for data-use;
- the organisation and implementation of the SNSA in schools, including the time required;
- the fit between the SNSA and children who are taught using play-based pedagogies;
- the staff development needs of P1 practitioners, school leaders and staff in other agencies in relation to the SNSA.
Forum Discussions and Recommendations
This report of the P1 Practitioner Forum discussions and recommendations is organised around four topics:
1. The Purpose of the SNSA
2. The SNSA fit with play-based pedagogies
3. Implementing the SNSA
4. Using the SNSA data