The Purpose of the SNSA
“It’s an additional tool in the assessment profile. It gives us some consistent elements and a language common across classes, schools & authorities.”
“I’d feel very uncomfortable if they used the results to put children in different classes depending on their assessment report.”
“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.”
“What is the purpose of the SNSA? We need a clear message ... Local authorities, schools, parents, HMIE, the media – they all need to hear the same thing.”
“I haven’t heard how my children did. They were just extracted from the class by the Depute to do the SNSA.”
“Obviously SNSA won’t capture everything. It’s extra information about what a child can do and what they can’t yet do.”
Forum members note that information about the purpose of the SNSA was delivered to local authorities and head teachers but did not always reach classroom teachers. Forum members appreciated the Deputy First Minister’s clarification that the SNSA is a professional tool, its primary purpose is to inform teaching, and that it should not supplant professional judgement about a child’s learning. All decisions about a child’s attainment at the end of Early Level rest with the teacher, who should draw on a range of evidence reflecting the capacities, skills and knowledge a child demonstrates during class activities, including play activities. Forum members are pleased that, in line with this, teachers/schools decide when SNSA information is most useful and that they should devise their own SNSA arrangements and rationale for using SNSA data, and for triangulating it with data from other teaching and learning activities.
There are different views about the purpose of the SNSA. Forum members recognise suitable school-based purposes as to:
- Provide a snapshot for the teacher of where an individual child is in aspects of literacy and numeracy learning at a particular point in time;
- Provide more detailed ‘deep dive’ data to better determine the kinds of teaching input and experiences likely to benefit a particular child;
- Provide information for teachers on the profile of their own class/groups, enabling them to make best use of the affordances of Curriculum for Excellence to re-balance the range of experiences and teaching so that it meets the children’s needs;
- Provide information for school leaders on how well the planned curriculum may be meeting particular experiences, outcomes and benchmarks of Curriculum for Excellence, and help them develop a profile of particular groups in the class/school. This information will enable the senior leadership team in a school to work with teachers to identify gaps in the curriculum or additional resources and experiences that might benefit children. It will also help them to reflect on, and modify, school planning systems or expectations to better address systematic patterns or persistent gaps in learning.
The last two purposes require a school to collect SNSA data from the whole year group within a limited time-span. An implementation model that echoes the old 5-14 Assessments (where individuals were assessed at different times, and only to confirm achievement of a level) cannot easily identify patterns across the class and enable professional reflection or school-wide conversations about how to adapt the planned curricula provision so that it better meets children’s needs.
Children have different experiences and personal histories of literacy and numeracy outside school, and learning does not progress at an even rate, or in a straight line. This is particularly true for children who begin their school career with less experience of using and enjoying literacy and numeracy in the home. The group recognised inappropriate purposes for SNSA as: using it to label children as ‘able’ or as ‘less able’; to make predictive judgements that result in setting, streaming or vertically grouping children for instruction and activities, or to justify decontextualized, narrow or skills-focused ‘practice’ activities. The Forum members recognise that the numbers in a class are too small for SNSA data to be used to make comparisons between schools, or between classes within a school, and that the predictive validity of SNSA assessments is unknown.
Purpose matters because it shapes action. Some Forum members worked with senior management teams who articulated clear and specific purposes for using SNSA in their school. Here, the SNSA data was triangulated with other data and used to inform discussions about children, teaching plans and the curriculum. However, this was not the experience of all Forum members. Senior management teams in schools should work with staff to articulate clear purposes for SNSA and how it contributes to their school’s mission.
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]