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.
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The Implementation of the SNSA
“We should agree in advance the type of help to give and not give children during the SNSA and stick to it. Otherwise we won’t have a common understanding of what the scores actually mean for future teaching.”
“If a child gets upset, the adult needs to think hard about how they presented it.”
“We need staff development on SNSA. If you’re busy, bite-sized videos available online are easier than webinars you have to pre-book or things you can only access online while you are in school.”
“I was amazed about what other people had been told. I didn’t know we could stop mid-way, that there were practice activities they could do beforehand or that I could let children choose what [technology] to use.”
“I did it as a structured observation. I noted where [children] made lucky guesses. I also jotted down strategies they used, whether they persisted, how they coped when they didn’t really know the answer.”
“We had a really good training session from the local authority beforehand so I knew what it was all about.”
“The instructions are vague, especially about pupils entitled to learning support or with English as an Additional Language.”
Some Forum members with class commitments had received little or no information about implementing the SNSA; children were simply extracted from their class, they had been given minimal information and were unaware of the kinds of benchmarks and outcomes the SNSA assessed or the implementation choices that could be made. The current training strategy, with Webinars, video materials and ‘tutor’ training materials was poorly advertised and local authority meetings did not always reach P1 classroom teachers. There is no printed manual that describes what the SNSA offers or how it works. The digital training materials are available on the SNSA website, which can only be accessed from an approved IP address (i.e. at school or via a VPN link to the school server). This does not offer sufficient ‘reach’ across the profession and teachers who are committed full-time in school cannot easily access training that is only offered at specific times or via the school intranet.
Forum members welcome the knowledge that practitioners decide when to implement the SNSA and that the assessment can be interrupted for children if necessary. They would welcome clearer communication of this, as well as further advice on the practicalities of organising the SNSA, accompanied by short ‘Implementation and Administration Checklists’ detailing practical measures that senior management teams and class teachers should consider for the SNSA process to run smoothly.
Forum members had different kinds of engagement in SNSA. Some Forum members did not execute the SNSA themselves and a few had been given little or no information about their children’s reaction to the SNSA or what the assessment could show. This is obviously not ideal. Even those Forum members who implemented the SNSA with their own class did not always appreciate the range of implementation decisions they could make. They did, however, find it interesting and useful to observe how individual P1 children engaged with the various SNSA items. Observing how children tackled various items is a good reason for suggesting that class teachers implement the SNSA for their own children. Some Forum members felt that this was not always practical and that it could enrich professional discussion if implementation (and observation) was shared between the class teacher and other educators. Some senior leaders found it helpful to see for themselves how individual children responded so they could discuss these observations with the class teacher, who obviously holds a wider knowledge of the child. Where such observation took place, professionals noted a range of behaviours, including: when children used the ‘read aloud’ features; the strategies used to answer particular questions; when they used materials, revisited or checked questions and information before answering; which children appeared to be ‘swipe happy’ or guessing at answers; which children enjoyed challenging questions and which were unsettled by them; which children appeared tired or lacking in concentration; and which children needed (and took) a break. Forum members felt that this kind of observation is particularly helpful for P1 children, given the particular impact of differences in age/maturity across a P1 class, and the different level and quality of experiences that P1 children bring to school.
Forum members feel that more specific advice/direction needs to be given about:
- The concrete materials to be provided. The current instructions are unclear. Obviously a child who completes the SNSA with no materials on offer is in a different position from one who has materials readily available and who uses them. Perhaps the guidance should say ‘Provide all children with the materials they would normally get in class… ’, and suggest the teacher or supervisory adult might note when a child did/did not use them, and maybe the strategies used. Some Forum members used such procedural information about how individual children approached SNSA tasks to inform their knowledge of the child, and feed into professional reflection and dialogue.
- The amount, and nature, of help to give children. The guidance could suggest useful phrases to use and also specify the kinds of help that should not be given. This is important to ensure a common understanding between teachers and school senior leaders about what the SNSA data might mean so that appropriate interpretations are made.
- The importance of offering the same technology for the SNSAs that is used in the P1’s normal ICT curriculum so that they are familiar with working a ‘drag and drop’ or ‘swipe’ mechanism.
- The value, as noted earlier in this report, of allowing children to play with the ‘Practice Assessments’, and engage with them multiple times if necessary to familiarise themselves with both the technology and the style of the questions. This can be done several days prior to the SNSA. Some Forum members did not know practice assessments were available, and others introduced them only at the start of the SNSA assessment (which made the SNSA process rather long).
- The importance of the SNSA assessments being administered by someone familiar to the child, be it a senior leader in the school, class teacher or classroom assistant.
- The importance of involving P1 class teachers in school decisions about how to implement the SNSA so that their knowledge of specific classroom routines, activities and children informs the process.
- The importance of noting that if a child becomes distressed for any reason, the educator has a professional and moral responsibility to intervene. Although many educators would find this advice unnecessary, some Forum members feel that, given media stories about this, the instruction should be explicitly stated.
- The adaptive nature of the SNSA necessarily involves children in engaging with some items that they will find challenging and teachers should consider children’s reactions to these. Scottish schools strive to teach for a ‘Growth Mindset’, where children (and their educators) are confident to try unfamiliar or challenging tasks and learn from them. Those with a ‘Fixed Mindset’ prefer to tackle only familiar tasks that are well within their capabilities, which results in less efficient learning.
- The need for greater clarity and guidance on the kinds of reasonable support and adaptations required for children with Additional Support Needs or English as an Additional Language. This, for example, might mean ensuring an adult reads instructions to the child (because the child cannot attend to the electronic voice of the SNSA) or that an adult records the child’s answers (because the child cannot ‘swipe’ or ‘click’ accurately).
- The procedures for giving children breaks, encouraging them to attend more closely to a task, or to attempt a task rather than give up, and ways to record this information to enable a shared understanding of what the SNSA data might mean.
- How long individual children took to complete the SNSA.
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]
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