4.1 The scope of the writing assessment
In the 2018 to 2019 academic year, Scottish National Standardised Assessments in writing were available for P4, P7 and S3. At P1, children were presented with a single assessment combining elements of reading and writing. This is referred to as the P1 literacy assessment. For more information on the P1 literacy assessment, please see Section 3: Reading/Literacy.
The assessments of writing were based on elements of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), as articulated in the Benchmarks: Literacy and English, published in June 2017.
4.2 Coverage of the Curriculum for Excellence: Benchmarks and organisers
SNSA is just one part of the range of assessments that teachers use in making their evaluations of children's and young people's learning. As a standardised assessment to be completed within a limited time, using questions capable of being scored automatically, only some parts of the writing Benchmarks could be addressed. It was agreed that the writing assessments should be based on the assessment organisers Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation, which all fall under the curriculum organiser Tools for writing. Each of the questions selected for inclusion in SNSA writing assessments for the 2018 to 2019 academic year was aligned with a Benchmark statement from Tools for writing.
Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation were all substantially represented in the writing assessments for P4, P7 and S3, with Spelling having a slightly higher weighting in comparison with Grammar and Punctuation. This reflected the importance placed on this area of Tools for writing by the Scottish education experts involved in defining the basis of the assessment. The weighting across the three organisers for each stage in SNSA was roughly the same, and all three assessment organisers were addressed by at least five questions in the stage's full set, and in each learner's assessment, regardless of which path they took through the adaptive system. As such, in the school-level reports, teachers received information about the relationship between the learner's overall outcome and organiser level outcome for each of these areas at an individual learner level. In the rest of this section, features of the assessments of Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation for the three stages are described, with examples of questions for illustration.
The writing assessment in the 2018 to 2019 academic year was designed to assess spelling words and strategies, covering the range of skills and the progression articulated in the Benchmarks. At the lower levels, learners were assessed on their ability to spell relatively simple and commonly used vocabulary. As the difficulty of the spelling questions increased, and in the higher stage assessments, children and young people were also asked questions to assess their knowledge of less familiar words. To answer the questions correctly, learners may have needed to rely on strategies, such as their knowledge of phonics, spelling patterns and rules, and at the highest level may have been asked to spell specialised vocabulary.
Throughout, spelling was assessed in context, using a range of formats. One format was the cloze style, in which learners had to select the correct spelling from a range of options, either in a single sentence or in a short passage. In another, learners had to identify the incorrectly spelt word in a sentence.
Figure shows a typical Spelling question from the P4 writing assessment.
Figure 20: Example of a P4 Spelling item, 'Choose the incorrectly spelt word'
The question presented here required children to identify the incorrectly spelt word in a sentence, from a range of options. This question draws on the writing strategy of proofing and editing, which models for learners the importance of checking their writing to identify errors.
As can be seen in this P4 question, the context provided is a familiar classroom activity and all the words in the brief, grammatically simple sentence are common and relatively short. To answer this question correctly, the learner must know the correct spelling of the common word 'need', or know that the other options given are all spelt correctly. The incorrect options increase the difficulty of this item, as the third and fourth options include some slightly less familiar words ('plastic' and 'project'). This question is from the low end of the question difficulty range for P4. It was presented to learners that had found the first phase of the assessment relatively challenging. A minority of these learners answered it correctly.
This organiser focuses on general grammar points, addressing the skills, knowledge and understanding articulated in the Benchmarks. At P4, for example, it assessed children's ability to link sentences using common conjunctions, such as 'and', 'because' or 'but', while at the higher stages, a fuller and more complex range of conjunctions was assessed. Questions addressing the Grammar organiser also assessed usage of prepositions, verb forms, adjectives and pronouns. At P4, the questions tended to relate to simple sentences. At P7 and S3, the challenge was increased by introducing longer, more complex language structures, such as compound sentences, conditionals and negative clauses; or by asking questions for which the child or young person needed to identify the relationship between two pronouns, where there was some ambiguity. In summary, as well as the grammar itself becoming more challenging, the contexts in which learners were asked to demonstrate their skills became more complex in the higher stage assessments.
Figure presents an example of an S3 Grammar question, a typical example of the cloze (or gap fill) writing questions. As in the reading assessments, SNSA writing questions were often presented as 'units': a group of questions based on a single piece of stimulus. These units enabled more sustained context to be provided, and were used to assess all three writing assessment organisers. This stimulus text uses quite commonplace, simple vocabulary, but the sentence structures are relatively complex, allowing for a range of grammatical forms to be addressed.
Figure 21: Example of an S3 writing unit with a Grammar question, 'Oh Brother Question 1'
In this question, young people were asked to identify the correct adverb to fill the first space in the text, from a given range of options. Since all the options provided would be grammatical matches for the sentence and, apart from the last option (just), fit syntactically in the sentence, this question assesses the learners' knowledge of the meaning of these cohesive devices and their correct application in context. This question was rated as coming from the low end of the question difficulty range. It was presented to learners who had found the first phase of the assessment relatively challenging. Most of these learners were able to answer this question correctly.
The question in Figure is based on the same text as that in Figure 21, and asks about the second space in the given paragraph. In contrast to the first question, which requires an understanding of the meaning of the options presented, this second question clearly addresses knowledge of the correct lexical form, rather than meaning. Learners were asked to choose the participle required by the sentence structure.
Figure 22: Example of an S3 writing unit with a Grammar question, 'Oh Brother Question 2'
This question comes from the middle of the question difficulty range for the S3 writing assessment and was answered correctly by a majority of those learners to whom it was presented.
The 2018 to 2019 SNSA assessed the organiser Punctuation in a variety of ways. These included asking learners to identify the location of a given punctuation mark, to choose between sentences to identify the correctly punctuated example, and to choose the missing punctuation in a sentence from a range of options.
In the P4 assessment, questions from this organiser focused mainly on the full stop, question mark and exclamation mark, and the correct use of capital letters. This punctuation was assessed in relatively simple sentences. At P7, the range of punctuation was extended to include commas, parentheses and the uses of inverted commas and punctuation within speech, in more complex sentences. At S3, colons and semi-colons were added to the range of punctuation marks addressed, and learners were asked to identify correct usage of punctuation marks in increasingly complex sentences. There was some variation across stages, with more demanding questions at each stage drawing on some content from the stage above.
As for the other writing organisers, questions targeting the Punctuation organiser were presented either using stand-alone sentences or in units that used a passage of text with several questions attached to it.
Figure presents an example of a P7 writing question from the Punctuation organiser. It is a typical example of a question in which children were asked to choose the sentence with the correct punctuation from a range of four or five options.
Figure 23: Example of a P7 Punctuation question, 'Choose the sentence with the correct use of inverted commas'
In this question, children had to identify the correct punctuation, where a single sentence of direct speech is broken up by information about who is speaking. To answer this question correctly, learners had to work through several steps: first, to recognise that Monika is the speaker and not part of the quoted speech; second, identify that the second quoted phrase is a fragment that forms part of a single quoted sentence; and third, show their knowledge of how to use punctuation to link a single sentence broken up by the internal placement of the speaker. This question was answered correctly by a minority of those learners who encountered it. Of the incorrect answers, learners were more likely to select the third option than either of the first two, suggesting that while most learners may have recognised that Monika was the speaker, many of them were not able to correctly punctuate the split quoted sentence.
Figure shows another example of a question from the Punctuation organiser. In this question type, young people were presented with a sentence and asked to identify the correct location of the missing punctuation: in this case, parentheses. The question is from the S3 writing assessment.
Figure 24: Example of an S3 Punctuation question, 'Identify the location of parentheses'
In this question, a relatively simple sentence uses the context of Scottish history. To answer this question correctly, young people had to identify that lifespan numerals should be put in parentheses. Of the incorrect answers, young people were most likely to select the fourth option. While these learners may have correctly identified that this phrase was not grammatically required by the sentence, they did not recognise the need for parentheses around the lifespan. This question was from the low end of the S3 question difficulty range. It was presented to learners who had found the first two phases of the assessment challenging. Among learners who encountered it, a minority answered this question correctly.
4.3 National outcomes for writing
4.3.1 Overall outcome
Charts 17a to 17c show the percentages of learners with outcomes in each band for writing across all three stages (P4, P7, and S3), both overall and when considering each of the three organisers Spelling (S), Grammar (G) and Punctuation (P) separately. The bar charts indicate the proportions of learners with outcomes in each of the six bands, in line with SNSA reports for the 2018 to 2019 academic year, which are specific to each stage.
The charts show that across all stages and all three organisers, the highest proportions of learners had outcomes corresponding to the two middle bands. The second largest proportion of learners had outcomes corresponding to the two upper bands. There were relatively smaller proportions of learners with outcomes in the two lowest bands; however, among P4 learners, the proportions in these bands were somewhat larger.
Chart 17a: Writing outcomes for P4
Chart 17b: Writing outcomes for P7
Chart 17c: Writing outcomes for S3
Charts 18a to 18c show writing outcomes for boys and girls for each stage. Outcomes are given for writing overall and also by organiser.
Across all stages, there were notable differences between boys and girls. There were consistently larger proportions of girls with outcomes in the two upper bands than was the case for boys. The percentages of learners with outcomes corresponding to the two lower bands were also smaller among girls than among boys.
Chart 18a: Writing outcomes distributed by sex for P4
At P4, the largest proportions of boys and girls achieved outcomes in the middle two bands. There were more girls than boys with outcomes in the two upper bands, and fewer girls than boys with outcomes in the lower two bands. There was a similar pattern for each organiser. There were somewhat greater differences in the proportions of girls compared to boys when considering outcomes for Grammar and Punctuation.
Chart 18b: Writing outcomes distributed by sex for P7
At P7, a higher of proportion of girls than boys achieved outcomes in the upper two bands and there was a higher percentage of boys than girls with outcomes in the lower two bands. This finding holds for writing overall and by organiser. There was a notably higher proportion of girls than boys achieving outcomes in the upper two capacity bands for Punctuation.
Chart 18c: Writing outcomes distributed by sex for S3
At S3, the outcomes were quite similar to those at other stages. The differences between the proportions of boys and girls with outcomes in the two highest bands were somewhat smaller than in P7; however, when considering Punctuation, it was again the case that girls achieved higher proportions in the upper two capacity bands.
4.3.3 Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation
This section reviews the distribution of learners for all stages across categories that reflect the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD). To simplify the display of outcomes and aid their interpretation, we have divided the original 20 categories (vigintiles) into three combined categories of socio-economic background. These combined categories are: SIMD 1–4, indicating the bottom socio-economic quintile (that is, the most deprived children and young people, those in vigintiles 1 to 4); SIMD 5–16, indicating the three middle quintiles (vigintiles 5 to 16); and SIMD 17–20, indicating the top socio-economic quintile (that is the least deprived children and young people, those in vigintiles 17 to 20).
Charts 19a to 19c illustrate that, at each stage, the proportions of learners in the two upper bands were noticeably larger in the least deprived group, as compared with the most deprived group.
There were also relatively larger proportions of learners with outcomes in the two lower bands in the most deprived group. This pattern was present in all stages, overall, and by each of the three writing organisers: Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation.
The differences in writing outcomes between children from the most and least deprived groups (SIMD 1–4 and SIMD 17–20) were similar across all stages (P4, P7 and S3). More children from the most deprived group (SIMD 1–4) had outcomes in the lower two bands, whereas larger numbers of children in the least deprived group (SIMD 17–20) achieved outcomes in the two upper bands.
Chart 19a: Writing outcomes distributed by SIMD* for P4
*The Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation grades the socio-economic condition of the population over 20 categories (vigintiles). SIMD 1 to 4 correspond to the most deprived 20% of the population. SIMD 5 to 16 correspond to the middle 60% of the population. SIMD 17 to 20 correspond to the least deprived 20% of the population.
In P4, almost twice as many learners in the least deprived group had outcomes in the two upper bands as compared to those in the most deprived group. At the lower end of the capacity scale, about twice as many learners had outcomes in the two lower bands among learners from the most deprived group as compared to those in the least deprived group. The outcomes were broadly similar for each of the three organisers.
Chart 19b: Writing outcomes distributed by SIMD for P7
Chart 19c: Writing outcomes distributed by SIMD for S3
Among both P7 and S3 learners, most learners across all SIMD groups had outcomes in the two middle bands. However, among those from the least deprived group, there were much larger proportions of learners with outcomes in the two upper bands than among those in the most deprived group. This pattern was also present in each of the three organisers. However, when considering Spelling, the difference is somewhat smaller.
4.3.4 Ethnic background
This section looks at differences in writing outcomes between learners with 'White Scottish' and other ethnic backgrounds. Charts 20a to 20c show the percentages of learners with outcomes in the bands of reading/literacy for these two groups.
When comparing writing outcomes across the two comparison groups, there were relatively small differences, both in terms of overall outcome and when considering outcomes for each of the three organisers. There were lower proportions with outcomes in the two upper bands among learners from a 'White Scottish' background than among other learners. These differences were less pronounced when considering assessment content related to the organiser Grammar.
Chart 20a: Writing outcomes distributed by ethnic background for P4
Chart 20b: Writing outcomes distributed by ethnic background for P7
Chart 20c: Writing outcomes distributed by ethnic background for S3
4.3.5 Free School Meal Entitlement
This section reviews differences in writing outcomes between learners with an entitlement to free school meals and other learners. Charts 21a to 21c show the percentages of learners who achieved outcomes in each band within each of the two groups.
There were notably lower percentages of learners with outcomes in the two upper bands among learners registered for FME in comparison to others. There were also relatively higher proportions of learners with outcomes in the two lower bands among learners with FME. This pattern was similar across all stages for each of the three organisers.
Chart 21a: Writing outcomes distributed by FME for P4
Chart 21b: Writing outcomes distributed by FME for P7
Chart 21c: Writing outcomes distributed by FME for S3
4.3.6 Additional Support Needs
This section reviews differences in outcomes between learners who were identified as having Additional Support Needs (ASN) and others. Charts 22a to 22c show the proportions of learners in the six bands within these two groups across stages.
Across all stages, the percentages of learners with outcomes in the two upper bands were notably higher among learners not identified as having ASN. There were also relatively larger proportions with outcomes in the lower two bands among learners with ASN. Typically, almost twice as many learners with ASN had outcomes in the lower two bands compared to other learners. This pattern was present across all stages and for each of the three writing organisers.
Chart 22a: Writing outcomes distributed by ASN for P4
Chart 22b: Writing outcomes distributed by ASN for P7
Chart 22c: Writing outcomes distributed by ASN for S3
4.3.7 Looked After Children at Home and Looked After Children Away from Home
This sections reviews differences between learners classified (within SEEMiS) as Looked After Children at Home (LAH) or Looked After Children Away from Home (LAA), and other learners without such a classification. Charts 23a to 23c illustrate the proportions of learners with outcomes at each band for learners in these two categories.
Across all three stages, there were notable differences in writing outcomes between the two comparison groups. Among learners classified as LAH and/or LAA, there were considerably lower proportions achieving outcomes in the two upper bands than among other learners; typically, there were two to three times as many learners without LAH and/or LAA achieving outcomes in this region. Likewise, there were much larger proportions of learners with outcomes in the two lower bands for LAH and/or LAA than among other learners. This pattern was similar across all stages, both for writing overall and for each of the three organisers.
Chart 23a: Writing outcomes distributed by LAH/LAA for P4
At P4, about half of the learners with LAH or LAA achieved outcomes in the lower two bands, while a third or fewer among other learners had outcomes in this region.
Chart 23b: Writing outcomes distributed by LAH/LAA for P7
Chart 23c: Writing outcomes distributed by LAH/LAA for S3
In P7 and S3, the proportions of learners with LAH and/or LAA in the two lower bands tended to be slightly smaller, but the size of the differences in outcome for these learners as compared to other learners was similar.
4.3.8 English as an Additional Language
Charts 24a to 24c compare learners by language background: English as an Additional Language (EAL) compared with all other learners. The category 'EAL' refers to those learners whose record in SEEMiS showed that they had English as an additional language. The 'Not EAL' category comprises both learners who were recorded as not having EAL and those for whom there was no entry in this field.
When comparing proportions in bands between groups of learners for whom English is an additional language (EAL) and those with English as their first language, there were minimal differences.
When considering only assessment material related to the organiser Grammar, there were small but notable differences for learners with English as their first language. There were similar differences across all stages. When considering only assessment content related to Spelling, there were very small differences for learners with English as their first language, most notable among learners at P7.
Chart 24a: Writing outcomes distributed by EAL for P4
Chart 24b: Writing outcomes distributed by EAL for P7
Chart 24c: Writing outcomes distributed by EAL for S3