It’s time to get a head start on preparation for national tests. And that means it’s also time to take stock of what materials you have, and make decisions about whether you need to update them or invest in some new resources. Likewise, you need to look at the toolkits you use for the regular assessments you administer throughout the year to measure maths progress.
One very worthy set of flexible resources comes from HeadStart Primary. It is tailor-made for helping teachers monitor and analyse children’s progress against the objectives of the maths curriculum. The company has produced mathematics assessment tests for Years 1-6 that mirror the style and flavour of SATs. There is a hard-copy, A4, spiral-bound book for each year group (the contents of which is also provided on a CD-ROM), all of which come with end-of-term tests on a disc. To me, they look just the job for keeping a very close eye on how children are performing across the board in maths throughout the year.
The body of subject knowledge to be assessed by these tests is known as the ‘content domain’, and in each year group there are distinct content areas which are evaluated. There are three tests for each domain (Test A, B and C), but it isn’t proposed that all three are completed.
Writing maths tests is far from easy because the level of difficulty has to be right and the focus should be on the child as a learner. It’s good to see, therefore, that the materials have children’s best learning interests at heart. The tests themselves have been expertly written by teachers with many years of experience, so they have been crafted with insight, care and an attention to detail from practitioners in the know. Not only can they be used as summative snap-shots, they are effective for formative purposes, and I would certainly use them as teaching tools rather than just assessment checks. Using the tests in a climate of learning will soon reveal what children’s strengths are and what areas they need to improve.
The tests also benefit from a very clear, child-friendly design, with an uncomplicated layout that’s light on illustrations. They basically stick to the task in hand without unnecessary distractions. But, grand designs aside, what makes a good maths assessment boils down to the content, the skills assessed and the nature of the questions used.
A common criticism of maths questions is that they are fabricated, unfamiliar and without purpose. In these tests, yes, many of the questions are made-up, but they do have a context, and they do have a clear purpose. The language demand associated with a few of the questions might stretch some children, but on the whole the level of challenge is just right and the maths language is pitched appropriately. These tests have been well engineered, but if I had one criticism it would centre on the scarcity of ‘explain your answer’ type questions, which I’d like to see more of so children demonstrate their chain of reasoning.
Of course, a good maths test has to be easy to administer and mark, and these tests are a breeze, with ample notes provided. Answers can be found at the back of the books, and once they have been marked there is further direction on recording progress and assessing without levels.
The resources incorporate a staged system, with six progress stages that fall within ‘less than expected progress’, ‘expected progress’ and ‘more than expected progress’. This simple assessment system makes identifying progress painless. The books also come with learning-analysis grids and individual pupil objective record sheets. Test analysis software is available so that tests can be marked directly into the software.
A common mistake schools make is overloading children with tests believing that this will help prepare them. It doesn’t. What’s refreshing to see here is the advice that schools use these tests flexibly in order to facilitate meaningful data analysis. These tests are top-quality resources which, when applied consistently across a school, will provide an effective way of understanding each child’s maths ability. Used formatively, these excellent tests will provide you with valuable learning experiences, and at just £40 per year group they represent excellent value.