Guest Blog: Richard Slade on Solving the Puzzle of Literacy Assessment
By Richard Slade, Head Teacher
The removal of levels in 2014 found many schools in search of a new way to test, assess and monitor pupil progression without the assistance of a national framework. The levelling system would grade KS1 and KS2 students on their progression in literacy, to set the standard for next teaching steps by showing a teacher how well a student was performing in comparison to other students of their age group.
Without levels, many schools found themselves trialling new assessment frameworks in school to measure pupil progress and inform if intervention was necessary. Standardised testing offered schools this opportunity to re-think their assessment framework and monitor student performance throughout the academic year.
In 2014, Plumcroft Primary School sought to implement Star Assessments, to take control of the assessment framework to help its students reach their full literary potential. Now, five years into its Star Assessments journey, Plumcroft Primary School has set the foundations in place for its students to thrive in reading and the school has been encouraging students to meet and exceed expectations. Headteacher, Richard Slade, shares his experiences of life after levels and explains how he feels he has solved the puzzle of the literacy assessment.
Our Literacy Journey
After the removal of levels, we had to think very carefully about the way forward, and this became the perfect opportunity for us to trial standardised testing. First and foremost, I wanted to implement an assessment framework at Plumcroft Primary School that not only delivered on results but also helped to take the workload pressures off my teachers. Seeming like an optimistic ambition, we came across Star Assessments whilst working on curriculum delivery with an Outstanding school in Tower Hamlets that had been using Star Assessments for years.
A teacher’s time is incredibly valuable, and we wanted to make sure it was being spent in the best possible way. We implemented Star Assessments school-wide and opted to conduct half-termly assessments, ensuring that our teachers were receiving data every six weeks. We were immediately impressed by the sheer speed and scope of the information Star produced and found it to be very accurate.
Now in our fifth year of using the software, we truly believe that Star is the world’s best kept assessment secret. As Star Assessments are computer-adaptive tests, students can really show us what they know, reducing the pressures of high-stake exams, yet we still receive accurate information on progress and attainment. A key factor is that teachers trust the data that is being produced and it has helped to adjust teaching and learning accordingly. As the assessment process is not work intensive for our teachers, we have found that they are able to do more of what they do best, and that is teach – without compromising on the quality of data received.
We have now been collating data over the last four years and this year we used Star to help us to predict Key Stage 2 SATs results. We are incredibly pleased to say that our students achieved 6% above the national average in reading for both expected standard and the higher standard, a truly momentous occasion for us!
Complete Literacy Solution
Standardised testing was important for us after the removal of levels as we wanted to make sure that we could still monitor and review ‘in year’ classroom progression as well as getting end of year summative data. Without a doubt, Star Assessments has helped us achieve this but more importantly, it has helped us to instil a passion for reading in our students that will last a lifetime.
With the integration of additional Renaissance products, such as Accelerated Reader and myON by Renaissance, we have successfully created a culture of reading for pleasure at Plumcroft Primary School. Students are reading books that are appropriately challenging for them and have access to an extensive amount of choice across both physical and digital platforms. Working collectively together, Renaissance has helped us to accurately understand what engages our students, how well they are performing and how best to help them improve in comparison to a national sample of students.
With teacher workloads under pressure and the school’s budget being tighter now than ever before, the teaching landscape is tough. But, with software like Star Assessments, we have been able to take control of the reigns and help our students to reach their full potential. With bulletproof data, inspiring confidence in our students’ reading abilities and providing them with even more material to read than before, we are confident that we have developed the complete literacy solution at Plumcroft Primary School.
Richard Slade is the Head Teacher of Plumcroft Primary School in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, London. The school has over 760 pupils and they are expanding to a second site for a further 420 pupils. Richard has over 15 years' experience of turning around failing and under-performing schools, and an expertise in using assessment data to transform outcomes for pupils and accelerating the systemic improvement of schools.