Baseline 2018: Description of proposals by the NFER

Public / July 2018

The Reception Baseline Assessment

Following the Department for Education’s primary
assessment consultation in 2017, the government
has confirmed plans to introduce a new reception
baseline assessment (RBA) as part of the primary
accountability system. Following an open
procurement process, the National Foundation
for Educational Research (NFER) was awarded
the 4-year contract to develop, trial and deliver
the assessment.
The purpose of the new assessment is to provide
a baseline for measuring the progress children
make throughout their primary school career.
Progress measures help to identify the contribution
schools make to children’s development by
taking into account some of the skills and abilities
children already have when they start school.
The new measure will recognise the contribution
schools make throughout the whole of their
primary education, rather than just from the end
of Key Stage 1, as now. The aim is that the RBA will
replace the existing end of Key Stage 1 statutory
assessments as a baseline.
The design and content of the RBA will be based
firmly on evidence, including existing research
on the key factors affecting later performance,
practitioner expertise and large-scale trialling. This
will ensure it has robust measurement properties and
is a positive experience for teachers and children.
This is an initial summary in which we have brought
together some of the evidence, practitioner expertise
and experience we have drawn on in our proposals
for the design, content and delivery of this new
baseline assessment. It also highlights some of the
detailed investigation which will be undertaken to
refine these proposals over the next two years.
There is a wealth of assessment research and
evidence available. The proposals for this new
assessment have been informed by international
research evidence and our extensive experience
of assessing reception-age children, and will be
subject to robust trialling of assessment questions
and materials with teachers and children.
Our approach is underpinned by our in-depth
knowledge of assessment design and development
built up over the last 70 years, and our direct
experience of developing other baseline schemes
with young children and practitioners. Examples
include the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile
(EYFSP) and NFER’s 2015 Reception Baseline
Assessment (RBA15).
The close involvement of practitioners is always
at the heart of our approach to assessment
development and the RBA is no exception.
We are working with a wide range of individuals
with expertise in early years’ assessment, children
with special educational needs and disabilities, and
with a panel of Reception teachers. We will also
be trialling and piloting the proposed assessment
with many more schools and children to ensure it is
a positive experience for them, as well as a robust
assessment of children’s early literacy and early
mathematics skills.
This trialling plays a critical role in the assessment
development as it enables us to find out
how children and teachers understand and
respond to questions, and to collect data that
enables thorough analysis of the assessment’s
performance. We have worked with children
and practitioners this summer and we will be
trialling materials from September with nationally
representative samples of schools.
Design of the reception baseline assessment
The RBA is designed to provide a measure of
children’s performance at a cohort rather than an
individual level. The assessment therefore focuses
on the information needed to provide a reliable
and valid baseline for progress measures which
will be reported at the end of Key Stage 2. As a
result, the RBA does not aim to assess everything
a child can do when they start school. Instead, it
will focus on what children can do in the areas of
early literacy and mathematics skills. Research
shows that these skill areas are good indicators of
later success in school. The tasks being developed
for the RBA are based on this research as well as
the performance of tasks included in RBA15. In
particular, the research demonstrates that:
• Language development is crucial to children’s
future success in school, enabling them to access
the curriculum and develop the literacy skills
they need to progress (Bowman et al., 2000).
• Both receptive and expressive language skills are
strongly related to literacy development (Cooper
et al., 2002) so we are including both these
elements in the RBA. The approach to early
reading we are adopting takes into account the
Simple View of Reading now accepted in the UK.
• Competence in early mathematics is crucial
for later school success. The relationship
between early number competence and later
mathematical achievement is well established
(Aunio and Nremiverta, 2010; Jordan et al., 2009).

There is clear evidence that numeral
identification is related to the acquisition of
numeracy skills (Wright et al., 2006).
There is also a substantial body of literature that
shows a strong relationship between numeracy
skills and early literacy skills (Welsh et al., 2010).
Research shows that early knowledge of numbers
and mathematical concepts are also strong
predictors of word identification and reading
(Duncan et al., 2007; Scanlon and Vellutino, 1996),
as well as strong predictors of later achievement
in mathematics. Studies report that numeral and
letter identification are correlated at an early
age and that both are equally predictive of word
identification (Scanlon and Vellutino, 1996).
Underpinning this is the ability to understand
and manipulate symbol systems (Cook, 1996)
and the fact that numbers and letters share
similar perceptual qualities. The assessment of
numeracy in young children must therefore also be
understood in the context of both language and
literacy assessments and the tasks in the RBA will
reflect this relationship.

Reliability describes the degree to which results
would be repeated if the assessment were used
again in the same circumstances1. For an assessment
to be robust and to have value as a progress
measure, we need to know how reliable it is.
Our thorough trialling of RBA15 confirmed that
it is possible to develop a reliable assessment of
reception-aged children’s abilities in early literacy
and mathematics. The trialling showed that the
assessment produced consistent results when
taken on different days and when administered
by different people.
For the RBA we are also trialling the inclusion
of questions designed to look at self-regulation.
The outcomes from trialling these questions will
determine whether self-regulation is included in
the final RBA.
• There is clear evidence that numeral
identification is related to the acquisition of
numeracy skills (Wright et al., 2006).
There is also a substantial body of literature that
shows a strong relationship between numeracy
skills and early literacy skills (Welsh et al., 2010).
Research shows that early knowledge of numbers
and mathematical concepts are also strong
predictors of word identification and reading
(Duncan et al., 2007; Scanlon and Vellutino, 1996),
as well as strong predictors of later achievement
in mathematics. Studies report that numeral and
letter identification are correlated at an early
age and that both are equally predictive of word
identification (Scanlon and Vellutino, 1996).
Underpinning this is the ability to understand
and manipulate symbol systems (Cook, 1996)
and the fact that numbers and letters share
similar perceptual qualities. The assessment of
numeracy in young children must therefore also be
understood in the context of both language and
literacy assessments and the tasks in the RBA will
reflect this relationship.
A reliable assessment
(Statistical tests are used to evaluate an assessment’s reliability, with the
results reported as correlations. Correlations over 0.9 are considered
excellent. The test-re-test reliability of RBA15 for literacy was 0.94
and for numeracy was 0.93. The “internal test reliability” was 0.89 for
literacy and 0.93 for numeracy. This tells us that these two parts of the
assessment are effective at assessing the specific areas we’ve called
literacy and numeracy.)

Validity

Validity describes the extent to which assessment
results are appropriate for the uses for which they
are intended. In this case, we are interested in the
extent to which the new assessment will identify
the skills and abilities which most affect children’s
performance at the end of primary school.
Our starting point for ensuring that the assessment
is valid has been to use the existing research about
the key indicators of children’s future performance.
This has enabled us to identify the areas to be
included in the new assessment, as well as those
which should be excluded.
Secondly, we have collected feedback from the
teachers and expert groups with whom we are
working. This confirms that the questions and tasks
we are developing for inclusion in the RBA are
age-appropriate and have a ‘face validity’ i.e. they
appear to these groups to be appropriate tasks
given what we have set out to assess. We have
also organised detailed reviews of the assessment
by experts to strengthen their effective and
acceptable use with children who speak English as
an additional language, and those with additional
assessment needs. We will include extensive
trialling of their recommendations within the
broader trialling of the assessment in schools with
children and teachers which begins in September.
There will be ongoing collection and review of
evidence about the alignment of the RBA to its
purpose as a baseline assessment throughout
the development process, and following its
implementation.

The trialling process is not just designed to inform
the design, robustness and validity of the proposed
assessment; it is also a critical opportunity to gain
feedback on how children and teachers experience
the assessment.
The new RBA, like RBA15, will be task-based and
children will answer questions asked by their
teacher or a teaching assistant during a one-to-one
session. In RBA15, children used picture prompts,
sorting cards or counting bears in the tasks. We
are trialling a similar approach for the RBA. Other
key features being trialled include the following:
• The assessment is expected to take around 20
minutes and may be completed in one session or
through a series of short sessions, if the teacher
feels that is better for the child.
• The assessment will progress in difficulty and
with some adaptation so that children won’t
be asked the next question if they haven’t
successfully completed an easier one in that
skill area. This ensures that children are not
introduced to tasks that are much too difficult
for them.
• Practitioners will record each child’s response in
an online recording system to make the process
as easy to manage as possible and to help them
focus on the child during the assessment rather
than the administration. There is no intention
for the child to have any interaction with
the technology, only the teacher or teaching
assistant, for administration purposes.
• The practitioner is guided to the next question or
task if a child does not successfully complete the
preceding one. This approach ensures that the
RBA promotes a standard approach to the way
questions are asked and answers recorded.
A standardised design, in which all children are
assessed in the same way, with the same materials,
adds to the robustness and fairness of the
assessment.
Observational approaches are very important for
teaching, and for understanding children’s full
range of abilities and how they can be developed,
but concerns have been raised with their use
in accountability measures. In particular, any
assessment used in an accountability system needs
to avoid unintended bias such as that identified
by Campbell (2013) and to ensure parity of
opportunity.

We are working with the DfE to consider what
findings from the RBA can most helpfully be
shared with schools, and when.
As well as its primary purpose in providing a
baseline assessment of a cohort of children
starting school, the RBA also provides other
more immediate opportunities for schools to gain
information about their new reception children.
Firstly, as the practitioner sits with the child they
will learn about the child’s approach to the tasks,
their attentiveness, and their confidence levels.
This is valuable information for practitioners
and we know it’s one of the reasons why most
schools choose to undertake on-entry assessments
currently. We are working with practitioners and
school leaders to ensure that the RBA is as useful
as possible whilst also fulfilling its primary purpose.

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