Baselines don’t lead to predictions. They guide the next steps. A map has a scale and a key but you have to be on the path to understand the terrain. Each half term in the classroom, for example, you take way markers to keep you on the right path. Regular, reasonable, manageable assessment of progress shapes a child’s learning. Without establishing how far or how fast progress is being made, the next steps cannot readily be planned.
An article in the TES last week points to the consultation that is starting in the UK over baseline testing at Reception (4 years old). That this debate has never gone away, is telling, so to is the fact that despite numerous attempts no agreed solution has been found. Providers of assessment materials have themselves pointed to the steep challenges that are presented in finding a meaningful way of assessing progress – and predicting future outcomes – in children so young.
All the same, working out where children are and where they are going is essential. It is necessary in informing parents and carers of how well a child is progressing in, and engaging with, the school environment. It is necessary for accountability, whether for the quality of teaching and professional development (appraisal or performance) or the success or otherwise of curriculum planning and resource management, i.e. budget allocation.
Collecting data is fine; let’s get over it. It’s obviously not the be all and end all but an important tool in our kit for creating a dialogue with parents and colleagues about a child. However the tool must be manageable and managed well; agreed by the team as a whole school policy and it must be discussed and the ramifications for subsequent provision understood. Because this is part of the narrative, the story of a child’s journey through their life in school. And that journey, like following a map could take them anywhere!