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Assessment tool for young pupils is lambasted in professor's damning report; TEACHERS WERE EXPECTED TO NOTE 114 TYPES OF BEHAVIOUR.

Byline: GARETH EVANS

AN assessment tool designed to help teachers gauge children's ability as they started school lacked "clarity of purpose" and asked too much of the profession, according to a damning report.

New child development assessment profiles (CDAPs) were scrapped earlier this year following stinging criticism from the sector.

A report commissioned by Education Minister Leighton Andrews and made public today provides a stinging critique of the assessment tool.

In the report, Professor Iram Siraj-Blatchford - an expert at the London Institute of Education - said a "lack of clarity of core purpose" made CDAPs difficult to judge.

"The examples of acceptable behaviours in the guidance are in some cases too vague and inconsistency in training leaves them liable to misinterpretation," she said.

"The consistency with which the workforce is able to apply the tool is therefore questionable. The CDAP is not useful as an on-going tracker to monitor and measure progress.

"The information generated does not support school improvement or tracking in part due to the lack of clarity of guidance and inconsistency of practice.

"The lack of clarity of core purpose makes it difficult to judge CDAP's suitability. I would suggest that considerable thought must be given to whether the current CDAP be adapted to provide a more useful document or if there should be a complete re-think/re-write."

CDAPs were designed to provide a "baseline" of where children are when they enter primary school.

Before their introduction last September, they were welcomed by the sector as a standardised replacement to the 12 accredited baseline assessment schemes being employed in Welsh schools.

But unions reacted angrily to their work in practice and argued that the "bureaucratic burden" being placed on teachers detracted from their time spent teaching children.

One union said the demands were so great, many of its members had been reduced to tears and were on the verge of resigning.

The profile was designed to accommodate the on-entry assessment of children between the ages of three and five - depending on when they started school.

The findings would be used to inform how far a child had made progress through the Foundation Phase, but the expectation on teachers to monitor each of its pupils against a long list of measures was considered draining.

Teachers had been required to identify and record up to 114 types of behaviour within the first six weeks of a child starting school.

In her report, Prof Siraj-Blatchford said there is "only so much a practitioner can glean from a very young child in the first weeks".

She said there were too many descriptors for an initial baseline assessment and some of those earmarked by officials were "not necessarily the correct ones".

Descriptions of behaviour included whether or not a child shows care for a favourite toy; appreciates humour in wordplay and jokes; and can jump with two feet together off the floor.

Prof Siraj-Blatchford said the ability of teachers to not compromise their teaching for six weeks during CDAP development may prove "a very tall order".

According to the Welsh Government, it is essential that all practitioners working with children have an understanding of their learning needs and development.

Observing children while they are involved in activities is designed to help teachers plan what they are able to do and what support is needed to take learning forward.

Rebecca Williams, policy officer for Welsh teachers' union UCAC, said that while baseline assessments are needed, the profession should have more input into their implementation.

She described Prof Siraj-Blatchford's review as a "devastating critique" which echoed the concerns of UCAC, first raised last summer.

"It was clearly ill thought-out, with insufficient input from Foundation Phase teachers, because as Prof Siraj-Blatchford points out, it is fit for purpose neither as a baseline assessment nor as a tracking tool," she said.

"In short, it is neither fish nor fowl - and of absolutely no use to anyone.

This has been a traumatic experience for many Foundation Phase staff who had no choice but to implement a test which was not in the best interests of these very young children during their first six weeks at school.

"Prof Siraj-Blatchford asks a question at the end of her report: should the CDAP be adapted or should there be a complete rethink? There is no doubt in our minds as to the answer to that question."

The scrapping of CDAPs just a few months after their introduction raises fresh questions over the Welsh Department for Education's ability to see through major policy initiatives. Concerns over primary school data saw plans to cluster Wales' primaries into "bands" shelved while Mr Andrews has himself been critical of his department's weak implementation of policy.

Dr Philip Dixon, director of ATL Cymru, said: "At a time when the School Standards and Organisation Bill is proposing that the Welsh Government could issue statutory guidance on school improvement, this report is a stark warning of the perils that attend any lack of full and deep consultation with the profession.

"Civil Service 'cut and paste' is a grossly inadequate substitute for the wisdom of practitioners in the classroom."

The Welsh Government confirmed it is working on a replacement for CDAPs and is considering recommendations put forward by Prof Siraj-Blatchford.

In her report, Prof Siraj-Blatchford said the department should consider how low birth weight, inoculations and medical conditions can influence a child's behaviour and learning.

"Similarly, knowing about the early home learning environment of the child points to what kinds of literacy, numeracy and play experiences they have had," she said.

"Parents could be asked about this for any baseline record and supported where there are poor home learning environments.

"Finally, the inclusion of information on any previous learning, for example through Flying Start, may be a useful aspect to consider."

Dr Dixon said Prof Siraj-Blatchford was right to urge consideration of wider health issues when trying to form an overall baseline picture of a child entering the Foundation Phase.

Prof David Reynolds, a government adviser and expert inWelsh education, said there was "overwhelming evidence" to suggest the health of a child can impact on performance.

"Knowing something about health status and background will help schools to make sensible judgements about the whole child," he said.

A spokesman for the Welsh Government said: "When we announced our decision to withdraw the CDAP, we did so on the basis of feedback from practitioners and on the basis of the themes emerging from Professor Siraj-Blatchford's rapid review of the CDAP. At the time, we said the final report would be placed in the public domain as it now has been.

"Officials are working on the plans for developing a replacement to the CDAP. We have made clear the importance of ensuring our plans take account of the wider context of learning across the early years, Foundation Phase and right through primary school."

> COMMENT - PAGE 18 CHILD DEVELOPMENT ASSESSMENT PROFILES: WHAT TEACHERS HAD TO LOOK FOR...

* The ability to thread beads on a string; * Stand on one foot for two seconds or more; * Hold more than one point of view; * Show awareness that they have wet themselves; * Use some objects as intended; * Know the right way to hold a book up; * Put on a coat; * Demonstrate control over own emotions; * Dress independently; * Show care for a favourite toy; * Jump with two feet together off the floor; * Skip to a rhythmic beat or music.

LISTEN OUT FOR JOKES TOLD IN THE SCHOOLYARD A CHILD'S ability to appreciate humour was one of the more peculiar areas teachers were required to monitor.

According to the Welsh Government's guidelines on CDAPs: "Children might enjoy word rhymes and homonyms and change some words slightly so that the meaning of the sentence changes to become humorous.

"In their conversations, children achieving this description of behaviour might use words in their conversations that they know from experience attract smiles and laughter because they are witty.

"The deliberate and more flexible grasp of spoken language required to make and understand a joke requires an increasing vocabulary and awareness of different meanings in conversation.

"This capability will be revealed during the day in all provision areas in children's conversations with each other and with adults.

"Adults should listen to children's discussions for use of jokes and humour. Wordplay may be encouraged."

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Child development assessment profiles were scrapped earlier this year following stinging criticism from the teaching sector - criticism backed by an education expert in a report just published
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 2, 2012
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