National assessments of primary school children skewed by average age of class

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The higher the average age of the primary school reception year group, the less likely children are to be registered by teachers as having “good development” in national year-end assessments, according to new research at the London School of Economics.

The report, by Dr. Tammy Campbell, follows her previously widely reported findings that many children born in summer are inaccurately classified as having special educational needs. This latest project – funded by the British Academy – shows that all children in a class are affected by average age in year-end assessments. The older children are in the year group, the lower the chances of everyone being rated as doing well, even children born in the fall.

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Using the National Pupil Database (NPD) census records of the six million children who were in public primary schools from 2008-2018, Dr. Campbell found that among the children received in 2018, for example, a summer-born child in a significantly larger group of years . He has an estimated 58% chance of being credited with ‘good development’, which is the main metric for year-end assessment. Those born in the summer in the young year group had an estimated 65% chance, while those born in the fall in the one-year-old group estimated at 79%, and the autumn born in the young year group, an estimated 83% chance.

Her findings are consistent across all years studied and various versions of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) – introduced by the government in 2003 as a national mandatory assessment for all children in government education in the summer of their first year, and school reception.

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Dr Campbell, associate research professor at the Center for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) at the London School of Economics, says this may be first because teachers subconsciously perceive children in relation to each other, so a child who receives more than older children is seen as It is also possible that the EYFSP’s ‘moderation’ processes, and the pressures of accountability, force teacher evaluations into the expected distribution or quota within each school, where only a certain number of children are allowed to ‘report ‘good’ at the end of reception.

As expected, in line with previous research, it found a large and consistent disproportion by month of birth in the chances of attributing a ‘good level of development’: on average, across the years 2008-2018, children born in August are 30 percentage points less likely . They are considered “good” children born in September.

She commented, “The recent EYFSP review, which was carried out in Fall 2021, continues to ignore the dominance of age in determining the attribution of ‘good level of development’ and ignore the effects of context, pressures, external influences and relative judgment. Therefore, the EYFSP cannot be a ‘reliable, valid and accurate’ metric. Exactly for “child development” as intended by the Department of Education (DfE).

In practice, children’s age is often misreported to their parents as their ‘development’; many parents of summer-born children are told that their children’s development is not ‘good’ just because of their birth month.

“DfE aims to directly influence EYFSP outcomes to influence teacher practices, which will influence and characterize children’s pathways: but these ‘outcomes’ are skewed and problematic.”

Dr. Campbell’s findings show that teacher evaluation patterns contrast with other research studies that tend to suggest that being around older peers enhances skills in areas such as language and social development – both of which are supposed to be measured by the EYFSP.

She added, “The Department of Development has stated that it uses the EYFSP aggregate provisions to inform policy ‘at the national and local levels.’ If the data is questionable at the child level, can it be trusted at the aggregate level?”

“The Department of Education states its commitment to ensuring that assessment criteria are based on the latest evidence in childhood development when designing and implementing an EYFSP assessment. But because the assessment is not age context dependent, it ignores stark common sense and methodology and the changes and developments evident in most children’s development as they age. , and the difference in the time in which they live and develop between four- and five-year-olds.”

Relative age and EAFP profile: How does the age composition of birth month and peer group determine the attribution of ‘good development’ – and what does this tell us about how ‘good’ the EYFP profile is? It was published in the British Journal of Educational Research.

Dr. Tammy Campbell is an Assistant Research Professor and Postdoctoral Fellow at the British Academy at CASE.

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