Measuring the progress of pupils working below expectations

Here at Insight, possibly the question we get asked most often is: "how can we measure the progress of pupils working below expectations?"

Progress measures, especially measures based on teacher assessment, are always problematic, but for this particular group it is completely understandable that schools want some data that captures how well the pupils are doing. Otherwise, they just appear to be stuck in the 'below' band all the time, which is a) not very useful, and b) a bit depressing. We know the pupils are making good progress but our data just isn't showing it.

So, what can we do? First, remember that Insight is highly customisable and is capable of handling assessment data in almost any format. We should be able to find an approach that works for you, your pupils, and the various audiences of your data. But there are a few things to consider before we continue.

  1. Progress is best measured using some form of standardised assessment. This doesn't necessarily mean tests - it could be a criteria-based assessment - but the more standardised the assessment is, the more reliable the progress measure will be.
  2. Progress measures invariably involve an expected rate of progress that pupils are benchmarked against. Do we expect all pupils to make the same amount of progress in the same amount of time? The chances are we don't because the pupils involved have different start points, needs, and targets and will progress at different rates.
  3. Sometimes - and this is the inconvenient bit - we might use different types of assessment for different pupils according to their particular needs. This means that we could be measuring progress in different ways depending on the child.

Now let's look at some options.

Steps-based approaches

Commonly, schools using Insight take a simple 'Point In Time Assessment' (PITA) approach to teacher assessment, whereby pupils are assessed based on how securely they are working within the current curriculum content. Usually, involves four bands - for example: below, working towards, expected, and above - and pupils will often remain in the same band over time, making it distinct from levels- or steps-style approaches that schools used to use (and some schools still opt for). More information on the difference between PITA-style and steps-based approaches can be found in this help guide.

One option is, therefore, to adopt a system of levels to measure pupil progress, a hierarchical system that pupils move up through over time. The following table provides an example:

In this system, we can state the year's curriculum the pupil is working in with an additional code (E,D,S) to denote how securely they are working within it. For example, a year 5 pupil working at a lower level in the year 2 curriculum might be classified as Y2E. If you opt for this approach you will need to decide if you use it as an additional assessment scheme just for those pupils that are working below (i.e. they have a 'below' main assessment, and a subsidiary Y2E band). Alternatively, you could use the approach across the whole school for all pupils, but this requires careful consideration. The PITA approach is simple and minimal, provides clarity in reports (eg for governors and parents), and generally reflects the language used in the classroom. Moving to a steps-approach means numerous assessment bands that will probably require conversion to PITA-style language when reporting to key audiences.

But the main problem, whether using such an approach for all pupils or just some, is that it involves an expected rate of progress, perhaps to make three steps per year. The big question is: do we expect all pupils to make curriculum year's worth of progress each year? If not, then this approach may unravel.

We are often asked if we can add the step-style bands to the existing PITA mark scheme so schools can have both options rolled into one. Unfortunately, this isn't possible because the two approaches are fundamentally different: steps are hierarchical with each linked to a specific year and term; PITA is a relative assessment model with pupils most likely remaining in the same band over time. Like oil and water, they don't mix.

What are our other options?

Pre-key stage standards

Schools often want to track progress through the pre-key stage standards. Again, we can set this up but it is not without issues. This help guide explains the problems in detail.

What about P-scales?

Following the Rochford Review, P-scales were discontinued in 2019 and replaced with final pre-key stage standards and the engagement model. P-scales are no longer a valid form of assessment.

Split the below band to show years below

Whilst we can't add steps to a PITA-based assessment approach, we can split the below band to show how many years below each pupil is working, eg. 1 year below, 2 years below, etc. This is in keeping with the relative nature of PITA, but is unlikely to provide a usable progress measure (i.e. many pupils are likely to remain a year below relative to other pupils).

A teacher assessment of progress

Much like an effort grade, make a qualitative - i.e. not quantitative - assessment of pupils' progress using all the information available. Teachers simply record whether pupils are making progress that is below, in line with, or above expectations. Those expectations being linked to the pupil's specific targets, and therefore varying from one child to another.

Provision mapping

Use Insight's built-in provision mapping system to track provisions' effectiveness in helping pupils to meet their targets. The system will enable you to pull together a variety of information including cost, amount of support planned, any missed sessions, and entry and exit assessments.

Learning Plans

The key document. The learning plan compiles all the essential information - commentary, context, assessment, key professionals, and the all important targets - allowing teachers to track pupils' achievements over the course of the term and year. If pupils are meeting their targets, they are making good progress, and the Insight learning plan report provides a useful summary of this.

Use standardised data

If you want a reliable, numerical measure of pupil progress, standardised assessment is the way to go. There are many forms of standardised assessment used to diagnose needs and gaps, and track the progress of pupils working well below curriculum expectations, and some of these may already be in use in your school. Insight is capable of storing all this data, which will provide appropriate measures relevant to the particular area of focus. Some examples of such assessments are shown below:

This is probably the best option but it does come with a caveat: not all these assessments will be used with all pupils. Some may be used for a sizeable group whilst others may only be used for a handful of pupils, or even an individual child. This means, as stated above, we will have different measures for different pupils, but that is the nature of SEND. They all have different needs, barriers, contexts, start points, targets, strengths and weaknesses. Even if we were to use something like a reading age assessment for this group of pupils, do we expect all pupils to increase their reading age by the same amount in the same space of time?

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits all approach to assessment of pupils working below expectations and there is no simple, linear scale that can be reliably used to measure their progress. Good progress is an individual thing.

We hope this help guide is useful. Please let us know if you have any comments or would like to further discuss the issues raised.

Further Reading

Can we use pre-key stage standards to track the progress of pupils with SEND?

A SENCOs Guide to Insight »


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