Monday, 2 October 2017

New Entrant Assessment - What does it look like for us?

In my last blog post I shared with you my opinion on New Entrant testing.  If you have read my blog you will know I have some very specific opinions on testing, largely revolving around the idea that they create anxiety and give us information that we already knew.  This blog post  talks a little about the effect I think that a testing culture has on our children's learning esteem and this one is informed by the system of Finland.  Scattered throughout most of my posts in fact are my opinion on testing and the disastrous effects a testing culture has on an education system.

Obviously in our school we still use assessment, but have drastically reduced the amount of this and will continue to work on formative, non-threatening ways that we can continue to use to establish where children are at and ensure we are meeting their needs.  I am completely against timed testing in any shape or form and thank the work of Jo Boaler for informing my opinion around such testing.  We still have a few assessments that I feel we could stop doing altogether and start just using diagnostically if and when needed with individual children.  Basically I would love it if we could get to a place in our school where the children did not even realise they were being assessed.

Very sadly I, like everyone else am constrained by the requirement to form a National Standard Judgement and report this judgement to parents.  I hate having to do this and feel this requirement ruins our otherwise rich end of year report.  However I manage to be compliant as painlessly as possible and if and when these non-standard standards are abolished, my staff and I will do a little dance :)

But back to the point of my post.  New-entrant assessment.  What I really want to think about for a moment is this, what does this assessment tell us that observing a child at play, talking to them, watching them interact with their peers would not?  Is any value it gives us really worth the amount of teacher time it takes?  Would it not be more valuable to spend that time one to one getting to know that child?

What is it we are using for?  To prove growth?  Why?  How does that benefit the child?

Assessment in the first year is something I have dedicated a lot of my inquiry to this year.  There is certainly nothing earth shattering in what we do and it is all common sense really.    Being the principal I am lucky enough to have a degree of freedom in doing this.  For those that say ERO would not approve, I don't think that is true, they were more than happy with our procedures.  This is my journey and my opinions only :)

1) We do not do any SEA at all.  There is no test, nothing we are required to do.  What we do is allow a child at least a month to settle to school, we get to know them, watch them at play, learn about their interests and urges, observe the type of play they are engaging in and how they are playing with their peers (are they on their own, playing around or playing with?)  In my opinion when a child starts playing with others.  When a child is able to engage in social play they are displaying a readiness for more learning, they are developing their emotional brain and engaging in this type of play will only further assist to develop their skills and dispositions in this area.

2) After a month or even two depending on the child we will sit with them and check in with them on thier gross motor skills.  If we see them struggle with any of these activities.  Shown on the goal sheet below.  We will give them a developmental goal to practice at home and school.  Children love practicing these goals and with our teaching around growth mindset they understand that practicing this skill is challenging and growing their brain.  If they are competent at these first few goals that is fabulous, we just check in, date it and move on.

This goal sheet is kept in each child's journal.  We check in with them each week and see how they are going, if they have got it, they were obviously developmentally ready for that goal and we therefore set a new one.  If they are really struggling we may issue a challenge goal or fold back.  We often push pause on a goal that a child is not developmentally ready for.

3) Basically we work our way through these,  these goals give us an individual focus for each child and a great picture of where they are at.  They are based on this diagram that shows the sequential development of the brain.

4) Following on from the working memory goal children will then be given a number goal as well as we should be seeing them ready for this cognitive based goal.  Once again we will see if they are ready gauging how they take these new goals on board.  If they struggle, we will once again push pause and just issue a fun challenge.  This goal is just something knowledge based that parents can help with at home.

5) Reading will start following on from the early phonemic awareness and rhyme.  By this stage children may have had six months or more at school.  At home we will have been encouraging parents to read to their children, to talk about books and just cultivate an absolute joy in reading.

Number Goal Example:

6) We do a writing sample once a term and use this to assess it.

We do not use asttle until a child is at stage 11.  This little sheet is fabulous for showing progress.

7) We do use JAM after about 6 months or as we think it may provide us with insight into a child,  children are generally quite happy to go out in a one to one situation and we try to make it as relaxed as possible.  We are largely just using this to inform us on what strategies children are using.  The knowledge parts of JAM can be seen day to day through out other goals.  JAM is a useful tool, but that is all it is, a tool.  It is one narrow snapshot of what a child could do on that day.  We do not use the strand part of JAM as this assessment is done through observation and reflection through play.

8) Most of our assessment for maths is done through reflection and observation of what the children are doing during agency.  How are they explaining their strategy, how are they representing that problem visually, what are they doing in a group situation, how are they helping others or explaining what they are doing to others....we take photos, short videos and note things down during agency and during play-based time.  We end up with a very rich picture of where children are at.

I also do a quick six month check in with the children around literacy and numeracy to see where they are at and send a short letter to parents giving them some insight into where their child is up to and what they might help with at home.  This really just uses the information we have so far to form a picture of where they are at developmentally.

8) We also use Seesaw to communicate with parents and capture learning with this that we can then print if we want and stick into their journal.  Seesaw is fantastic because we can use it to capture learning and to feedback to parents.

Each child has a journal (scrapbook.)  This is something we are constantly refining, in this journal is our number goals, writing stages, learning goals that we have devised, any other checkpoint sheets along the way that go with the goals and any running records that we do once they get started with reading.  We have found this journal really useful and are able to pick each child's journal up and know where they are at individually.  

And that is that, not new entrant entry assessment, but lots of rich checking in along their journey that informs us greatly, is well used and benefits the child.  So it is not that we don't assess, it is just that we try to do it in a way that is useful and non-threatening to all.  It is also something we can do every day during our play-based check ins, so we are not making more work for ourselves.  

I trust in the richness of our programme, in the instincts of my colleagues and the absolute love of learning and challenge in the children I work with.  I also trust that children will develop at their own pace and this is what is best for them.


  1. Thank you for sharing your journey. I have been following your posts with interest for a while and would love to implement some of what you are doing in my own classroom. I hope you don't mind.

  2. Love reading your blog, very thought provoking and some great ideas to think about and maybe try in our PBL NE classroom. Thanks you for sharing.