Why Summative Baselines Matter

When I go into primary schools to create an assessment system one of the main discussion areas is usually progress: how to measure it and, crucially, what baseline to measure it from.


With the old sub levels, the starting point for measuring progress during the current academic year was almost always the sub level the pupil achieved at the end of the previous year. But because the new curriculum is based on the concept of age related expectations, this is no longer always the case.

Why bother? Well, most schools still use their assessment systems as part of the performance management of teachers and, while most schools acknowledge that there are other, more subtle ways of measuring pupil progress, an overall progress measure remains useful if used in the correct way.

Also, schools also need to be able to report top-level, headline progress measures to local authorities, governors and Ofsted. A broad brush is sometimes required to describe the progress a school is making.

I’ve counted four different ways in which schools are setting baselines and measuring progress:

Baseline From the Previous Year

Some schools have chosen to measure progress from the end of the previous year, just like we did with sub levels. This tends to be schools who view the age related expectations as a continuum, where a pupil will, for example, progress between 4E to 6S via each of the grades in turn. So a year 5 pupil might end the previous year on a 4S but the expectations for that pupil are that they will achieve 4M before starting the year 5 curriculum and become a 5E.

Baseline From the Age Related Expectation

Other schools have decided to ‘reset’ all the grades at the start of the academic year. So our example 4S pupil will be allocated a 5E grade at the start of the year, and all progress will be measured from the 5E grade.

Baseline From a Test

Some schools are using baseline tests at the start of the new academic year and want to be able to enter those grades as the baseline. Testing pupils within a few days of the start of term might seem draconian, but it works for some schools.

Baseline From the Previous Key Stage

Some schools are more interested in recording progress since the previous key stage. At the moment that’s more difficult, as key stage information for all year groups is still in sub level form. I suspect that more schools will be interested in measuring progress like this once we have more that a couple of year’s data in our systems but for now it remains more of a niche requirement.

SIMS Assessment Manager

When designing School Analytics I decided to make the system as flexible as possible and hence included a separate ‘baseline’ column at the start of each academic year. This allows schools to choose which grade to use as a baseline, and even mix and match different approaches within one class, to better reflect the needs and starting points of individual pupils.