Poor literacy levels can severely limit a child’s horizons. To ensure no-one is left behind when it comes to reading, Castlechurch Primary School uses the New Reading Group Test to monitor their pupils’ literacy development.
“The New Group Reading Test enables teachers to have a closer look at pupils’ ability to read and how well they understand what they’re reading”, says Christine Saville, deputy head at Castlechurch Primary School in Stafford. “Using the assessment made us more aware of what our pupils are capable of.”
As a mixed community school, Castlechurch Primary serves a large and eclectic catchment area that contains children from the lowest end of deprivation – almost a quarter receive free school meals – as well as those from privileged backgrounds. In total, there are 413 children between the ages of four and 11 on the register, and an above average proportion of pupils have special educational needs or disabilities.
The school started using the New Group Reading Test (NGRT) last year, after it was decided they would benefit from some additional information on how their pupils were performing compared to peers across the country.
Christine says: “We already had our own measures in place for assessing reading ability and our children were ‘banded’ accordingly. However, we wanted something that would help us more accurately pinpoint correct reading levels and give us a clearer picture of how we were doing nationally. After extensive research, I found that the NGRT most closely fitted our requirements.”
The NGRT is a comprehensive screening and monitoring test for groups of children from ages six to 16, and assesses how pupils’ decoding skills compare to their understanding of what they have read. Christine explains: “Best practice suggests that a balance of strategies is the way to ensure children have good literacy skills, but it can be difficult to measure how wide a child’s vocabulary is or how advanced their inference and deduction skills are. NGRT gave us a way in.”
This is the third edition of the widely-used Group Reading Test, updated to reflect the current curriculum and recent initiatives for reading. It was developed in response to feedback from teachers and enables pupils to be assessed in a single short test. The youngest children are asked phonics-based questions and all age groups are set sentence completion and passage comprehension questions that become incrementally more difficult.
“I had used the old-style Group Reading Test in other schools with great success, so I already had confidence in the assessment. Now it has been updated, it is more contextual in terms of themes for younger children who don’t have a great deal of life experience.”
“It is well targeted to boys, which is important, and as the assessment only takes around 45 minutes, we were able to test all children from Year 2 to 6 over just two days.”
Although the assessments can be marked internally, Castlechurch Primary chose to take advantage of GL Assessment’s scoring service. “We opted to have the results compiled by GL Assessment, partly as a quality control and partly because marking can be so time-consuming.”
Christine explains, “Their turnaround time was very fast and we soon had detailed reports on how all the children had scored. When we compared the new data against the information we already had, the results were very revealing. What surprised us most was that many of our lower ability group scored highly in the NGRT.”
“The results prompted us to think about how difficult it can be to significantly challenge children who don’t outwardly have the characteristics attributed to bright children. It’s reassuring to have a measure in place to stop this from happening. Overall, the outcome is that we have re-adjusted our expectations upwards and we expect this to ripple through to improving standards throughout the school.”
Strong home – school links
The school prides itself on strong links with parents and so has plans to share the results in the future. As Christine explains: “We believe a close partnership between school and parents directly contributes to better outcomes for children, so while we haven’t shared any results with parents yet, we intend to next time we test.”
“Our main concern was if a child has a reading age far in advance of their actual age, we might discourage parents from the help that they are giving their child at home, so we’ll be explaining that this is only one part of the bigger picture.”
Jonathan Jones, headteacher at Castlechurch, was very supportive of the move to use the NGRT as he too had experience of using the Group Reading Test in a previous school. “GL Assessment has a good reputation, so I felt confident the results would be robust.”
“The NGRT gives us a way to cross-reference how we are doing nationally, and gain an accurate picture of our pupils’ reading age. So far we have used it to identify the very bright and the less able. As we become more savvy in the way we interrogate the results, we’ll be able to be more discerning about helping those who fall in the middle which can be harder to judge.”
A long-term strategy
The school has long-term plans to use NGRT, monitoring children as they move through the school. Christine concludes: “We will be testing in the first week of July, to use as benchmark data for entry to their new year in September, and again in January to monitor progression.”
“The first time we used NGRT, I administered all the tests. However, as it is so simple to use, this time I will be briefing teachers and then allowing them to assess their own classes. The teachers are very supportive of what we are doing, because they like the information that comes back – and they like the fact the marking is done for them!”