How can standardised tests be used for measuring pupil progress?

As well as assessing pupil attainment in areas such as reading and maths, standardised assessments also measure progress over time. They do this by having a baseline assessment and a follow-up assessment. A calculation is then done to identify the progress of an individual pupil relative to other similar pupils who have taken the assessment (sometimes known as value-added). 

Many commercially-available standardised tests are taken by large numbers of children; with such large numbers, interesting and robust information can be generated about the progress of children in an individual school relative to a much larger number than a teacher would ever be able to see or assess. This allows teachers and school leaders to ‘take a step outside’ their own school and see what ‘average progress’ look like for children similar to their own.

The table below offers a brief comparison of assessment options available to schools, including standardised tests. 

A. National Assessment -StrengthsLimitations
Use old or current national test papers (e.g. SAT or GCSE papers) as the pre-test and post-testsThe best predictor of actual performance is national testsMay not be as reliable as some external tests provided by reputable suppliers
CheapMay not be tailored to the needs of your pupils or to the focus of the intervention
Good practice for pupils
B. Standardised TestsStrengthsLimitations
There are many providers of high-quality standardised tests of attainment. Are likely to be reliable and valid and should be able to provide information on the criteria.May be expensive.
Often standardised using national populations so you can compare your children's attainment to national norms.May not be aligned with the curriculum, or the specific area in which you are interested
Can be highly predictive of performance in national tests and some may provide predictions as well as actual scores.
Digital tests can provide instant results and rich data on individual children.
C. Design your ownStrengthsLimitations
Design your own assessment completely from scratch or combine sections of other assessments you have used in the past. You can tailor the assessment too suit your own needs including the subject and age and ability of your pupils. Home-made tests may not be as reliable as external tests which will have been thoroughly piloted
CheapHome-made tests cannot be compared to national norms
You school may already have a bank of home-made testsIdeally, you will need to design more than one version of the test in order to account for practice effects.

What are the opportunity costs of using standardised tests and what are the potential benefits to your school?