Page last updated at 13:28 GMT, Tuesday, 4 August 2009 14:28 UK

What do Sats test levels mean?

School test
More pupils are pushing ahead beyond the "expected level"

The results for tests taken by 11-year-olds in England's schools have been published - with a blizzard of statistics about how many pupils have reached the "expected level".

There are targets to increase the number of pupils achieving Level 4, ambitions to push up the number of Level 5s.

But what does all this jargon mean?


This "expected level" benchmark, used for school league tables, is whether pupils have reached "Level 4".

This is the level that pupils should have reached by the time they have completed primary school, preparing them for the next step into secondary school.

This expected ability of an "average" pupil might be less relevant to children with special needs or who have English as a second language, who will be included among those pupils who do not make this grade.

This level is now the one most commonly achieved by pupils - 51% of pupils are in this band for English and 44% in maths.

In English, pupils in this ability range should be able to "read between the lines and write reasonably complex texts".

The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) says the skills should include pupils' being "active readers", able to "infer, predict and visualise".

It means pupils should "get the point, the moral, the message" of stories.

In their writing, pupils should be able to write extended sentences, choose words for effect and use commas.

For maths at Level 4, pupils should be able to "add, subtract, multiply, divide in the head comfortably", know times tables up to 10, plot co-ordinates on a graph, work out areas and perimeters and show "clear and organised" working out.

This is summed up as having "independent strategies for making calculations".


Although government targets and league table rankings have focused on Level 4, this is only part of the story.

An increasing number of pupils have pushed beyond the expected level, showing ability above their age group. These high flyers move on to Level 5.

In English this year, 29% of pupils are at Level 5 - more than four times as many as in 1995. In maths, the proportion at Level 5 is at a record high of 35%, almost three times higher than in 1995.

When these figures are broken down by gender and local authority, it shows that in some areas more than four in 10 girls are reaching Level 5 in English.

In Richmond-upon-Thames, 53% of girls have reached this level - expected for 14-year-olds - by the end of primary school. Across London in Hackney, 15% of boys are in this higher tier.

English comprises tests for reading and writing - and if reading is looked at separately, 54% of girls and 41% of boys across England are at this level.

The definition of Level 5 for English given by the DCSF is "a knowing reader, who writes for effect".

This pupil should "recognise writing technique and bias" with a "sense of the literary".

Writing should be well organised and in paragraphs, using standard English.

The sentences should be complex, with the use of subordinate clauses and writing adapted to "suit audience and purpose".

For maths, pupils at this higher level should show they are "versatile and can manage abstraction".

These pupils should "think mathematically" and be able to "explain their reasoning".

They should be able to carry out simple equations and algebra, calculate in fractions and percentages, calculate angles and understand probability.


What about those who do not reach the benchmark of the expected Level 4?

The proportion of pupils at Level 3 has steadily reduced. In 1997, more than a quarter of pupils were in this ability range.

This year, 14% of pupils are Level 3 in English and 15% in maths.

Presenting this year's results, Schools Minister Diana Johnson was keen to emphasise that Level 3 did not mean that pupils could not read, write or add up.

For English, the pupil at Level 3 is described as "a good literal reader with sound simple writing".

This means being able to "read independently" and write a sentence, find the main points in a story and write with a style that is simple but clear and correct.

For maths, this pupil, below the expected level for their age, will have "sound if basic numeracy".

They will be able to "do simple decimals and fractions", carry out two figure additions and subtractions in their head, interpret a bar chart and do their two, three, four, five and 10 times tables.

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English Sats performance declines
04 Aug 09 |  Education

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