IEB - Assessment Matters
The Purpose of the Test

The IEB Grade 6 Core Skills Test was developed to determine whether Grade 6 learners, at the end of the intermediate phase of schooling, have attained sufficient cognitive academic proficiency to engage with the demands of the following years. It provides a benchmarking moment in the learning pathway where its formative, diagnostic intention is to have a positive, qualitative impact on teaching, learning and assessment in the schools that write the test. 

The Design of the Test

The test is non-curriculum-based. It  focuses on skills and outcomes of learning that are developed within one or more specific learning areas but that are applied outside school in non-learning area specific contexts. In short, the focus is on the skills required for effective operation in life and society that are expressed through the Critical and Developmental Outcomes of the National Qualifications Framework in South Africa.  These include visual literacy, critical reading of texts, acquiring information from a variety of sources, articulation of own voice, problem solving, manipulation of data, understanding numbers in context and so on.

The entire pen and paper test is designed as two one-hour papers. It is based in a real-life context that is appropriate for grade 6 learners and through which they required to demonstrate their abilities.
  • The test is designed to assess Grade 6 learners across a taxonomy of 4 levels. For example, a question pitched at Level 1 requires that the learner extract or recall information (a knowledge question) while a question at Level 2 requires the learner to show that she has understood the information, grasped its  meaning (a comprehension question).   A level 3 question requires that learners use information in new situations and solve problems using acquired skills or knowledge (an application question).  Questions pitched at level 4  require learners to do any of the following:  make choices based on reasoned arguments; verify the value of evidence; recognize subjectivity, relate knowledge from several areas, predict or draw conclusions; compare and discriminate between ideas; assess the value of theories or presentations; identify components of a problem.

  • The level 4 questions are often those that are neglected in the classroom. In trying to manage the diversity of learners, teachers often focus on the average learner and spend any spare time they may have on bringing the weaker learners up to standard.  However, the importance of exposing able learners to greater challenges in the classroom should not be ignored.

The test includes a range of question types, each question targeting a specific skill/cognitive activity at one of the four design levels. The assessment of the learners’ responses indicates achievement against a taxonomy of skills rather than through marks. This means that a question can be pitched at a specific design level and the students’ responses assessed against a set of criteria for that level, or a question can be posed that could be answered at a number of different levels, with a set of criteria for each level against which to judge the quality of the learners’ responses.

The descriptions of performance relate to four operational levels:

Operational Level Descriptor
1 The response is not at the level expected for Grade 6
2 The response is some way towards matching the level expected for Grade 6
3 The response is at the level expected for Grade 6
4 The response has exceeded the level expected for Grade 6

The Conduct of the Test

The test is written by all learners on the same day under controlled conditions, with a 15 minute break between papers 1 and 2. The test is marked by the teachers and moderated by IEB moderators

The Reporting of Results

The results are reported using a question by question analysis, of individual student performance as well as the whole cohort who wrote the test. This provides a profile of the cognitive level of ability of each student in the various skill areas that are tested and a profile of the group as a whole. The results of the test provide diagnostic information about each learner’s level of operation in relation to the taxonomy levels addressed in the assessment.  The results of the Core Skills Test could point to potential gaps in the teaching and learning process and they could point to areas that may require additional attention in specific learners. In other words the test has the potential for teacher development, curriculum revision and a diagnostic assessment of learners.

Taxonomy Level Descriptor Examples of Skills demonstrated
4 Make judgements based on certain criteria.
Put elements together to form a new whole.
Break down a whole into its component parts. Elements embedded in a whole are identified and the relations among the elements are recognised.
Access, process and use information in any context, even an abstract one.
Compare and discriminate between ideas; assess the value of theories, presentations; make choices based on reasoned arguments; verify the value of evidence; recognise subjectivity.
Use old ideas to create new ones; generalize from given facts; relate knowledge from several areas; predict; draw conclusions.
Seeing patterns; organisation of parts; recognition of hidden meanings; identification of components.
3 Use (or apply) information in new situations.
Access, process and use information in a variety of applications.
Use information; use methods, concepts and theories in new situations; solve problems using required skills or knowledge.
2 Recall and understand information; describe meaning.
Access and process information in a simple, uni-dimensional context.
Understanding information; grasp meaning; translate knowledge into other familiar/simple contexts; interpret facts; compare; contrast; order; group; infer causes; predict consequences.
1 Act of remembering facts. Recall. Able to access information in discrete bits only. Observation and recall of information.

Comments from Teachers who participated in previous Tests

  • “This test gave teachers an interesting insight into new ways of assessment. The learners enjoyed the question papers.”

  • “An eye-opener! More assessment should be done in this way.  The rationale is excellent.”

  • “I thought the test was an extremely valuable assessment tool. Cross-curricula problem-solving is far more relevant than procedural testing.”

  • “The results are very interesting and can be used by the school to re-consider, change or adapt methods of assessment.”

  • “This was a very informative and enlightening project. If we could in some small way apply this sort of questioning to even a part of our forms of assessment, we would learn a whole lot more about our learners’ abilities than we are with regular assessments.”

  • “Well balanced and a broad spectrum of skills and levels were assessed.”
IEB - Assessment Matters
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