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The National Reference Test: 10 things you need to know

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The first National Reference Test (NRT) will be held in February and March 2017 following a successful development phase. It’s a complex and important exercise so we will act cautiously in its development.  Here are some easily digestible facts:

1. Two subjects, 300 schools, 18,000 students. About 1 in 40 students in year 11 in England will take the test annually. Up to 30 students will take the English test and another 30 students will take the maths test in each of 300 schools. Each test will last 1 hour. There is no need for students or teachers to specifically prepare for the test.

2. The test will be nationally representative. Students will be selected to reflect the mix of ability across the whole cohort.

3. There will be no ‘results’ for students. Each student will only do part of the full test in either English or maths. As such, test results for individual students and schools will not exist, let alone be published. It is the combination of all individual test answers that will produce the national picture.

4. We intend to publish the first test results in October 2017. In subsequent years, we intend to publish the results alongside GCSE awards in late August.

5. Test results will not be used in awarding until at least 2019. The test reflects the content and style of the new English language and maths GCSEs. We would expect to see an improvement in early NRT results as student and teacher familiarity with those new qualifications increases. This, alongside the need to compare the performance of student cohorts over several years, means information from the test will not be immediately used in awarding.

6. Extra information at awarding, not the only information. The NRT will show if there is any change in how students perform at a national level over time. But exam boards will continue to use other evidence in awarding, just as they do now.

7. The test has been designed to inform awarding of English language and maths. We do not anticipate using the test’s results to directly inform awarding in other GCSE subjects, although we are not ruling out that a link could be made in future.

8. The test design is robust. We have well designed questions that differentiate students’ abilities, mark schemes that provide consistent results and a system of administration that will maintain the integrity of the test over time.

9. The test covers England only. Education policy is devolved across the nations of the UK. The NRT will only be conducted, and inform GCSE awarding, in England.

10. The test will be administered and invigilated by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). We will make sure that schools taking part are well supported and more generally explain how the results have a clear potential to benefit GCSE awarding.

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