How is ‘life after levels’ at your school?
I’ve been reading the 28-page practical guide to Assessment after Levels published by InfoMentor which ‘provide teachers with a comprehensive guide to developing an effective assessment framework. This is the summary.
“Many of you by now will have spent time with the new national curriculum, incorporated your own principles and ethos and designed how it will be delivered in your school to make it relevant and engaging for pupils.” ~InfoMentor
Most schools will have started the process of developing an assessment framework, or will have adopted one that has been created externally. Those of you who are finding that the process of change requires time-consuming ongoing evaluation and adjustments will be relieved to hear that most of the schools that InfoMentor have been in touch with are in the same situation.
This also seems to be the case in my experience, and indeed, through my liaisons with schools, many are waiting for further announcements from the government, or even waiting for another school to develop an approach that they can adopt.
Developing Past Problems:
Before you start, it is important to take a moment to reflect on why levels are being removed in the first place. Progress points were gained by pupils who covered new knowledge/skills and the levels system incentivised moving through new content. Levels were interpreted and measured differently which led to inconsistency and growing mistrust between schools.
Levels soon become a poor good indicator of what a pupil could or couldn’t do. They did not provide sufficient information for other adults or parents to accurately understand what pupils needed support with. Although they were designed specifically to do the reverse, levels became a label for pupils.
Rather than being about ‘what grade is my child?’ It’s what can we do collectively to help support this child to learn more?” Dame Alison Peacock DBE
Curriculum and assessment:
Working in schools, rather than all coexisting to drive improvement, I have seen assessment drive curriculum and levels define a student. In worst cases, working in large secondary schools, each having over 50+ primary feeder-schools, students arrive into year 7 have with wild and varied assessment that is often inaccurate and unreliable.
It therefore becomes vital that teachers assess students at the start of the academic year to gain an accurate picture of current capability in their subjects. Thus, our starting point lies with our curriculum in the first place, rather than the assessment itself.
Study fewer things in greater depth, so a deeper understanding of central concepts and ideas can be developed. Assessment should focus on that.” Tim Oates, 2014
There is little joined up thinking between primary and secondary schools. Yet, in good examples, schools who have formed partnerships have an overall curriculum which drives student outcomes: assessment is just a small part of it.
Mastering Key Concepts:
To have mastered a skill or concept, a student must possess a deep understanding and be capable of applying that skill or concept creatively and/or in a range of different contexts.
Mastery learning breaks subject matter and learning content into units with clearly specified objectives which are pursued until they are achieved [… ] Teachers seek to avoid unnecessary repetition by regularly assessing knowledge and skills. Those who do not reach the required level are provided with additional tuition, peer support, small group discussions, or homework so that they can reach the expected level.” Education Endowment Foundation, June 2015.
Teachers will need to find ways to support pupils who are struggling to progress at the same pace as the rest of the class, as well as by creating tasks for other learners to deepen their understanding.
Taxonomy is simply a classification. The model you choose describes what your mark scheme means. It also provides a shared language to describe where a pupil is on their learning journey towards deep understanding of a subject area or concept. The *illustration below takes Anderson and Krathwohl’s revision (2001) to the cognitive domain from Bloom’s taxonomy, to illustrate depth of learning and how this could sit alongside a mark scheme.
*Remember this model may not be appropriate for all subjects.
Curriculum Coverage and Assessment:
Creating a curriculum, a scheme of work or an assessment, teachers must identify the main objectives of the programmes of study. It is essential to focus on understanding the skills and knowledge that are required by pupils to learn key concepts, rather than developing content or activities for pupils to do.
Getting this part right at classroom level is crucial and staff must be given time to understand and collaborate; it will not happen overnight.
Somehow coverage has also become a pseudonym for learning. In essence, teaching can be unwittingly mistaken for learning.” Beth Budden
Schools will need to demonstrate how it is prepared to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum that is accessible to all pupils. This means you will need to evidence both what is planned to be taught and what has been taught.
Monitoring Attainment and Progress:
All assessments should be related to the curriculum that is being taught in school and we should now be looking for greater depth in the assessment that takes place. However, not all assessments need to be recorded in a formal system. No one wants to unnecessarily increase teacher workload and schools must be both realistic and selective.
Any system will need to capture a portfolio of evidence to demonstrate progress towards mastery of key concepts, rather than a grid showing summative assessments.
Ofsted will take a range of evidence into account when making judgements, including published performance data, the school’s in-year performance data and work in pupils’ books and folders. However, unnecessary or extensive collections of marked pupils’ work are not required for inspection.” Ofsted Handbook, 2015
The bar for attainment is rising each year and there seems no indication that it will remain steady for some time. Primary schools are now expected to have 85% of pupils meeting the expected standard in reading, writing and maths by the end of key stage 1 and 2.
In his speech on assessment after levels in February 2015, Nick Gibb described how the use of levels had:
… failed to give parents clarity over how their children were performing … schools have lost sight of the need for a “genuine conversation” with parents and that too much attention had been paid to getting children over boundaries.
Transition to a new model:
How schools communicate reports and the frequency with which you provide them is dependent on the audience.
Schools often want to plot where pupils are, by making use of their existing data and translating it to their new framework without levels. Technology allows this to be possible, but output is often wildly inaccurate.
Similar to an online assessment platform I used with Goldsmiths College in 2002-8, teachers can assess pupils by ranking them on where they consider each pupil to be. Giving teachers time to go through a new curriculum and skills framework, this method is far more accurate because teachers understand how and why the judgement has been made.
Schools must take the opportunity to ensure everyone has a common understanding. Record who is going to evaluate the impact and performance of your new assessment model, and how. Parents will also need help understanding the changes …
“In reality it is through classroom assessment that attitudes, skills, knowledge and thinking are fostered, nurtured and accelerated – or stifled.” Hynes (1991) cited in Earl, L. 2004. A.
The implementation of a new curriculum and the removal of levels at the same time provides a unique window of opportunity for education leaders to take ownership and really make a difference to the lives of young people.
You can download the full report here.
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