"If you are [...] waiting for the 'right' thing to happen, you might wait for a long time. It's like waiting for all the traffic lights to be green for five miles before starting the trip." - Robert Kiyosaki
Waiting for more clarity on assessment? You’re not alone! Our consultants are hearing from schools daily that they need something to help them with assessment.
At the Education Show last week teachers crammed liked sardines into Colin Watson’s update on Assessment post-Levels. (Colin Watson is the Deputy Director of Assessment Policy and Development at the DfE). However, if they were looking for an epiphany, they were likely disappointed.
There was little in the presentation that we didn’t already know - perhaps with the exception of a little further clarity on the ‘progress measure’ being more around added-value rather then set expectations of progress. There was also confirmation that we won’t know detail about the scaled score for SATs until the first set of tests have been marked.
The truth is, there is nothing really to wait for. Levels were disbanded because they didn’t fit with the freedom of the new curriculum, and they are not being replaced for the same reason.
Yet this freedom comes along with much higher expectations for school performance: 85% of pupils reaching a level equivalent to a 4b (in old money) in the core subjects. Against this backdrop, it is understandable that assessing without a really clear, accredited framework matched to the new curriculum, feels like merrily swinging on a trapeze without a safety net.
Of itself, assessment should not be a scary thing. However, assessment of children has for too long been analogous to teacher accountability. Schools may be forgiven for worrying that if they get assessment ‘wrong’ they are heading towards disaster at their next inspection. So of course they are looking for some direction; some reassurance their approach is on the right lines.
The DfE recently recognised this apprehensiveness by setting up the Commission on Assessment Beyond Levels. We were delighted to see Dame Alison Peacock appointed to this Commission as we have long been fans of her enlightened approach to teaching and assessment. An approach that has seen her school go from special measures to outstanding in just a few short years, and which has created an environment of happy, motivated pupils - and staff.
The Commission is likely to come out with some fantastic examples of how to look at assessment differently. However, what it is not likely to come out with is any kind of scale that will act as a substitute for levels.
So what should you be doing?
According to Tim Oates:
- The new curriculum focuses on fewer things in greater depth, so assessment should be focused on whether a child has really understood and mastered these key skills.
- We need a different concept of children's ability - that each child is capable of anything (with hard work and good teaching) - not labelled according to the level they happen to be in.
- Enabling children to ‘produce stuff’ that can be evaluated: statements, claims, hypotheses, writing, diagrams, pictures – anything that gives teachers an insight into the mental life of the children.
- More assessment – not less – but of a different kind. Teachers need to become ‘assessment kleptomaniacs,' carrying out high-quality formative assessment that ‘richly probes’ the depth of children’s understanding.
So far, so good but how do you capture, track and report on this?
And this, of course, is the crux of the problem, with some schools struggling to understand how to transform their assessments into something reportable – and lacking, frankly, in the reassurance that their children are on track for success in the end of key-stage assessments.
As a result, simple tracking systems have seen some degree of popularity in recent months, but these have their limitations. Ultimately, you need a system of recording your judgements in a way that relates them to the objectives of the curriculum, and to each child’s level of mastery, and then enables you to report on their progress through the curriculum in a way that is clear and digestible.
Happily, we are working on a solution to help you with this, launching in September (full details coming very soon!). Our assessment solution will combine frequent tests for the core subjects to help you keep track, proprietary progress maps that give you a logical route through the core concepts, knowledge and skills of the new curriculum, plus a tracking and reporting tool that will help you read and react to your data and to formulate reports for parents, school leaders and Ofsted.
Summative testing and tracking is not the be-all and end-all of assessment – and on that subject the DfE have been very clear. However, we know that in reality it would be remiss of us not to make sure that our children are on track to succeed, and this is where we can help you.
In the meantime, if you haven't set out on your assessment journey yet, don't wait for all the 'traffic lights to be green' before you do. They're already flashing amber...
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