Saturday, 3 May 2014

The future of assessment?

Levels are ‘over-complicated, vague and unambitious’. So the government have scrapped them. 

Unfortunately, up until now, they didn’t really provide any information about what was going to replace them.  And in the absence of that information, many schools have decided to stick with levels for the time being.

But now we have the information.  Or rather, now we have brief descriptions of the models from nine schools that have been chosen to receive money from the assessment innovation fund.  Each of the schools will get up to £10,000 to turn their assessment models into packages which other schools can use.
Those schools chosen are 2 primary, 1 primary/secondary, 4 secondary and 2 special schools. 

When I first read through the descriptions of the assessment packages, I must confess to (a) being a little disappointed and (b) wishing that I had applied with the model that a colleague and I are developing for use in primary.  Many of the packages sound very much like a combination of formative assessment (including self-assessment booklets) and end-of-topic tests.  A couple focus on ‘skills’ and abilities (primary and special school) while others focus on curriculum content or topics (secondary). 

All very reasonable ways of identifying the progress a pupil has made, and reporting it to others but nothing really innovative.

The DfE have also produced a set of core assessment principles.  This states that:

Schools will be expected to demonstrate (with evidence) their assessment of pupils’ progress, to keep parents informed, to enable governors to make judgements about the school’s effectiveness, and to inform Ofsted inspections.
So, what can we determine about acceptable assessment models from the short descriptions given in the DfE press release?  

The models include:
·         skills passports
·         ladders of curriculum content to climb
·         formative assessment which allows students to improve and develop their understanding
·         students assigned to levels of mastery / understanding
·         end of topic tests to provide numerical data

Looking at the ideas described, I think that we can probably summarise the models as:

Primary and Special schools: 
Can the kids do stuff? Can they do more stuff than last half-term?
Secondary Schools
Do the kids know stuff? Do the kids know more stuff than they did last half-term? 

So what should you do when replacing levels?  The concept of backward planning (as ably demonstrated by York Science for KS3) seems to be a good starting point.  
  • First of all, decide what you want pupils to do or know
  • Then, decide what evidence would let you know this
  • Finally, plan your teaching experiences (lesson plans, schemes of learning etc).
In your teaching experiences include opportunities for formative assessment and summative assessment.  These assessment opportunities should make use of the evidence of learning that you have previously identified.  Think about what an 'average' student should be able to do/know, or a student who isn't quite there, or one who is well ahead.

The models picked from the Assessment Innovation Fund have aspects of these principles included, but they aren't overly complicated.  The models look different, and will be used in different ways*. However, they all allow assessment (formative and summative) tracking and reporting of progress.   

And there you have it . . .assessment without levels.

 *Which will perhaps be comforting when it comes to explaining your own assessment model to Ofsted.  Though it might make things much harder for Ofsted when it comes to looking at data.


More details about each school assessment model are:

Hillyfield Primary Academy, London (primary)
Skills passport in foundation subjects throughout KS1 and KS2.  On demonstrating mastery of a skill, children stamp the skill in the passport.
Longer term, school will develop an app that can be used in class by teachers
Hiltingbury Junior school, Hampshire (primary)
‘ladder’ approach to maths, reading and writing. School agrees expectations for each year group, dividing each subject into key skill areas.
Children use a ‘ladder booklet’.
Steps are divided into areas of exploring, achieving, exceeding
West Exe technology College, Exeter (primary and secondary)
‘ladder’ approach with objectives driven by curriculum content. Each objective is a short, discrete, qualitative and concrete description of what a student is expected to know and be able to do within a specific subject area and topic.
Formative and summative (end of topic) assessments are used.
Moderated by experienced professionals to ensure consistency.
Westminster Academy, London (Secondary)
Percentage score system to reflect a student’s mastery.  Curriculum divided into discrete topics (about 15 per year) each assessed by in-class quite, homework and end-of-term exam.  Overall score derived from performance for each topic, with an average produced to cover all topics.
Trinity Academy, Halifax (Secondary)
Curriculum broken down into units (categorised as foundation, elementary, intermediate or advanced).  Students complete a test to ascertain their degree of mastery.  Level of success places them at a point within a category: no progress, expected progress, exceptional progress. 
Durrington High School, West Sussex (Secondary)
School used KS2 date and other assessments in year 7 (CATs, reading tests, internal tests) to groups students into 4 thresholds based on their prior assessments: excellence, secure, developing and foundation. Formative feedback provided based on day-to-day work. Summative assessments (half termly/termly) are used to  further assess how well students are doing.
Sirius Academy, Hull (Secondary)
Focussed on D&T only. Not clear what is actually involved in the assessment system.
Swiss Cottage School, London (Special School)
Progression planners. Themed around priority areas for individuals with severe learning difficulties and consistent with principles and ethos of the new NC.
Frank Wise school, Banbury (Special School)
Series of assessments that screen the level of development of basic cognitive skills.