The principle goal of education in (the) schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done. Jean Piaget
In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility. Eleanor Roosevelt
In every classroom there is likely to be a group of children who feel inferior to their classmates, with some actively articulating their difficulty in learning. I can’t…. draw, dance, remember, calculate…I’m not as good as….. Life is full of pitfalls and the ability to face these is often the real test. Schools should be places where learners can seek solutions with active guidance and support as needed. Is failing as good for the soul as some would make out? Or, on learning situations, should areas for development be the mantra?
If we allow regular, polarised usage of such words to colour and determine education, what is the subsequent impact on the learning journeys of young people?
Without some goals and some efforts to reach it, no man can live. John Dewey
In another post, I have argued that assessment is the underpinning of teacher thinking, from planning to classroom action, followed by evaluation.
Michael Gove spoke at the Institute of Education Festival of Education on 17th November 2012 and appeared to suggest that assessment was simply examination and that external examinations were the only valid exams otherwise “it’s only play”. It’s probably making assessment gurus like Dylan William redden and despair.
In 1988 at the inception of the National Curriculum, the incumbent Secretary of State, Kenneth Baker, was advised by the Task Group on Assessment and Testing, TGAT, which was charged with refining the processes within which the whole programme would be assessed. This group made a number of statements which are worthy of continued reflection.
We re-emphasise our recommendation in paragraph 162 on the inclusion of national assessment results in a broader Record of Achievement for each pupil. The assessed aspects of the national curriculum are but part of the whole curriculum, and the Records of Achievement should offer a fuller picture.
A further practical point is that because teachers’ own assessments have an important part to play, attention must be given to developing the methods and skills that teachers will need to make these assessments. The externally-prescribed national assessment tests and tasks will not be adequate to assess pupils’ achievement of all of the attainment targets. It is only through teachers’ appraisal, over an extended period, of pupils’ progress in the curriculum, which is defined by these targets, that comprehensive evidence can be created.
We should stress that this single system across the age range means that many of the early assumptions about age-related attainment targets no longer apply in those terms. Initially, the norms now expected for particular ages will be used in helping to identify criteria appropriate for the system of ten levels; but once devised, the system will rest on the levels and criteria alone, through which different pupils may progress at different paces.
Assessment is a significant tool in a teacher skills toolkit, making on-going judgements that underpin classroom practice. This will be through observation or discussion and oral feedback during a lesson or perhaps written commentary afterwards. Occasionally there may be a test to check what has been remembered. Assessment contributes to teacher decision-making at every stage, as it is based on evidence that forms the developing opinion. These and other elements are formative assessments.
Class, year group, end of module, half term, term examinations are not uncommon, as schools look to validate the outcomes of the teaching over the timescale and to summarise the pupil’s attainment at a particular point in time, known as summative assessment.
One big question is assessment against what? Most schools will use tools which have at their base the levels of the National Curriculum, which have been in place since the 1988 Education Reform Act enshrined it into law. Levelness was designed around a series of criteria or capabilities, against which children’s performance could be assessed, guiding teachers to look for evidence against capability statements. Reporting to parents was often as levels, although in many cases, this was also coupled with statements outlining what has been achieved. Levelness applied across years 1-9, supporting transition and transfer, as long as the receiving teacher and/or context accepted the judgements of the preceding class teacher or school. At GCSE, there are still criteria statements against which teachers make judgements, with attached grades.
Secondary Schools still have GCSE criteria against which to develop competency statements. Primaries are currently finding the process more difficult, as far as conversations suggest when visiting schools.
Is there an alternative to the external exam as the only validation of a child’s ability at the end of a period of schooling? Inevitably there are other models, but these seem to have been bypassed to moves back to the terminal exam. Why does that sound so sinister? Is it because it could terminate a child’s progress through the system, based on performance on one day to summarise a learning career?
Portfolio approaches can be seen in educational contexts from Early Years through to National Vocational Qualifications taken by adults, where the participant or the adult in EYFS keeps a record of achievements to show developing capabilities. In both of these examples, the system is subject to moderation, by an accredited assessor. Pupils in schools could develop a portfolio of unaided work, marked and moderated within the school, validated by an external reviewer. Developmental feedback can be given to address any shortcomings for subsequent review.
Music grading is a series of levelled progressive preparations for external examinations. The process and expectations are clear to all participants. There is an opportunity to gain either a merit or distinction grade beyond the simple pass/fail borderline. This system is based on a learner’s ability, not on their age, so a prodigy could succeed at an early age.
Sport is one area where a participant’s ability is tested regularly. Bars are raised, timings achieved, throws and jumps measured.
Levelness within the current National Curriculum could be seen in the context of either of the above examples and, where used effectively, the levels provided clear criteria for progress and assessment against known targets. Learners know where they have to focus and appreciate the commentary for development.
There have to be checks and balances in any system and being put to the test is an essential life skill, in terms of safety and independent skill, eg driving test, or possibly the ability to perform certain functions, eg professional exams. In each of these examples, there are criteria for skills, knowledge and personal attributes which can be assessed.
Prescription, based on every child knowing success.
- Develop one system of grading or levels within which children will progress throughout their school career.
- Know the start point for every individual.
- Describe the learning journey of each child, in terms of criteria. (WILF)
- Devise a series of engaging, challenging, rigorous contexts within which the pupils will learn. National frameworks or syllabi?
- Offer opportunities for children to produce work of appropriate challenge. (WILF)
- Assess, feedback, advise progress. (WILF)
- Prepare for test. (WILF)
- Levelness based testing/moderation to validate teacher assessment and support subsequent learning.
- Before giving up any specific subject, there should be an assessment of “exit” ability, ensuring credit for every subject.
- Credit should be given to a child’s achievements in school, so that they leave with some documentation detailing their capabilities. Record of Achievement?
- Final assessment. There is no getting away from some final validation of what a pupil can achieve unaided, so there is always likely to be a need for an exit exam. This should purely be on the basis of capability, so should be criterion referenced.
- Requirements for progression to further study or training should be set by the receiving institution, so that it is clear to aspirant apprentices, “A” level or university students what is expected.