That leads us to who knows where, who knows when.
But I'm strong, strong enough to carry him
He ain't heavy, he's my brother
Where assessment went wrong and how it could come right.
Sharing good practice can be flawed, as the good practice has been reflected upon, trialled and implemented in a specific situation, by a specific teacher/school. To seek to take and replicate, without considering the contexts and the insights of the developer, can lead to rapid failure.
Level descriptors, in themselves, were a useful guide to expectation and progress, especially in the Primary school. I can accept that they became more problematic in Secondary, as they appeared to become less quantifiable.
There is one area where issues have never really been addressed, transition within schools and transfer between schools, where receiving teachers and schools seek to say that the preceding experience and judgement was flawed, in doing so, downgrading the professional judgement of a colleague. Level 3 at KS1-2 and 5/6 at KS2-3 transfer has been problematic for the past 27 years.
This may be a result of the high stakes now attached to progress and outcomes. If a Junior school takes in a high proportion of level 3, they have to make progress to 5/6 as an expectation, similarly for 5/6 entering Secondary. It was salutary to hear the Secondary that received children from the Primary cluster talk of retesting on arrival; nothing changes…
Essentially, I think assessment, as a process of interrogating learning, went wrong when it was moved from the level descriptor words, through sub levels, which were so fine-tuned that they were virtually impossible to plan tasks for, then to APP recording sheets, which, for every child, resulted in a bureaucratic nightmare for teachers.
However, before we throw everything away, consider whether APP style sheets could support the fine needs of tracking SEND children, as they do largely describe a step by step approach which could support teacher thinking.
Equally, there may be a case for revisiting the wording of levelness, to see how they can be adjusted to better suit the needs of the new curriculum. The words are the essential component of the process, in that they can be shared, in an appropriate form, to create mental and written targets for personal effort.
A number of new systems that have been developed and shared, especially by Secondary teachers, have seemed to be based on an alphabetical or numeric grading system. There is the implication behind some, that they are linked to GCSE grades, over a three/four/five year period. Some have levels linked too as a cross-over reference. There is potential in these systems to see a future where inaccuracies could still emerge.
In doing all this, assessment, to my mind, has become more about the teacher and less about the learner as part of the learning dynamics.
Reflections on one training event and the Teaching and Learning Takeover conference (TLT14), which brought together three days of thinking about assessment, both to deliver and then to listen to four presentations during TLT14. This post will use both slides from my presentation and tweeted thoughts from TLT14 to illustrate.
Introducing a talk on assessment to a group of teachers recently, I asked if anyone was teaching when the original National Curriculum was introduced. I should probably have how many of them were alive then.
It was, inevitably, a cumbersome beast, created by expert groups in each subject, with a shelf-full of files to tell everyone what should be done. It caused a stir, as teachers, who had been used to working in their own ways, had to reflect on their practice against a new benchmark. In reality, apart from tweaking a few aspects of some subjects, and reordering some topics, for most schools in my area, there appeared to be limited impact.
Over time, there were reviews and slimming down of the documentation. However, there were three parts to the Curriculum, the pedagogy; usually the first section, of differing lengths. The subject specifications and the level descriptors.
As the curriculum and the pedagogy were reasonably solid aspects of local school, it was the level descriptors which caught the professional eye. In fact, it was the level descriptors that had the biggest impact in the raising of teacher expectations of learning outcomes, as they articulated criteria to look for in children’s work, which showed that they were showing certain capabilities. As this was across a range of subjects, the quality of expectation rose, even in subjects where teachers felt a little uncomfortable. Once they had had help in creating appropriate tasks, they then knew what to look for during the task, and they also knew what to look for next. Learning processes had a structure.
There is a difference between knowing how to do something and knowing something. The Primary curriculum became an amalgamation of learning contexts with knowledge and process outcomes. When I became a head in 1990, we developed internal topic specifications across all aspects of learning, using the local inspector/advisor service, to establish a very strong learning narrative that covered both the content and the process needs. Assessment was built into the system, seeking to establish working levels, so that future planning was better focused, rather than a relentless focus on every individual. This latter point was an area for further reflection, over time.
What is assessment? In a nutshell, it impacts on everything that a teacher does; it is in essence thinking about children, where they are and what they need to learn next.
Is there an alternative to growing learners?
It can also link with how you feel about yourself, as a person and a learner.
It can be an enhancing or a limiting factor in learner development. Teachers need to know their subject at an appropriate level to lead the children, through the stages of development of subject specific skills. Inevitably, with thirty children in the class, there will be nuances and subtleties that apply to individuals. Knowing the children really well is a prerequisite to them being supported to make progress, with guidance and feedback fine-tuned to their emerging needs.
Subject development has always suggested to me a mental model akin to a map, with stages to be reached along the way. Other useful analogies might be a ladder or even mountaineering, which I particularly like, as a metaphor, as it also embeds the notion of risk. There’s not very much risk at a desk.
It is also worth considering though, Tom Sherington's "Fuzzy edges" approach to assessment; always acknowledge that the judgement may not be absolute. Sort of ok, with more time and room to think, might be the route to sustained development. Right/wrong could become a block for some.
Where you put the targets and how actively they are a constituent part of the learning, feedback and marking will help to determine the speed and dynamics of progress.
Often in schools, and a straw poll at the training day showed the reality, targets are inside or outside book covers. Once the book is opened, they cannot be seen by teacher or learner so they cannot be a constituent part of learning dialogue within a lesson.
Displays of good outcomes with the process of development also shared and discussed is an essential component.
How I got there/ how you get there, is as important as the finished outcome.