Assessment, at core, means knowing the children, being able to sum up the child at a moment’s notice and having an idea of their needs in order to make progress.
When it comes down to brass tacks, much of assessment is a value judgement. I may not see things in exactly the same way as you. For most of life, that is fine; we can go our own sweet ways, never really bothering about each other. However, where we, as a collective have to agree on whether a specific element of a subject has been “sufficiently” evidenced and is of quality, it may well produce a fine or even a wide difference of opinion. If your judgement, by virtue of your status, is held to be superior, it may well undermine my own confidence in my judgement, with repercussions for the future.
And yet, teachers, in classrooms all over the country are making instant judgements, split-second decisions that ensure the smooth running of a lesson, especially for identified individuals, who may need greater confidence.
Having worked with a large number of School Direct trainees this year, the area of Progress and Outcomes (Teaching Standard 2) linked to their Planning (TS4), then to in-lesson thinking, evaluation and adaptation (TS 6&5) have been the hardest to evidence. One significant issue was the difference in approach between their two school experiences, where often the two schools use different approaches. This led to insecurity in decision making. In September, many will be working in yet another school, with potentially another different scheme. The lack of commonality makes it hard for trainers and trainees.
Much teacher time in 2013/4 was spent discussing or actively promoting the demise of Levels. Where levels were used purely as data points, with little or no reference to the word descriptors, they began to lose currency, especially as this approach enabled children to “progress” with apparent “gaps” in their knowledge. Where schools tracked individuals against their specific learning needs, this aspect was avoided.
We now have Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in many places as indicators of capabilities being sought in particular year groups. It is significantly likely that, at the year end, a proportion of the children in a year group will have “gaps” in their knowledge, which, unless it is tracked on an individual basis, will embed those gaps throughout. Equally, a proportion of children will have found the learning relatively easy and will be working at greater depth. How to evidence that, easily, will also be important.
The removal of levels was supposed to free up the curriculum, to ensure that there were “no limits” to achievement. With a significant focus on Maths and English in the current curriculum, there are regular apocryphal stories, via social media, of children in Primary school having a diet of Maths and English (and PE if they are lucky). So, in removing what was seen as a burden on teachers, to make judgements across different curricular areas, where the descriptors supported aspects of progression, the unintended consequences might be the removal of a common language for discussion and a severely limited curriculum.
It is easy to see how the different elements that make up Teaching and Learning have become more stylised, in order to ensure that each decision point is easily pointed out to an external moderator, or Ofsted.
So everything becomes a “thing” instead of a component in a cyclic process that is based around the central premise of getting to know the children as well as possible.
Planning becomes more rigid, to ensure that every teacher conforms and it can be explained easily. Differentiation can become a range of activities, rather than tasks with define challenge to need. Quality First teaching becomes whole class teaching. Assessment, instead of meaning prompts for in class teacher thinking and interactions, can mean checking the outcome after the lesson- (even Dylan Wiliam now sees AfL as responsive teaching). This approach leads to stacks of marking afterwards.
Allows the NQT to settle early into the day to day running of the school, as a person of status, with colleagues, parents and children. (TS8)
Has good behaviour control operating within the articulated school system. (TS7)
Is able to plan effectively over timescales that allow for thinking time in between to ensure teaching of quality and to fill in any gaps in personal knowledge. (TS4&3)
Is aware of previous attainment, so that benchmarks are established early, to ensure no slippage. (TS2)
Is aware of assessment system in operation, to embed early in expectations. (TS6&1)
Allows them to think for themselves within each lesson and tailor responses to the evident needs of the children. (TS5)
In this way, some capacity is built into the system, enabling the trainee to become more autonomous over time. Not to do so condemns the trainee to be a dependent member of staff.
And, just reviewing the bullet points, the teaching standards could very easily be phrased as learner standards and expectations. They are, after all, two sides of the coin.
Allows the child to settle early into the day to day running of the class, as a person of value, with teachers, parents and children. (LS8)
With developing self-control, operating within the articulated school system. (LS7)
Able to involve themselves effectively over timescales that allow for thinking time in between to ensure teaching of learning and to fill in gaps in personal knowledge. (LS4&3)
Aware of previous attainment, so that benchmarks are established early, to ensure no slippage. (LS2)
Aware of assessment system in operation, to embed early in expectations. Knowing what to do to get “better” (LS6&1)
Allowing them to think for themselves within each lesson and expect appropriate responses to evident personal needs. (LS5)
Regular discussions, focused around Progress and Outcomes (TS2) can support wider expectations of learners and enable refinement in planning, exposition, in-lesson behaviours and post-lesson judgements about next steps.
After all, it’s all based on assessment; refined/agreed judgements.