This means, of course, that each and every day, teachers are making qualitative judgements about what their children achieve. With experience, teachers begin to calibrate their judgements more finely, as they have seen a greater number of outcomes. This fine judgement enables more refined responses to the individual concerned. In many ways, it is the qualitative judgement that informs formative assessment; aka thinking about what the children have achieved and deciding what that means for the next course of action.
Therefore, to me, improving the quality of teacher judgement has always seemed to be central to CPD, or PPD, as it often affects individuals.
We have a relatively young teacher force. Primary NQTs entering the profession in September, will have had between 100 and 150 days of direct in-school experience. This will have been across two key stages, with a gradual build-up of experience in each, in a school context supportive of trainees and with a direct mentor available. As a trainer, I always emphasise moderation activities, to promote professional dialogue about processes and the output.
Whether we like it or not, stratification of children happens; teachers and peers know who is the “best” reader, writer, mathematician, gymnast… They also probably know the opposite. The difficulties can occur when fine-tuned judgements are needed, especially where direct teacher intervention may be needed. And, in many ways this is what concerns me, especially where so much attention is placed on summative judgements and the ensuing data crunching.
There are simple questions that aid calibration of judgement; is this “good enough” for a year x child? Is it better than “good”? If it isn’t good enough, what needs to be addressed? What are the implications for the next teaching session, with a range of outcomes from this one?
Unless the activity devised by the teacher is a “copyist” one, where every child will produce an almost carbon copy of a teacher model, there will be a range of outcomes. Even if every child in a class is “above average”, as can occasionally occur, there will still be a range. Moderating discussion of outcomes is comparative, with embedded criteria being identified as evident or not.
Not that long ago there was a system of levels as a national judgement, used by every school to describe the stratification of outcomes. That these levels were used to give feedback on children’s developing work was inevitable, but over time, from the start in 1987, the move from using the descriptors to the numerical forms distorted their use and utility. We still have a form of descriptors within the year-based approach to the current National Curriculum, with a number of tracking systems ticking off coverage (at least what they’ve planned) and hoping that summative evidence will enable sufficient numbers of children to be described as “at (or above) standard”. In some case, you can’t be “above standard” until term three of the year, as you haven’t covered everything.
And then you end up with this: the set of descriptors that are used to stratify children at the end of the key stage. How helpful is this to further progress, or to identify what needs to be tackled next? It is no use to child, teacher or parent. Ten ways to say you’re not “at standard”. In other words, a waste of teacher (and system) time.
I look at this slide through the eyes of one who was a class-teacher in 1987 when levels were introduced as part of the National Curriculum. They were developed through the work of the Task Group on Assessment and Testing; TGAT, using the available expertise. (blogged about that here) In the context of broad, balanced and very relevant curriculum developments, they were only ever seen as guidance descriptors, to help with teacher judgement, highlighted through moderation activities, a novelty for some. They did move teacher expectations at the end of year 2 to 80% plus achieving a generalised level 2 or better and, in year 6 to level 4 or better. The descriptors described general capability. They enabled standards to rise over a relatively short period.
Today, we have yearness instead of levelness, and in the context of year-based outcomes, I would argue that the statements in James’ slide hold as much for the present as for the recent past, but with the added disadvantage that no-one knows what any of the statements really means. Outcomes are still largely best fit, and gaps can still occur and they certainly don’t tell us the detail that will help future teachers to build on prior learning in detail. If you set a pass mark at 75, with a range of outcomes, there’s not really much difference between 73 and 77, probably decided by qualitative teacher judgement, but is between 60, 75 and 90. It’s the same set of problems. We just think we’re cleverer in having a novel way of describing difference. Numbers don’t describe what a child can and cannot do.
This is one of the reasons why, with my school, we developed an approach to writing that allowed individualised progress and feeding forward of needs, so that they could not be forgotten by either the child or the teacher in the busyness of learning.
Many regular readers will recognise this approach and will have read the associated blogs, but, for those who may not, here are the links.
All writing in one exercise book?
Writing process; tweak your books
Exercise books as personal organisers?
If the development process is sufficiently high profile, then the outcomes improve over time, creating new baselines of expectation, resulting in greater challenge in contexts, associated vocabulary and child motivation, as teachers recognise and identify the progress being made; a self-fulfilling approach.
Process and Product can = quality
Quality; a work in progress
For interest, you might like to see what TGAT originally said about the place of assessment (30 years ago) ...
Clear acceptance that the aim is to support and enhance the professional skills that teachers already deploy to promote learning.
Clear recognition that the focus of responsibility for operation of a new system lies with teachers within schools.
Stress on the formative aims and on giving clear guidance about progress to pupils and to their parents.
Widespread consultation and discussion before proposals are put into effect.
A realistic time-scale for phasing in a new system.
Adequate resources, including in-service provision.
Help with moderation procedures so that the system contributes to communication within schools, between schools, parents and governors, and to the community as a whole about the realisation and evaluation of the aims of schools.
Sensitive handling of any requirements for outside reporting, recognising that simplistic procedures could mislead parents, damage schools, and impair relations between teachers and their pupils.