KS3 Assessment – our first thoughts

I’m taking a big deep breath and posting my school’s first attempts at thinking about how we do assessment now levels have gone. I know that what I’ve written isn’t perfect and may even get chucked out next time we meet and have had time to think further. I’m hoping this blog will therefore be received and understood as an early attempt – I’m very conscious that Twitter can be unforgiving.

This is a time of rapid change within secondary education, not least in assessment. Whilst this can be de-stabilising, it also provides possibilities for doing things differently. There is a new framework for KS3 which has no NC levels but simply states what pupils should be taught. NC levels as we have known them for years no longer exist but we have continued to use them as if they do – in common with most schools.

Early this term we started the process of thinking about what we do about assessment in Key Stage 3 now the levels are gone. It’s both a daunting and an exciting prospect but it quickly became clear that it is also very complex. Our systems and processes are pretty good, although we have concerns about ensuring that data is accurate and reliable, and we have over the last two terms shifted staff language and thinking from attainment to progress. So, where to begin?

My starting point was to do some research on what thinking might be out there – who knew Twitter could be so useful?? – and then create what I called a think piece for our Assessment Focus Group (AssFoc) to consider. This is a group consisting of EBACC subject heads plus the head of D and T to give us the practical subject insight. It meets as the need arises to consider assessment issues. It has proved to be a very useful way of doing things.

I started with some questions that occurred to me in no particular order:

Some thoughts, questions, ideas:
We need to re-visit the purpose of assessment – just exactly what are we doing, how and why? This may seem obvious but I’m not sure it is. I think we might need to go back to basics and decide the answers to these questions.

What do we use assessment for? What does it tell us? How does it inform our planning, our next moves….?

Is our assessment fit for purpose? If not, how can we make it so?

It seems to me it should be: reliable, accurate, meaningful and simple for staff to do – RAMS. Did you see what I did there?

So do we:

Keep the existing levels? Hardly seems appropriate or useful?

Devise our own levels based on what pupils should be taught? Would be school specific, should be easier to apply and monitor, should be directly related to SOWs, should be based on guiding principles agreed by all

Use levels or some other format? Another format would bring the issue of ensuring that parents and pupils understand the new system – although it’s arguable as to whether any of them – not to mention teachers! -understand levels if we’re being really honest.

Where do we stand on KS2 intake data?

Where do we stand on the issue of Year 7 standstill! Our data shows they end the year more or less where they started in terms of assessment. How do we overcome this? Do we have a transition period with its own curriculum for the first 3/6/name-a-figure weeks of Year 7? If so what would be its purpose?

What about the issue of pupils transferring from other places who will, in all probability be using different systems and scales?

I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list but it provided some useful starting points for our first meeting on this thorny issue. My plan was for participants to chuck as many ideas in the pot as possible – nothing was ruled out and nothing was ruled in.

There was a lot of discussion – sometimes heated, sometimes circular, sometimes with a lot of head scratching! We did seem to find some common ground:

Any new system would apply only to the current and incoming Year 7 with 9-11 working through- or perhaps muddling through might be nearer the mark! There will be a lot of mess around these years as from 2015 pupils will achieve a mix of I levels with numbers 1-9 – En and ma – and GCSE grades – all other subjects!

Generally the feeling was that some sort of level/band is desirable but how they should work and how they should be named proved more difficult to determine.

Agreed we need to work back from GCSE which will involve a lot of guesswork until the new specs are released. We also felt sure that it will be more challenging to reach a given grade than is currently the case.

There was concern that any change would be difficult to explain/sell to pupils and parents.
All agreed we need to be able to show progress and that any system should be simple, easy to use and apply to ensure consistency.

It was generally agreed that assessments should be reported to parents at the end of the year with the interim reports simpler and possibly colour coded for progress. (We don’t do written reports – I know you are all very jealous!)

Discussion ranged around various possible systems: linked to APS, a 1-100 scale, letters, a 1-9 scale…One concern was the transition from a KS3 scale to a KS4 scale as this would invariably mean pupils ending KS3 on a high number and then being assessed at a low number!

Some idle chat with one Head of Faculty after the meeting dissolved arrived at some further ideas – isn’t it always the way!!
The new GCSEs may well be called I Levels – Intermediate Levels – and will have a scale from 1-9 where 9 is the highest grade. Our feeling is that 8 and 9 will be above the current A/A*.

The I levels would then be I/1, I/2, I/3 and so on

We could retain levels for KS3 on a 9 point scale called E for elementary Levels

We currently start GCSE in Year 9 – often with foundation content – but there is a sense that we should use E levels through to end of Year 9 due to the increased content over the Key Stage.

Thus a pupil reaching E/9 would be expected to be operating around an I/6 at the start of Year 10 while their target would be I/9.

Targets would/could be derived from whatever the KS2 APS looks like plus challenge. We’d probably need to play around with this a bit and would, perhaps, not create targets until after the first or second termly assessment.

End of year exams would need to become a feature of school life. They would assess the scope of the year’s work and prepare pupils for linear exams. They would need to be about 2 hours per exam.

Reporting at the autumn and spring data captures could be a simple RAG report on categories such as progress, attendance, effort/behaviour…

So there you have it: the fruits of our very first attempt at thinking about our own assessment system. Of course there’s a mass of stuff still to do not least determining what these levels might look like and how they might be applied.

My next step is to put together some ideas about how we might now put some flesh on these bones in a further think piece designed again to get ideas going. To that end, I’ve spent considerable time looking around at what other people are doing and what ideas are out there. It’s proved fruitful for giving me things to think about but so far what I’ve seen tends to be linked to one subject whereas what I need is something school wide.

I don’t know if any of this is right or if it will work: it’s a first step with many more to come.

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