Assessment – a bit nearer…

In common with all schools we have been going through the process of devising an assessment system following the decision to discontinue levels at Key Stage 3. In the beginning we lamented the loss of levels mostly, it turned out, because we were in a sort of collective haze of disbelief and worry about how we could deal with this enormous task but we soon got over ourselves. When something big and new is required, I have a tried and tested process: outwardly ignore; meanwhile think about the issue at hand – turn it over as I go about my daily routine, chew it over when I swim causing me to lose count of the lengths I have done; talk to colleagues; research (of course, my go-to place for research is now the generous cyber space that is Twitter) – find out as much as I can about the issue and what is going on elsewhere until I have my thinking in some sort of shape. Once I get to this stage I put something in writing and call a meeting of the Assessment Focus Group (AssFoc) which is an ad hoc group convened as and when necessary to deal with all matters related to assessment and data.

AssFoc talks, discusses, disagrees, amends, adds, subtracts from what I’ve drafted out and I then go away and re-draft. We repeat this as often as is necessary but it rarely requires more than two meetings before we are ready to share our outcomes with the rest of the staff.

This process has served us well where the new assessment landscape is concerned. I have blogged previously (still can’t do that “here” thing!) about our early discussions where we toyed with a variety of ideas. Funnily enough we were agreed from the start that we didn’t want to continue with the old levels. I’m a big believer that when things move on you have to move with them or you will find yourself seriously adrift of what is happening in the wider education world. In fact, where possible, I’ve always tried to stay ahead of the game by using what has become considerable knowledge of assessment to predict what’s coming next. I’ve got quite good at it over the years! We did, however, spend a lot of time talking about some form of levels type system passing quickly through numbers to letters and back to numbers; looking at how we could marry such a system in with new GCSE grades/numbers and getting quite excited when it was mooted that GCSEs might be known as Intermediate levels which meant KS3 could be Elementary Levels. Than as often happens with these things we all went away and I continued with my thinking and talking until actually a simpler, more direct, robust idea gradually settled.

What follows is our current, and possibly final, thinking. It is probably easier to understand when talked through but, of course that is not so easy to do. What happens next is that AssFoc will meet – they have already had the draft paper – to discuss the ideas and consider if they are workable and will do what we think they will do. Amendments will be made and then the whole will go to a joint Heads of Faculty and Community meeting before cascading to the rest of the school. The next twelve months will be considered a pilot year where we continuously assess what we are doing and its success and make refinement as we go along before a formal review towards the end of next academic year.

What follows is the draft document due for discussion this week. If anything here is useful to others then that’s great. If it’s not then you might have something a lot better so get blogging it and let us all in on the secret!

Following previous debate and discussion at Assfoc and also with individuals, not to mention my frequent trawling of blogs via Twitter! I have further refined my thinking about how we need to approach assessment in a post-levels world.

Our principles of assessment should be:
Simple – everyone, pupil, teacher, parent, external agency – should be able to understand and apply the
system with little explanation
Designed to ensure that pupils can demonstrate what they know and what they don’t
Used to ensure that gaps are filled for the individual and closed between the various cohorts
Honest – not rewarding mediocrity or giving the benefit of the doubt – or worse
Based on developing the key knowledge and skills required for success at KS4
Informed by formative assessment designed by each faculty/subject
Informed by summative assessment termly to build to an outcome for the year

Developing the Curriculum
We have now agreed that the curriculum will be divided into 9 blocks – 3 for each of Years 7, 8 and 9- with each block containing a variety of elements of knowledge or skills from that subject. Each faculty and subject is currently deciding how best to divide their content considering:
• what pupils must know/understand/be able to do in order to be successful in the subject and capable of continuing to study it post -16. We know that not all children will choose to continue to follow a particular subject post-16 but an aspiration that they should all be so equipped is surely aspirational and desirable.
• what concepts matter the most and need to be studied in depth and detail. It will not be possible to treat all aspects of a subject equally or in depth – there simply isn’t the curriculum time however the timetable is carved up. So let’s not get overwhelmed by trying to get quarts into pint pots and rather accept – and embrace – the realisation that choices will need to be made. I think it might be liberating.
• what tools pupils need to access/absorb/embed knowledge and skills

This must then be set against our 4 curriculum principles to ensure challenge and aspiration:
• Be coherent and consistent, designed to develop creative thinkers
• Invest in and extend students’ cultural capital
• Be academically and aspirationally challenging
• Provide an enriched experience of education

Simply put: faculties/subjects will need to identify the key knowledge and skills pupils need to be successful in KS4, then work backwards to decide what this will look like throughout KS3. It’s a flight path model – without all the paper to stick in!

Some Caveats:
• We are not helped in this work by the fact that, with the exception of English and maths, the new GCSE specifications are not yet available. I think we can overcome this to some extent by using the current Band descriptors with a (new) 5 equalling the new C – this is around what is currently a B – and scaling up to 6, 7, 8 and 9. This is not perfect but will get us nearer to where we need to be.
• Despite coming up with ways we could use letters or numbers and align them with the new GCSE numbers, I have come round to the view that we would be better off avoiding letters, numbers or other ways of describing some version of levels. Our system, thinking, language and assessment needs to be focussed round levels of progress. In the first instance, I think this should be a straightforward 3 and 4+ levels. I understand there are good arguments for defining 5, 6 and maybe even 7 levels of progress but I think we have to do what is manageable at the beginning of this time of major change.

Developing Assessment Statements
• Each Faculty/Subject will need to look at the GCSE criteria for their subject and then the starting point of the children – their KS2 APS, while these last.
• They will then need to draw up for each APS level – 2,3,4,5,6 – a statement outlining what pupils need to know, understand and be able to do by the end of each year in order to be on track for each of 3 and 4+ levels of progress. The assessment statements must be as unequivocal and unambiguous as possible to create robust, accurate assessment and avoid grey areas.
• Working backwards, this would then inform what pupils need to know/understand/be able to do by the end of each curriculum block in order to be on their progress flight path.

Flight paths
KS2 APS Current NEW GCSE
6+ A* 9-8
6-5 A-B 7-6
5-4 B-C 5-4
3-2 D-G 3-1

Reporting Progress
Currently, we report to parents three times a year and I think we should continue to do this. However, the shape of our reports will need to change. We won’t have a level/grade target so will now focus on how they’ve done relative to their starting point – levels of progress (LOPs). This means there is no limit to what a pupil can be expected to achieve. The assessments should be based on a range of data: ongoing feedback and observation, punctuality and so forth.
• One suggestion is that in autumn and spring we simply report on progress and attitude to learning using a form of RAG rating. I think the RAG rating is a useful visual tool for all of us. Using the definition that expected progress = 3 levels of progress, this would work as follows:
o Making less than expected progress – RED
o Making expected progress– AMBER
o Making better than expected progress – GREEN
• Attitude to learning would be a straightforward RAG Rating using the definition “ attitude to learning includes everything that contributes to good learning: punctuality, homework, effort made, equipment, good behaviour”
o Unacceptable attitude to learning – RED (two or more of the items above being breached consistently)
o Good attitude to learning – AMBER (most of the elements being in place consistently)
o Impressive attitude to learning – GREEN (all elements – and perhaps more – being in place consistently)

It would be possible to assign each of these colours a number to facilitate tracking:
o RED -0
o AMBER -1
o GREEN -2

Summative – End of Year – reporting
• The pupils who are in school from Year 8 upwards will sit many more exams than is currently the case and they need to have the understanding and stamina to cope with that. It’s not realistic to try and run formal exams but we can replicate a version of that in classrooms.
• To this end, pupils in KS3 will sit a formal assessment towards the end of each curriculum block. This must be designed to test all the elements of the term’s work and to assess all levels of ability – new GCSE papers will not be tiered.
• It can be in any format designated by the faculty/subject but must present the pupils with a challenging assessment and a valid experience of working in formal “exam” conditions. It would seem logical to me to design the end of term assessments in the same format as GCSE as soon as we know what that looks like. We might need a bit of best guess til then!
• Staff workload in terms of marking needs to be considered. My proposal is to have a dedicated assessment week – with a bit of flexibility for subjects with less curriculum time – when all classes should be doing mainly assessments in controlled conditions. This will mean that staff can use that considerable time while pupils are doing tests for marking the tests of previous classes.
• The assessment outcomes will be percentages which will be entered on SIMS.
• The percentages will be averaged at the end of the year giving an end of year assessment which might look as follows with the percentage thresholds:

Chart Showing Percentage Thresholds
Definition KS2 L2 KS2 L3 KS2 L4 KS2 L5 KS2 L6+
Making less than expected progress – RED 20 30 40 50 50
Making expected progress– AMBER 30 40 50 60 60
Making better than expected progress – GREEN 40 50 65 70 80

• My proposal for the assessment weeks is to place them three weeks before the end of term to give maximum time for curriculum coverage. Following the assessment weeks, time can then be used for intervention and extension.
• Data captures will not necessarily take account of these end of term assessments but will rely on the professional judgement of teachers to determine if pupils are making expected progress

Other Thoughts
• KS4 reporting needs further work but won’t be needed until 2016.
• We may want to look at some way for pupils to be able to track their own progress once we feel we have a secure system in place
• Mock exams in Years 10 and 11 will be put in place for the current Year 8 by which time we should have the basic assessment systems working effectively.

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