Friday, October 30, 2015

Thinking out loud: assessment

In amongst my roles at school is that of assessment coordinator. It's in the back of my mind a lot and as a county moderator I am acutely aware that we need to produce a system for our school, grounded in our curriculum, before I go out and act as a critical friend to others. For that's all I can be at the moment. With so many different systems, questioning a school's rationale for the systems they have in place may be the best I can offer.

 The confusing aftermath of the removal of levels has been captured brilliantly by @theprimaryhead in his blog post, Who Needs Levels Anyway? If you need a good chuckle, it's a must read! (Don't read whilst drinking tea. Spitting it out could seriously damage your tech!)

So how can we develop an effective assessment system?

As an advocate of all things formative, I agree with many of the messages in the Final Report of the Commission on Assessment without Levels and of course Dame Allison Peacock's Learning without Limits. I have written about this before, but having seen fleas in a jar it captures beautifully (scarily?) what happens when you put a ceiling on children's learning i.e. by levelling them.

 I have questioned my own practice considerably over the last few weeks, particularly in maths, and wonder if I have unintentionally been putting some of my children in a jar. That is another blog post, but some superb maths CPD and a relective moderation meeting have challenged my ideas and are helping me move forward. Although I heartily agree with much of what Tim Oates says, I have blindly followed some assessment systems without questioning them. Carry on learning eh? 

So here is what we have done so far at East Harling. It may not be perfect (yet), but it's our story and therefore we can redraft and tweak it as and when necessary. This will be essential over the next couple of years as we adapt our curriculum and aim to create a seamless system whereby assessment is an integral part of teaching. (When I say 'we' I am not elevating myself to royalty, but referring to our SMT, which consists of my HT, English, Maths and curriculum coordinators. Four of us have been deputies. It is an experienced team).

We use Pupil Asset at school, which I quite like. Under the new curriculum it takes the NAHT KPIs and allows you to click beginning, developing, embedded and not achieved for children. It then provides a DNA strip that will quickly show you what a child is able to do and where they struggle. For maths the KPIs are clumped into 'domains', though in the National Curriculum it is made clear that rich connections should be made between them, to develop fluency. 

At school we acknowledge that not all teachers are as familiar with this. We haven't had a staff meeting on it yet and you can't assume that everyone will have had a play with it. Equally, some teachers prefer to work on paper. Because of this, at the beginning of the year I created paper based tick lists for Maths (tweaked by our maths coordinator), based on the KPIS, and today have spent time creating them for English*. They need to be used in conjunction with the National Curriculum and the NAHT assessment frameworks and it is important that, especially for maths, you are not just assessing content, but fluency, reasoning and problem solving. Our expectations must exceed the NAHT descriptors so that learning is not limited (especially in writing where they seem low for some children). Because of this, our assessment sheets identify where an objective has been seen, (the child is) secure, (the child is) fluent and can reason and problem solve- the greater depth part. The latter may not be 'tickable' until the end of the year as children would need to show that they have mastered the skills across different contexts. I think it may prove hard to measure - and could be very subjective. This itself causes problems as schools may differ in their expectations as to what fluency and greater depth look like. 

I think that the Rising Stars assessment progression frameworks could prove invaluable. Why? Because it reminds us that we must not just focus on the things we are assessing (fleas in jars?), but all the things that will help make our children competent, confident, inquisitive, creative and expressive mathematicians, readers and writers.  

This is particularly important for new teachers who will not have the knowledge of the breadth of the curriculum, or those missing objectives. Likewise, they may not understand all the components that would make a child fluent with concepts such as place value, that the KPIs are only the big ideas that save us assessing countless objectives. And that's what we need to decide and tweak for our school by asking questions, like: What are the big ideas in our curriculum, the things that children must know at the end of each year? I anticipate that our method of assessment will be tweaked continously until it fits us. What we are desperate to avoid is the limiting of learning that Tim Oates and Dame Allison have attributed to levelling. Can we find an effective system that doesn't do this? If you have any thoughts or ideas, I'd love to hear them!

If you want to reflect even further on this, read (or re-read) @michaelT1979's 'Have we forgotten the rationale for scrapping levels?' or hot off the press, 'Updated assessment journeys' by @tim_jumpclarke. 

I'm still wondering how many schools are doing the same thing, creating systems, questioning what they are doing, becoming confused and going round in circles ...

* I will share these via google docs if anyone would like a copy


  1. 'Who Needs Levels anyway?' was such a great read, thanks for sharing! We are using PA too, but I am not convinced by it yet...particularly for SEN.

    1. Yes - a friend and I have been talking about assessment for children with SEN. The 'not as we know it' assessment materials might work well. I had looked at it a while a go and a friend then purchased it for her school. Michael Tidd recommends FLiC, which looks good too (though I'm not sure about children with SEN).


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