Inspired by discussions about levels and @AlBrine reminding me of this document from the Dfe on assessing without levels, I’ve been thinking about some of the new models I’ve seen for assessment.
My understanding of why we’re getting rid of levels is:
- They label children – “I’m a 4a”
- They became over complex – They were only ever supposed to be whole numbers not broken down into a/b/c
- As a result in some cases they became laborious to use
- Also as a result the language used in them became -un-user friendly – teachers spent hours putting them into ‘pupil speak’
- Parent’s didn’t understand them
- They became a measuring tool for leaders to measure progress rather than focus on the learning each individual does
I’ve seen the following models:
- Using GCSE (A*-G) grades from year 7
- Going from two strands of assessment to five strands using 1-9
- Using stages of learning i.e from novice to expert
- Systems that use -1,0,1,2 to measure student achievement
- Using the same descriptors i.e Blooms, but without the levels
- Every assessed topic has it’s own set of criteria to show advancement of knowledge & skills
Whilst I have been selective in these models, all I can see the same thing happening again.
Whether a child thinks they are ‘4a’ or ‘F’ or an ‘expert’ or a ‘-1’ , it is surely still going to end in labelling? For example, “I’m ‘developing’ in Biology”. I know I’d be fed up being called a ‘novice’ or an ‘I4’.
Aren’t these just as complex as levels? Subjects will still need to use strands and each strand each new grade/number.
Do we really think that parents will understand them more? Especially as there is a high chance that the systems used between primary and secondary will be different and if they move schools almost certainly different.
Has any school announced with their new systems that they will record progress in a manner that doesn’t fit with a spreadsheet? I doubt it. So regardless, teachers will be under pressure to use these in the same way that levels have been to ensure your class is making progress.
If teachers are making up new criteria for every topic isn’t this going to take hours? God forbid someone wants to change which part of the curriculum you want to directly assess. What if one school says an ‘expert’ is one thing and another school calls that a ‘novice’?
I have also read some of the case studies and watched the clips from schools that have shared their systems via the DfE and TES. In the majority of these (perhaps with the exception of SOLO taxonomy) they seem to be a very similar system but with new labels and ‘made by the school’. In some cases they’re are similarly or more complex than the original levels. In the reports the authors have made some sweeping statements about levels and how their new systems are better but they’re not tallying up. Stating ‘levels put a ceiling on achievement’ isn’t true and to then share a system where there is a ‘top’ level which assumably is also a ceiling seems bizarre. Have people got carried away with their own rhetoric?
I’m not seeing anything that hasn’t really been done before; skills passports with ‘I can’ statements, using overriding statements to describe a student’s knowledge & understanding. None of this is new.
Some of the comments I’ve heard and seen about new systems really worry me. Comments such as ‘I can now regularly focus on progress’ , didn’t you do this before?! Nothing I’m hearing is new if you were assessing effectively anyway.
Have we got overexcited about being given the freedom to do what we want without being dictated to and ended up with exactly the same type of systems ?
A shift in mindset?
“The distinction between assessment of learning and assessment for learning is basically about the intention behind the assessment. So, if you’re assessing in order to help you teach better, that’s assessment for learning, and if you’re assessing in order to grade students, to rank them or to give them a score on a test, then that’s assessment of learning.”
Dylan Wiliam, ‘Assessment for Learning: why, what and how‘
(found in Alex Quigley’s blog on levelling)
All I’m seeing in some of these new models is assessment of learning.
So is the difference between the levels system and any new system just in our mindset? or more the mindset of the leaders in our schools?
If we have leaders who are still interested in children making exceptional progress then surely any method we introduce will go the same way as levels?
Any system that truly has assessment for learning at heart will probably not fit into a spreadsheet or SIMS. It may not be neat and our spreadsheets might not gleam with green boxes.
How many leaders will stop teachers having to enter data into a system at least once a half term? Or will it still be a case of the tail wagging the dog?
So should we be spending a lot of time and effort rewriting things that we think will focus on deeper learning and creating new data systems or are they just a case of the emperor’s new clothes?