Five checks to see if you’ve replaced levels with levels


This is the first post in sharing the assessment system that my department has developed for ‘life without levels’.

I’ve already written about how I think for many, the systems that have been created are essentially levels rehashed in “Assessing without levels – A case of the emperor’s new clothes?”

I’ve also written about why I think that many teachers have struggled with creating new systems in “Teaching automatons? Looking at the what and why instead of the how“.

I spent a long time reading about what other people had done via blogs, Twitter, conferences and the official DfE case studies. I learnt a lot, both good and bad.

Firstly I looked at why levels were being dropped and considered how a new system may or may not avoid the previous issues. Consider these five questions to see if your ‘new’ system falls into the traps of the old levels:

  1. Do you have labels for children depending on how they’re working?

Calling a child a 4a or 6c was easy. It was a common language. However lots of the systems I’ve looked at have essentially replaced the number/letter combo with something else. It may be more ‘sexy’ but it’s still a label. Children aren’t silly, they know a ‘gold’ is better than a ‘silver’ they know that a ‘master’ is better than a ‘novice’. New labels, same problems. In fact worse problems, if you come up to ks3 being a ‘lion’ I have no idea what that means, at least I had some sort of idea with a 3a. Sadly ‘developing’ has now been reserved for students working a a certain level instead of being used for all students who are getting better at something.

2. Have you blocked different skills together in one box?

Expected progress

  • Can confidently add up
  • Can confidently subtract
  • Can confidently write their own name
  • Can confidently make their own bed
  • Can confidently hop and skip

What if they can confidently add up but fall over when they hop and skip? Are they still making expected progress?

If you’ve done this it is unlikely that all students classified by this box can really do all the expected skills. Some of the skills may be so different it is illogical to even put them together. The ‘best fit’ model was ditched for this reason.

3. Have you used language that means very little to students (or teachers*), usually based on Bloom’s taxonomy?


Some development.

Partial identification.

Fully mastered.

What do these ACTUALLY mean?

4. Does it take just as longer or even longer to use the system than levels?

One of the main aims was to reduce teacher workload, if if doesn’t, something’s gone badly wrong.

5. Is there a large chance of disagreement and potential issue of inconsistency*?

Is it a 2a or a 3c? How can the key stage 2 teacher assessment be correct, he/she’s nowhere near a 4b? Vague language and use of subjective adjectives all cause issues with consistency. Think of the hours wasted with teachers arguing about levels. Ideally this needs to be reduced as far as possible.

I tried to keep all of these in the back of my mind as I’ve been developing our assessment system. You will see how far we’ve achieved it in the next couple of posts….

*Exam boards continue to do this….



5 thoughts on “Five checks to see if you’ve replaced levels with levels

  1. Pingback: The foundations of assessment: Myths & challenges | missdcoxblog

  2. Pingback: A model for whole school life without levels | missdcoxblog

  3. Pingback: Life without levels in RE: what do we want to assess? | missdcoxblog

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