Trying to learn from my mistakes about assessment and reporting to parents.

Okay – when it comes to assessment and reporting assessment information to parents, I have made some big mistakes over the past few years.  Always with the best of intentions though.

When the announcement was made that National Curriculum Levels would no longer be used at KS3 I was keen to set up a system that would allow teachers to track pupil progress in a similar way to how they had previously tracked progress.  At the time I assumed that the best way to do this would be to use GCSE grades at KS3.  Hours of teacher time was spent creating grade criteria for every subject (even though the exam boards produced very little and made it very clear that grade boundaries would change year to year making it impossible to say what a Grade 5 or 7 actually looks like).  Subject leads also created subject specific flight paths showing where low, middle and high prior attainers should be at key assessment points to achieve their target grade (this was decided based on their KS2 SATs results).  I hoped this system would allow us to identify underperformance as early as possible and intervene as soon as someone dropped below their expected flightpath.

flightpath

I am so lucky to work with such talented colleagues who commit themselves with real dedication and effort to any challenge they are given.  It all seemed perfect . . . until we started actually using the system.  Teachers found it very difficult to accurately assess what grade a Year 9 or 10 student was working at based on a small assessment, completed in lesson, testing only a small aspect of the specification, let alone assessing what grade a Year 7 or 8 student was working at when they were not even studying the GCSE specification.  Teachers ended up saying that a student was ‘working at’ a Grade 4 if they had shown elements of what they believed was Grade 4 standard knowledge or skills in their work or, another concern was that teachers were simply inputting grades which fitted the flight paths that had been designed by each subject if they had no major concerns about the student.  This was not the assessment system I had wanted to introduce.  Added to this we were lying to parents.  We were telling them their child was working at a Grade 3 or a Grade 4 when they weren’t.  We were also assuming that progress was linear, while some subject leads came up with some creative flight paths to try and address this issue, the assessment system was not accurately telling us who was performing well and who was underperforming.

I decided to change things . . . and got it wrong yet again!  This time I decided to focus purely on KS3.  We would continue using GCSE grades at KS4 as, despite the problems, at least students were studying the GCSE specifications.  At KS3 I decided to move towards a statement system.  I asked subject leads to produce one page documents stating what they believed students should be able to do at each key data entry point (e.g. December, April, July).

Picture1

These statements also had to be differentiated to show what a low, middle or high ability student was supposed to be able to do.  They were essentially a checklist that teachers could refer to when entering data to say whether students were making ‘Expected’, ‘Better Than Expected’ or ‘Less Than Expected’ progress.  My hope with this system of assessment was to try and link assessment directly to the curriculum.  The problem, this type of assessment system was too vague and too time consuming.  When teachers inputted data they had to constantly refer back to their statement sheet and then use a ‘best fit’ approach to decide whether a student was ‘Making Expected Progress’.  This ‘best fit’ approach when looking at the statements/criteria was hugely flawed and I suspect that teachers tended to be generous with students and say that they were making expected progress even when they were slightly underperforming so as not to demotivate the student.  This system also increased the number of parents contacting the school as, when a report was sent home saying ‘Less Than Expected Progress’ for a child’s subject, their parents immediately contacted the school to find out why they were underperforming because the statement didn’t tell them enough information.  In terms of analysing the data, it was fairly useless too as it did not tell subject leads what students couldn’t do or what intervention was needed.  So, I was asking teachers to spend a lot of time inputting statements that were essentially pointless and isn’t helping support students in making progress.  So, what next, where do I go from here?

Well, this is my current thinking on what assessment should look like.  In my opinion, assessment should be closely linked to the curriculum, good assessment should inform teachers about how well they have taught a topic and whether students have understood what they have been taught.  Good assessment should easily help us identify student strengths and weaknesses and help teachers plan the next steps in their teaching.  In the past I have not prioritised these things and have overcomplicated assessment because I’ve been more concerned about what information can be sent home to parents rather than whether the assessment system is supporting the curriculum and student progress.  I now believe that I should be setting up the following system:

  • All subjects complete an assessment at the end of a unit of work (subjects already do this).
  • Student work should be marked and turned into a percentage.
  • This percentage should be recorded on the school system.
  • Reports to parents should show, the percentage that students achieved in their most recent assessment, the average percentage for the group and the average percentage with students with a similar KS2 starting point.

Why do I think this is better?  I believe this stops us from using ‘made up’ statements or grades and focuses on factual, summative assessment information.  From this summative data, subject leads and SLT can easily identify students who are underperforming based on their mastery of the content and their performance compared to peers of similar abilities.  There is also no attempt to hide or ‘sugar coat’ underperformance when reporting to parents.  If a child is underperforming in comparison to their peers of a similar KS2 ability then it is something that the school and parents need to be aware of and act on.

So what might an assessment look like?  In History, to ensure that surface level understanding and deeper understanding was being checked I might do the following:

The milestone would have three parts:

  • Part 1: Knowledge Test (These questions could be multiple choice – tests retention/surface level understanding but knowledge is required for deeper understanding)
  • Part 2: Source Question (assesses application of knowledge and develops key historical skills of using evidence)
  • Part 3: Mini-essay – causation/interpretation/significance type question (depending on what the key focus of the six week unit of work has been) (This allows students to demonstrate a deeper level of understanding in their extended writing

The marks for each of these would be combined to provide one percentage for the assessment.

On a teacher’s individual marksheet they would record marks for all three sections to identify whether students have areas for development in relation to knowledge, source skills or application of knowledge.

This information could then be reported to parents in the following way:

 

Picture3

So the teacher, and the parent, would be able to see that while this student has performed well in comparison to the class, when they are compared to other students who achieved well in their KS2 SATs, they are roughly in line with them.  This would hopefully act as a way to encourage this student to work even harder in the subject rather than getting complacent if they were just compared to the class average.

I do still have some reservations about moving to this type of assessment system:

  • How would we support students who are always receiving marks below the average for the group? Would they stay motivated even if their effort grade was ‘good’?
  • Will the ‘below average’ students be dominated by SEND and disadvantaged students? Is there a problem of not simply giving a summative result and not considering this in relation to a student’s prior attainment?
  • Will students who are achieving marks above the class average become lazy?
  • Do we need to be specific about how we want teachers/subjects to intervene with students after a data entry?

But I strongly believe using summative data from assessments which have been mapped out and clearly linked to the curriculum is the way forward and will prove to be a much more effective system than one using GCSE grades or progress statements.

My plans for assessment are still in the draft/planning stage at present and I would appreciate any feedback as to whether people think I am moving in the right direction or not.  I hope what I’ve written also proves useful for others.

NB: Much of my current thinking on assessment comes from the amazing blogs written by Professor Becky Allen where she considers the risks and positives of different types of assessment and reporting systems.  The blog can be found here.

 

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