I was fortunate enough to be invited to listen to Eric Halton (Hampshire Assessment Lead) discuss and explore Assessment in line with the new National Curriculum. An intelligent and experienced professional, he is also a very generous individual who gave up two hours of his time last term to debate our schools Assessment Journey system. A conversation which moved my thinking forward and further developed our system.
Eric spoke about the importance of understanding the rationale of the new NC, with its justifiable ambitions to ensure all but the very few with severe specific learning difficulties catch up and keep up. He believes we ought to seize the opportunity to realise these ambitions over the coming years.
The underlying principle of the new NC are for excellence and equity for all. A principle that other ‘high performing jurisdictions’ achieve. We should be aiming for higher attainment and better sustained progress.
Eric spoke about the old NC levels. That because they were based on best fit, broad descriptors and different interpretations, they gave each child a label that did not clearly specify their strengths and areas for development. (Although I think that given the precise nature of documents like APP we were focused on next steps).
@michaelt1979 has blogged about “Have we forgotten the rationale for scrapping levels?” at https://michaelt1979.wordpress.com/2015/10/18/have-we-forgotten-the-rationale-for-scrapping-levels/
By having different expectations for different groups of learners, we limited expectations at times. If a child came into KS2 as a level 1 we would be satisfied and think we had done a good job if they achieved a level 3 in Year 6, without always remembering that they needed to be working at a level 4 to access the KS3 curriculum. Many people firmly believe that learner achieve what our expectations expect them to. Did we all become servants to the +6 sub-levels of progress in KS1 and +7 sub-levels in KS2?
@LeadingLearner has blogged about “Rethinking Target Setting, Flight Paths and Pupil Tracking” here
Some schools are trying to recreate levels. No doubt many (if not all) feel the pressure from external accountability to evidence progress every half-term. However if depth of understanding and breadth of application and the curriculum were sacrificed in the name of accelerated progress and undue pace in the previous NC and system of levels, should we really be continuing down the same road. Eric thinks we need a fundamental shift in our culture of teaching and learning, and I am persuaded to agree.
“How can we truly quantify something as complex and ever changing as children’s learning and development?”
Eric also talks about a visual model of the curriculum as a wall, where we must take time and care not to leave any missing bricks / gaps that will weaken the whole wall in higher rows / future years. This is a different model to that of a series of levels which suggests it is all about getting as high as you can as quickly as possible.
The questions for me at this point were:
- Does our new assessment system/approach give us more meaningful and useful information about every child?
- How do embed assessment activities to identify misconceptions and barriers?
- Do our Assessment Journeys and our Medium Term plans focus on the most significant aspects of learning? Are they manageable, useful and do they have a positive impact?
We can look for evidence for improvements in pupils work, and adjust the pace and depth of provision by responding to the learners. However if we are only interested in simplistic outcomes, that can easily be ticked or quantified how well do we really understand them as learners.
In the past we would often differentiate by giving different targeted groups of learners different objectives and learning activities. We know that pupils will be on different points on their Learning Journey, but it is an ongoing process, not a label, not a fixed grouping. Eric explained by working on the same objective with the whole class we can differentiate through depth, which links to concept of ‘cut away groups’ that many teachers now employ. Some groups of learners need further practice / teaching to ensure they understand and remember and don’t have gaps. Whereas other groups of learners who have sufficiently mastered the objective, can be given enrichment activities to deepen their understanding and extend their thinking, but related to the same objective.
Schools and teachers need to have real clarity about the learning expectations and journey for each child. We need to have a ‘good fit’ not a ‘best fit’. But how do we define this? How do we evidence it?
So lots of ideas, but also still lots of questions? It promises to be another interesting and fascinating year of developing our practice and what we provide for our learners. The role of assessment within that is still to be explored, developed and clarified.