Having explored different ideas about assessment at KS3 during the last year, we’re about to move forward with our approach.
So far, we’ve been seeking a focus on authentic assessment within subjects, breaking free from all the illusions and falsehoods of NC levels; the ladder of progress that never was. This has generated lots of great discussion in departments about standards and how we assess them. This has included reflections on the problem with ‘can do’ statements and the absolute importance of internal and external moderation of standards based around samples of work. We’ve embraced the idea that standards are relative, not absolute, in most contexts. (See Assessment, Standards and the Bell-Curve).
Meanwhile, in order to give information to parents, we’ve been using an interim Progress Grade using a simple four point scale: Excellent, Good, Some concerns, Poor: EGSP. This has been based on teacher judgements and subject specific test data.
Inevitably, we’ve seen a strong tendency to impose a bell-curve. Across all subjects and all years, we find that about 20% of grades are E, 60% are G and 20% are S/P, with relatively minor fluctuations. Essentially, we’re simply comparing each student’s progress to the cohort. This year we will be putting significant substance behind our measures of progress in two ways:
- The introduction of assignments.
- The introduction of an attainment scale; bell-curve markers linked to GCSE grading.
I explained the concept behind assignments in a previous post. We have now developed them in all subjects for all years 7-13. They are being rolled out this term. Here are some examples from History, Geography and Maths. Each one sets out the knowledge required, the tasks to be completed and the key assessments within a unit. These are stuck in students’ books, annotated by students and teachers as the units progress.
(It’s important to stress that each assignment summarises a huge amount of other detail located within departments – schemes of work, texts, marking criteria, vocabulary lists, exam specifications and so on. Also, the nature of assessment is completely determined within each department; no centralised assessment regime has been imposed.)
Assignments spell out the content behind our assessments at KS3 – as well as at KS4 and KS5. They are entering the everyday discourse around standards and work completion across the school.
After some data experiments, we are now about to introduce a level of rigour to underpin our intuitive bell-curve. This is set out in a paper I’ve issued to staff as part of a consultation. We’ll be tweaking this before sharing with parents in the next week or so. We’ve defined five starting-point ranges to set up five Progress Paths. Within each Progress Path, attainment grades 1-9 are linked to progress grades. We’ve tried to pitch it to be aspirational for all students; ‘Good Progress’ isn’t an easy win for anyone.
Here’s the draft. Let me know your thoughts via the comments.
Assessment at KS3:
Authentic Assessment: Basic Principles
Formative assessment processes should be as authentic as possible in each subject. This means we use tests, assessments against criteria and moderation against bench-marked exemplar work to determine the standards each student is reaching as appropriate for the learning in the subject.
The key to assessment is to define the standards expected in terms that make sense within a subject discipline with reference to actual pieces of work and specific problems. The Austin’s Butterfly metaphor is very powerful. We should identify ambitious goals and give precise feedback about improvements each student can make. We should not accept mediocrity.
Assignments should be a way of signposting the key assessments that will inform teacher judgements of student attainment.
Importantly, whilst standards may be fixed by criteria, test scores and other fixed reference points, progress is judged relative to each student’s starting point. This gives all students scope to make excellent progress regardless of where they start.
In order to give parents, students and teachers an external framework to reference to, we will use the language of the new GCSE grades to mark out the bell-curve of standards in every year.
Progress grades are given to signal progress from the starting point to the current attainment, projecting onto probable future attainment at GCSE.
We have allocated each student in KS3 to a Progress Path based on their KS2 Outcomes. Five Progress Paths cover our cohort effectively. P1 and P5 are small at the extremes; P2, P3 and P4 are our core cohorts.
Allocation to a Progress Path is determined by KS2 outcomes as shown. Where no KS2 data is available, we will use CATS scores and Reading Ages to make a best-fit allocation. (We’ve analysed CATS and Reading Age data to create a matching formula of sorts.) Each year Progress Path allocation would be reviewed so that students can move up to a higher path if their progress suggests they need greater challenge – if they are repeatedly ‘Exceeding Target’ across multiple subjects. In 2016, when we receive KS2 scores centred around 100, we’ll align P1-P5 accordingly.
On SIMS, teachers will enter the Attainment 1-9 grades, based on their assessments. These will automatically generate the EGSP grades following the pattern in the table. Eg P3, Grade 6 is always Good Progress
As 1-9 grades have not been used to-date at KS3, it will take a while to align assessments to fit the model neatly in each subject. They should be viewed as approximate markers; not absolute measures. This will be communicated to parents. Initially, in practice, teachers can enter the number 1-9 that generates the EGSP grade that seems most appropriate.
It is expected that the Good Progress G grade is the default grade for students routinely completing the work to a good standard. E indicates pushing to the top edge of the progress path and should be reserved for genuine excellence. P1/Grade 9 generating E (Excellent Progress) should be rare. This is A**- truly exceptional.
S meaning ‘Slow’ suggests that, whilst progress is being made, it needs to improve to achieve excellence. This sets a high bar which may be challenging for some students and parents. (Is there a better word than Slow? Ideally meaning ‘not as good as we’d like’ beginning with S! )
At KS4, Grades 1-9 should be referenced to criteria and standards related to actual GCSE Grades. However, at KS3 even though we are using discrete numbers, each number on the scale is indicative of a range with a large margin of error. That needs to be communicated repeatedly. These grades will be much more approximate in some subjects than in others.
Crucially, the numbers do not form a ladder; students making steady progress at the same rate relative to the cohort, will retain the same grades throughout, every year.
NOTE: Attitude to Learning grades EGSP are more subjective. A student with Progress S may well have E for AtL. This would indicate that they are working very hard but are still finding it difficult to progress, given their starting point.