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Assessment without levels: latest developments

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Assessment is, of course, currently on the minds of primary teachers as we wait for any developments and advice. Many schools I speak to are sticking with levels for the time being, but these are two typical questions that I’ve been asked recently:

•   What might assessment in primary maths look like with the new National Curriculum?

•   What will replace levels in assessing children’s maths attainment and progress

The Government has no intention of providing a single system for ongoing assessment and is leaving it up to schools to find the most suitable method to assess progress.

However, the Department of Education issued a press release earlier this month announcing the nine schools that have gained funds to develop their models of assessing pupils into free packages that other schools can download and use. These will replace the “complicated levels system”.

The purpose of the pupil assessment will be to “easily and accurately chart pupils’ attainment and progress so they can provide effective, targeted support where it is needed, and will give parents clearer information about their child’s performance and progress.”

bear levels

It is worth taking a look at this video, which gives a clear message on the expectations for assessment in schools.

Tim Oates was chair of the expert panel which informed the review of the NC and he explains the reasons behind the levels approach and the reason why it is time for them to be removed. He also talks about the importance of children gaining a secure understanding of key content with a different approach to teaching from the 2014 NC.  There should be a focus on teaching fewer things in greater depth, and a need for a different approach to assessment  - with an understanding on the understanding of key concepts, skills and techniques before moving on to the next step.

I hope this message from Tim Oates is taken on by schools. It is certainly the approach I have used (and continue to develop) with my Planning Menu:

           1. identify what the children understand or are able to do
           2. teach them the next step in their learning
           3. assess their learning and progress formatively (encouraging the children to self-assess)
           4. carry out a summative assessment to check the learning is secure

Currently each of my 18 two-week units include AfL questions to match the objectives and success criteria. I know some schools have also adapted the Small Steps of Progression charts to use for self-assessment and as a basic tick sheet assessment record to monitor progress.

To support schools further my main project over the summer and into the Autumn term will be to develop ‘Year-based’ assessment materials as part of the Maths Planning Menu. These will be part of the package and not at an extra cost.

Which schools got funding and what might they offer?

Hillyfield Primary Academy, East London,
have developed a ‘Skills passport’ for all
foundation subjects, including maths. 
Once children can demonstrate a skills
they stamp the passport.

Hiltingbury Junior School, Hampshire,
are using a ‘ladder approach’ to maths. There
will be expectations for each year group. The
steps will be divided into the areas of exploring,
achieving, exceeding. The ladder will allow
children to identify the next step. 

West Exe Technology College, Devon
have worked with local primary schools to develop a system
to cover both primary and secondary maths. They use short
objectives from the curriculum content within a ladder approach
that form a practical checklist that identifies the next step. They
use formative assessments to review learning and end of topic
summative assessments
Schools can develop their own assessment resources to meet the exact content of their curriculum.

For schools wishing to develop their own assessment, the Department of Education has provided Guidance
‘Assessment principles: school curriculum’  April 2014.

It is a single page with three headings in this order:

Effective assessment systems:

·      Give reliable information to parents about how their child, and the child’ school, is performing.
·      Help drive improvement for pupils and teachers  
             (There are 3 single sentence guidance points, the first ‘…improving the quality of teaching’ and the second
               ‘Ensure feedback to pupils contributes to improved learning… )

·      Make sure the school is keeping up with external best practice and innovation
             (There are two notes one to consult with local best practice and the other to be benchmarked against
               international best practice)

I would like to have seen a means to improving a child’s learning and pupil progress as the first and most important element of assessment.

It is interesting that information to parents about their child and the school’s performance was the first purpose of assessment.

Even within the second aim of improvement for pupils and teachers, improving the quality of teaching came before the improved learning of a child, and the word ‘drive’ is inappropriate in my opinion.

Of course at the end of all this assessment there are the KS2 Tests. The new test matched to the 2014 curriculum will start in May 2016.  There is guidance for the publishers of these tests. 
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