Simon Hickton, Cornerstones’ Managing Director and assessment expert, shares his perspective on current assessment practices in primary schools.
Life after levels
So, how is life after levels shaping up?
Without levels, teachers have a real chance to assert their professional judgements, to best use their knowledge of what children know and can do to inform their planning, teaching and reporting. Not only that but schools can achieve the holy grail of education, assessment and curriculum harmoniously interlinked.
But not all is well
So is this the case? I would say not yet. All you have to do is take a look at Twitter and other teaching networks to see that all is not well in the world without levels, in fact, there appears to be a growing and uncomfortable preoccupation with scaled and standardised scores. It concerns me that teacher assessment, directly or indirectly, is still taking a bashing. Perhaps the loss of levels has created a nervousness which has led to too large a swing towards scaled and standardised scores. Unfortunately, the result of this can be something which most primary teachers want to avoid, over testing.
The place of testing
I have never been a fan of too many tests. They have their place for sure, as an integral part of school assessment and a tool to ratify teacher judgements. Termly tests do serve this purpose, but they should always inform teaching and have the appropriate skills analysis tools to enable this.
Schools are and should be accountable. However, Ofsted’s Sean Hartford et al have made it very clear in the latest School inspection update (September 2017) that,
‘Assessment data and information is only a starting point for discussion with schools. It is far from the only piece of evidence that inform judgements about outcomes.’
Hallelujah, and even better news is the understanding of small groups not being significant. We are making strides forward.
Teacher assessments: treat with caution
This statement to Ofsted inspectors by Ofsted is correct but only when looking at the progress of a class or year group at the end of Key Stage 2 based on Key Stage 1 teacher assessment. Drilling down into junior school data highlights the need for caution when judging the end of KS2 progress based on KS1 teacher assessment for accountability purposes.
However, this does not mean that teacher assessment is not a vital part of teaching and learning and therefore good assessment practice. Inspectors should take caution when using judgements for accountability, but teacher assessment is far more than a means of providing information for accountability. It is a crucial part of teacher expertise and a key driver for ensuring progress.
Not a bolt on
Assessment should not be a bolt on; it must be integral in everyday practice. The DfE are right, strengthening the links between pedagogy, curriculum and assessment are the key to improving teacher expertise.
At Cornerstones, our assessment grew from our curriculum
That's why we now include our termly skills and whole assessment platform as part of the Cornerstones Curriculum offer.
School leaders need to select the best tools and tests to support and moderate teacher assessment – judgements that professionals make through their expertise and knowledge of the children they are teaching.
Don't get sucked in
Let’s not get sucked into hanging everything on scaled and standardised scores. We all know when the expectation bar of a national curriculum raises, children who are half way or nearly at the end of their time in primary education will perform worse than the children who will be exposed to the higher expectations from Y1 to Y6. That bell curve will indeed shift to the right.
Let’s focus on teaching an engaging broad and balanced curriculum and improving teacher assessment, analysing the skills the children need to learn, what they are struggling with and supporting them when gaps occur.
Saving teachers and senior leaders time to focus on developing teacher expertise to ensure accurate assessment and quality learning is what all educationalists are or should be championing. So, if you've not already analysed last year's end of KS2 results or have to provide some stakeholder information now all the data has dropped, download the free tool below it may save you a couple of hours of valuable time.
And remember those children have now left, use your time and energies on the children and teachers to whom you can still make a difference.