Wednesday, 3 July 2013

No more levels... how do we assess the best geographers ?

A few weeks ago some news came through that NC levels will no longer be used. They are, apparently, to be no more.

It was not announced with a great deal of fanfare, or publicity. It reminded me, in fact, of the planning notice for the demolition of Arthur Dent's house at the start of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

In the last few years of my previous time as a Head of Department, I made myself slightly unpopular by challenging the demands that were made of me to apply levels to students at times well before the end of Key Stage 3. One example was the levelling of Year 7 pupils just a few weeks into the Autumn term, for example. I also questioned why I had to report levels at the same frequency as English, Maths and Science - who had 4 or 5 lessons a week compared to my 1 to produce 'evidence' of progress.

I don't blame the leadership team for pursuing this until I gave in - it became the expectation that this would be done.
Worse still was the introduction of sub-levels: an invented level of 'rigour' which just wasn't... rigorous. I accept the need for some way of showing progress, but this didn't work for me. This view was not shared by everyone of course, and there have been numerous blog posts in the last few week or so offering different perspectives.
In some schools, this allocation of levels became even more 'refined' with the use of Jesson points. I came across these when doing some work with the SSAT a few years ago. Google them and have a read...

Levels started to be attached to individual pieces of work or homeworks, and teachers and publishers produced lessons with guidance - add a key to your map and it's level 4 etc.
Students began to 'expect' levels on work, and also attached great importance to them. They would compare their ability in different subjects according to the level they were apparently at. Levels had to go up or we were deemed to be failing, and students weren't progressing... Some students chose their GCSE options on the basis of level comparisons.

Colleagues at the GA were involved in a lengthy process to develop a framework called 'Assessing Pupil Progress', which involved the development of a portfolio of work which was assessed against 3 objectives derived from the level descriptors. Thousands of pounds were spent preparing web-based support materials, which were then all pulled and never used. They've disappeared now, although a recent post explained where you can find them.

As recently as last week, I spent several hours helping my wife enter sub-levels and other data for pupil reports. She teaches Art - what's the difference (and this has to be valid remember) between a 3C and a 3B drawing of a fish ?

I liked a post by Tom Bennett in the TES, which used the phrase 'what do we pretend now' ?

On the other hand, a lot of time has been invested in a system which most parents now 'get' ??

So how do we assess the best geographers now ?

The DfE announcement says:

Schools will be able to introduce their own approaches to formative assessment, to support pupil attainment and progression. The assessment framework should be built into the school curriculum, so that schools can check what pupils have learned and whether they are on track to meet expectations at the end of the key stage, and so that they can report regularly to parents. 
Ofsted’s inspections will be informed by whatever pupil tracking data schools choose to keep. Schools will continue to benchmark their performance through statutory end of key stage assessments, including national curriculum tests. In the consultation on primary assessment and accountability, the department will consult on core principles for a school’s curriculum and assessment system.
Although schools will be free to devise their own curriculum and assessment system, we will provide examples of good practice which schools may wish to follow.
We've had some guidance on that for a while, through David Lambert, and others' work.

What do we use instead ?
Do we wait for the DfE's 'good practice' and follow those ?
Can we afford to wait for the assessment, or do we need that before we start planning ?
What happens in Primary schools now ?
Can we have some time back in Primary schools for exploration and excitement, rather than months spent drilling for KS2 tests ?

This post has a different view from a primary perspective.

Sorry not to have provided more answers here, but this is early days in the assessment change...
If we are to have assessment at the forefront when planning the learning, someone is going to have to make some decisions soon which the geography community can get behind and adopt.

Assessment is about progression, not repetition - how can we show that students are getting better as they move through from Year 7 to Year 9
The GA's Making Geography Happen project has tried to look at the moments when geography 'happens' and might be useful here...

I'll share what we produced in my new teaching job here as things develop... this is one of those 'watch this space' ones...

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