Assessment in the new national curriculum – next steps

My original post “Assessment in the new national curriculum – what we’re doing” remains one of the most popular on this blog. Here I will outline how we have refined the model proposed in that post and integrated it with progress tracking, as well as our latest thoughts on assessment without levels and growth mindset.

How will we assess in the new national curriculum? 

I was delighted to hear that Durrington High School had been awarded an assessment innovation fund grant by the DfE. I was even more delighted when Durrington DHT Shaun Allison published his thoughts so far in an excellent blogpost! As a school also actively pursuing a growth mindset, the approach to assessment outlined by Shaun struck a chord and seemed closely aligned to what we are trying to achieve at Chew Valley. I presented the key points of the Durrington approach to middle leaders yesterday and we have adopted the principle of the Growth and Thresholds assessment system, explained as follows (paraphrased from Class Teaching):

Teachers identify the key knowledge and skills students need in order to be successful in KS4 and work backwards to decide what this would look like, if students have mastered it in KS3 – the excellence standard. Teachers then produce a curriculum and assessment framework that allows teachers and students to know what they’ve got to do to achieve excellence.  

In the Chew Valley version, we will continue to use GCSE grades as the basis for our assessment model. It makes sense, longer term, to use the new 1-9 GCSE grade scale as a whole-school assessment framework, with rough equivalents as follows:


In other words, students entering in Year 7 would be assessed with grades usually between 1 and 4, and move up a consistent assessment scale throughout their time in secondary school.

We remain wedded to the notion of criteria referenced assessment, although I enjoyed having my thinking pushed on this by Daisy Christodoulou’s provocative defence of norm-referencing. The problem comes with the assumption that there will be clear criteria attached to the new GCSE grades 1-9; my understanding is that there will be criteria attached to the levels and marks within the new GCSE specifications but that they will not be clearly linked to specific GCSE grades. This will allow Ofqual to apply comparable outcomes and shift the boundaries year on year. Thus we will need to assign criteria to the new GCSE grades on a “best fit” basis, leading to some insecurity and uncertainty within the assessment framework, especially in the early stages.

We have not yet decided when we will shift over to 1-9 grades. The existing system will hold up until 2016 at least, and then there will be an incremental shift as first English and Maths, then Science, History, Geography and Languages, then arts subjects move over to the new grades. We also haven’t decided if we’re going to sub-grade them – grade 2c, 2b, 2a anyone? It was a bastardisation of the national curriculum levels; should we be wary of falling into the same trap again? We’re taking a watching brief on both these issues!

Tracking progress in the new assessment framework

With the advent of Progress 8 (blogged about here) we have been running an experiment with progress tracking using flight paths (blogged about here). As indicated in that second blog, in the initial experiment we tracked progress in English and Maths from their respective KS2 baselines, and all other subjects from the average points score of English and Maths at KS2. This worked fine for English and Maths, but it didn’t work for other subjects. I know it seems obvious that tracking progress in Drama from a baseline of the average of tests in English and Maths won’t work, but that is the methodology being applied in the Progress 8 measure so I thought we’d better use it. What I’d got wrong, of course (it’s so easy to do!) was that I’d let the accountability framework dictate my practice rather than common sense and what was right for the learners. So, we’ve made a change.

From September, we will continue to use the KS2 baselines for English and Maths – this is a tried and tested approach and it is giving us clear and helpful data both for individual students and for self-evaluation and external accountability purposes. In all other subjects, we will conduct a baseline assessment in the first term of Year 7 to establish a clear, subject-specific starting point for each student. We will then use that baseline assessment to track progress in each subject across KS3. We will treat the baseline assessment as the “baseline” in the same way as KS2 English and Maths data, even though they will be four or five months apart in time, and apply the flight paths model to each subject in exactly the same way:

Progress flight paths tabulated

Progress flight paths tabulated

We still have the existing template to track progress against an English and Maths KS2 average points score, so I will be able to keep an eye on the Progress 8 headlines, but this refined model will provide the ability to track progress in, for example, Art from their starting point in Art. Which seems obvious, doesn’t it?

In time we will convert the “levels” in those flight paths to the “grades” via the equivalences listed in the table above. It may be that in, for example, languages, the baseline will be very low (where students have not studied that particular language in primary) and this may require the model to be refined – watch this space!

Targets and a growth mindset

When I launched the idea of becoming a growth mindset school back in March, several staff discussed the idea of targets (we call them challenge grades or levels) and whether they were compatible with a growth mindset. Potential, according to Dweck, is limitless – it’s not about aiming for a destination but about constantly continuing to improve. As John Tomsett said in a conversation on twitter recently:

I overheard a conversation between two girls revising for a languages exam this week. They were working on tenses. One said to the other: “I don’t need to know that; that’s what you need to do to get a B. I only need a C.” Her companion was aiming for a B, so continued to revise it. This is why Michael Gove was so against early entry – the wasteful settling for a lower level of achievement. This is the danger of target grades – if students work hard and get there, they stop. And, unless that target grade is an A* (and even then), that is a waste.

This is a substantial shift in my thinking (see one of the earliest posts on this blog, Targets, for my starting point!), but actually the flight paths approach provides us with a different way to frame the conversation about progress. In the old model I would use formulae and statistical cohort analysis tools like CATs, FFT and the like to predict likely outcomes and “add a bit on for challenge”, then track and discuss progress towards that made up number. It makes more sense to me now to assess where students are starting from and then feed back whether their progress is below, expected, better than expected, outstanding or world class from that starting point (using the flight paths model). Thus reports to parents might say “Matilda is currently working at a Grade 3 in Science, and this represents better than expected progress from her starting point in this subject”. At the moment this is a tentative, half formed policy shift which will need to be put through the crucible of SLT and Governors – what better way to try it out than to put it to the test on twitter first?

In summary

The abolition of national curriculum levels remains an opportunity to do something different and better with curriculum and assessment across the whole of a student’s school experience. The fact that each individual school is having to come up with its own system remains a fatal flaw in terms of capacity. The new assessment innovation packages may go some way to preventing this – especially if they are of the quality of the work coming out of Durrington. Whilst there is still a lot of work to do, and a lot of uncertainty, it is still my aim that assessment and curriculum in my school will be the better for the reforms.

10 thoughts on “Assessment in the new national curriculum – next steps

  1. Pingback: Assessment in the new National Curriculum – what we’re doing | Teaching: Leading Learning

    • Sorry but as you state this is just a revamp of the old National Curricilum levels. Flight paths were a phenomena developed when levels were central to the system and FFT estimates. This system was flawed and the reason why legislation removed levels from the system. Companies were tasked to develop a more equitable system measure. Progress 8 is not based on the use of levels so to return to flight paths based on your own 9-1 labelling is like trying to plug an analogue TV into a digital feed and expecting it to work!
      “There is overwhelming evidence that levels needed to go and the Commission strongly endorses the decision to remove them. However, the system has been so conditioned by levels that there is considerable challenge in moving away from them. We have been concerned by evidence that some schools are trying to recreate levels based on the new national curriculum. Unless this is addressed, we run the risk of failing to put in place the conditions for a higher-attaining, higher-equity system.” (Government Commission on Assessing without Levels 2015).
      Re 9-1 this does not work for all subjects and the outgoing Secretary of State did inform schools that subjects did not all have to conform to exactly the same system of assessing. For example physical education core PE is 100% practical. The GCSE qualification starting in Sep 2016 is 60% assessed by exam and 40% NEA. The two don’t equate – analogue and digital again! To indicate that a year 7 will get a 1 or a 2 therefore is a waste of teacher admin time and increases workload especially at a time when workload is an issue.
      The commission recommends expressing outcomes in curriculum terms and the CIF (OFSTED 2015) even uses the term ‘Assessment information in the place of ‘data’ and then Sean Harford and John Mackintosh appear on two videos sharing a message with schools saying that inspectors do not want to see data spreadsheets developed from the use of numbers – rather they wish to see how schools use assessment information.
      One of the criticisms of levelling was that it labelled differential performance and did not encourage a growth mindset. There is a huge rhetoric reality gap between stating ‘we want to encorage a growth mindset’ and then using an approach that doesn’t encourage it! Learning isn’t linear and therefore a measure that is linear and hierarchical is not fit for purpose!
      In terms of Mastery learning the profession has somewhat misunderstood the use of the term. Mastery is the expected inclusive standard. Many schools use the terms emergent expected and exceeding. Mastery is expected for all – and everything we know about childhood growth and development and the performance of other high performing jurisdictions indicate that we can expect mastery for all against the new standards unless children are SEN or disabled. Yes work back from these thresholds but there is no linear route to them therefore we cannot capture this new progress using meaningless labelling. FFT started in 2001 when 55 LAs were on board. In 2004 all LAs were on board. Type D Estimates (95% accurate in Eng & Maths within one estimated grade) didn’t emerge until there was sufficient ‘data’ in the system some 8 years after descriptive statistics were introduced. In ‘foundation’ subjects this was as low as only 70% accurate within one estimated grade. SATS are tests in the core subjects – is it any wonder that in other subjects estimates were 30% inaccurate? Any statistician will tell you that using data that is 30% inaccurate is a total waste of time…. Yet here we go again with a re-creation of a previously data obsessed admin rich standards plateauing system which the removal of levels tried to avoid!

      • Yes – as you can see this blog post was published in May 2014. It’s amazing to look back and see how your thinking has changed over time. And I’ve also moved schools in the interim! Your points are valid and we have now moved a considerable distance from what is described here. Always good to look back and see how far you’ve come though!

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  5. Some really interesting stuff here Chris. I’m currently looking at a variety of the models/idea being discussed around schools and research is leaning me towards a system very similar to yours.

    I’ll be interested to see how you adopt the new GCSE grades into the flightpaths rather than using the current levels – something I am looking at now.

  6. Pingback: Implementing Assessment Without Levels | Teaching: Leading Learning

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