Below is the content of the second half of the presentation I gave at the #LearningFirst Conference in Sheffield on the 5th November 2016. Thanks to Dame Alison and Julie for organising and to everyone who gave up their Saturday to attend.
Life after level is primarily a curriculum issue rather than a data one. Unfortunately, I think too few schools have yet to fully realise this and the potential impact. Part of this stems from three decades of the National Curriculum and years of National Strategies; we have become partially de-professionalised by our limited knowledge and understanding of assessment. Assessment is often the place where our deep seated fundamental beliefs about the subjects we teach are “outed”. What looks like a debate or disagreement about forms of assessment is actually much deeper; rooted in what we fundamentally believe our subject and the teaching of it is about.
Instead of focusing on the construct of a level or sub-level, “Is this pupil a 4a or a 5c?” , which loses a lot of the information a teacher needs to plan and support learning, we need to start asking and seeking the answer to different questions. For example, “Is this child a good writer or a capable mathematician or an able scientist?” This begs a further question, “What do we mean by a good writer or a capable mathematician or an able scientist?” We also need to think of the best way to assess it in order to come to a valid conclusion; arguable comparative judgments is a much better assessment method of writing than a series of ticks against a list of criteria.
These questions go to the heart of teaching, assessment and learning. In seeking to develop a good writer or a capable mathematician or an able scientist, we need to determine and teach the big ideas, the key concepts, which form the intellectual and skills framework on which a subject is based. This is also what we need to assess alongside the milestones along the learning progression by which these big ideas are reached. This changes the nature of assessment in many schools. We are now assessing for teachers and learners rather than leaders. What is now most important is the dis-aggregated assessment data that is: close to the point of teaching; more detailed and at a grain size that is of value to the teacher and learner. It’s crucial for leaders to understand this data/information varies by subject and age.
This has the potential to redirect our focus and energies back towards the process of teaching, assessment and learning. It may allow us to view the process as if we are seeing it for the very first time; looking at it with new eyes. We can start asking some powerful questions of the assessments we are now producing. Here are a few to get you thinking (If you click on the graphic it’ll take you to a more detailed blog post about the issue):
Are these assessments focused on the big ideas of the subject thus allowing us to conclude, within limits, whether a pupil is mastering our subject or not?
Are the assessments we are using helping us to define excellence?
Do our assessments of prior learning evidence that pupils don’t already know what we are about to teach them or do we need to raise our expectations? Have they the requisite prior knowledge on which to build the next stage of learning?
Do our end of unit assessments and any subsequent analysis enable us to identify what pupils don’t know and at which point of the learning progression/journey their learning became uncertain?
Do the end of unit assessments also allow us to see what we did and didn’t teach well? What CPD would help us teach better? Whether previous CPD has impacted positively on teaching as evidenced by pupil outcomes?
And one of my favourites from John Hattie, have pupils made one year’s progress, or more, for one year’s teaching? How do I know?
Assessment sits at the pivotal point between teaching and learning; it forms the evidence base for both. Thinking about what conclusions we want to reach from the assessments we use will empower us to ask better questions and better understand the limitations of the answers. There are reasons to be optimistic about principled assessment in practice.
The first part of the presentation is here: #LearningFirst – Reasons to be Optimistic About Assessment
If this interests you, a lot more can be found in my new book Liminal Leadersip.