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Accountability, Curriculum

Key Stage 2 Writing Assessments; There Has to be Another Way #ThursdayThunk

This month Year 6 teachers, up and down the land, will be submitting their Writing Teacher Assessments.  The Key Stage 2 Writing assessment process is currently a workload creation vehicle.  The outcomes are considered so dubious they are ignored; they pretty much count for nothing.  Independent writing means different things in different schools and the teacher assessment process is a tick box, recipe following nightmare.  There has to be a better way.

Collectively the SATs and writing portfolios have narrowed the curriculum in primary schools across the country.  It’s time for a fundamental rethink.  This is me thinking out loud on behalf of Headteachers’ Roundtable as we seek to make the accountability system support children’s education rather than undermine it.

Photo Credit: Gian Luigi Perrella via Flickr cc

All end of Key Stage 2 Writing pieces should be assessed using comparative judgements.  I’m increasingly impressed with and convinced by the system with the proviso that the software required, to scale this to a national level, is thoroughly piloted before full scale implementation.  The comparative judgement system, in short, requires a teacher to read a piece of writing from two different pupils and determine which one is the better piece.  No need for long lists of criteria and tick boxes with the associated hundreds of judgements; one decision, is writing piece A or B better?  This is repeated for multiple pairs of writing until a computer algorithm uses the teachers’ assessments to rank order all the pieces of writing.

Rather than external markers doing this, though that is an option, it could be great professional development for teachers who would essentially see multiple pieces of writing from students across the country.  It would be infinitely possible for a teacher to be released for a school day to complete the assessment, consequently keeping workload to a minimum.

Now potentially the more controversial bit.  A pupil’s portfolio consists of writing completed using two different processes.  One part of the portfolio would be completed under test conditions on a day, set across England, in November, March and May of Year 6.  The writing test papers would require pupils to write an essay on an aspect of the wider primary curriculum, for example, Science, History or Geography.  As schools would not know which curriculum area the writing test would cover; the only way to “ace the test” would be to teach a broad and balanced curriculum.  These essay questions would need to be carefully set.  Although pupils with deeper and broader domain knowledge would produce better essays than a similarly competent writer who does not have this knowledge; all pupils must be able to produce a piece of writing.  In short, the domain knowledge required to write a good answer mustn’t be too specific or niche.

The other part of the writing portfolio would be produced in the same way as it is now; in class through a process of planning, drafting and rewriting.  One or two pieces would be produced and submitted, in an agreed genre, by the November, March and May dates.  The alternative is to stick with what we’ve currently got.

Thoughts please:

#ThursdayThunk is based on something I’ve been thinking about, discussing, working on or has been topical that week.  The thunk is designed to be bite sized and will deliberately be kept short.  It will take one small issue or an aspect of something much bigger.  The intention is for it to be read in two/three minutes as you’re busy running around at the end of the week or relaxing on your day off.



8 thoughts on “Key Stage 2 Writing Assessments; There Has to be Another Way #ThursdayThunk

  1. Thank you. Very interesting, but despite reading about comparative judgement I don’t understand how the process – which seems to be valid – leads to a criterion-based judgement and not just a relative ranking of the written work.

    Posted by Andy | June 7, 2018, 8:28 am
  2. Have a look at our blog post here which explains how it is not about ranking. https://blog.nomoremarking.com/how-can-you-interpret-the-scaled-scores-from-sharing-standards-d3eb03c4385b

    Quote: “You can measure the absolute progress of an individual child. This is why we so often say that comparative judgement is not about ranking pupils. If it were just about ranking pupils, all you would be able to see is their relative position. With our age-independent scale, you can measure the absolute progress of an individual child over time. You can reference their current performance to their previous performance — allowing them to create a ‘personal best’, if you like, which they can then improve on over time regardless of the performance of other pupils. If they move from a score of 420 in year 1 to 500 in year 3, you know their writing has improved.”

    Posted by The Wing to Heaven | June 7, 2018, 9:13 am
    • Thank you. I realise that ‘measuring the absolute progress of an individual child’ is not about ranking, just as PBs in athletics are not the same as medals, but how does a method based on absolute progress – which is great – fit within a system that is based, both at school level and increasingly at international level, on competition?

      Posted by Andy | June 7, 2018, 11:48 am
  3. You had me at “nightmare”. 😃
    I’m completely on board with introducing CJ in principle, but I’m not sure about the method you propose. While a synoptic task approach is tempting, the other factors that would add such noise seem too undesirable to me. For example, my school in Sussex might choose to cover Vikings fairly briefly in Y3/4, as it’s not that relevant locally, whereas a school in York might study it in depth during Y6. The impact that would have on writing on that theme would be substantial, but probably not representative of ‘ability’.
    I think I would prefer to see a fiction-based ‘unseen’ task, with perhaps a second structured non-fiction task. This could be designed nationally with supporting materials. For example, all schools might be provided with two lessons of content about… Stone age hillforts, say, followed by a non-fiction task set on day three. That would lessen some of the variability that wasn’t about writing skill.
    Still not perfect, but I can’t think of anything that wouldn’t be better than the current nonsense.

    Posted by Michael Tidd | June 7, 2018, 11:38 am
  4. I agree. I think it would be easier to overcome the issues around what the writing tasks should be than it is to overcome the issues around the current system. It’s soul-destroying.

    Posted by julietgreen | June 7, 2018, 6:10 pm
  5. The software to do this already out there and this seems a more logical system than that being currently used.
    No More Marking has the algorithms already in place – the question would be the scale of the sample and can the software deal with this.
    A much more sensible process than that currently employed 👍

    Posted by Daniel Nelson | June 8, 2018, 10:07 am

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