Assessing without levels - Milestones
At our school we took the decision last Summer to embrace the opportunities available to move away from National Curriculum levels. Our approach isn’t revolutionary, but I think it’s worth sharing.
I personally felt that there were numerous issues with the old NC levels. They were not as well understood by parents / pupils / parents as everybody thought. A false sense of accuracy had been developed as levels morphed into sub-levels, did anyone really know the difference between a 5c and a 5b? At a whole school level far too many schools, ourselves included were chasing sub-levels around in circles looking for ‘rapid and sustained progress’. They also lost so much detail, everyone would hang their hat on that one level. But a 5b could hide a myriad of important information. A student might have real strength in Shape and Data in Maths but be struggling with their Number and Algebra skills. We were also in the process of re-writing schemes for learning so it made sense to tackle the two jobs together.
Initial work was done between myself and our school improvement partner. We looked at the core outcomes we wanted from our assessment systems. Primarily we wanted to refocus assessment in the classroom on the learning. All assessment should help teachers and students understand which key concepts they had grasped and which they had not. Secondly we wanted a system that could report as efficiently and simply as possible to governors, leadership, teachers, students and parents which students were making expected progress in which subjects. On reflection that’s what all school wide level analysis looked at. And when it involved chasing 2-3 sub levels per year it was a nightmare.
The National Curriculum and the GCSE programmes of study set in stone expected learning at the end of KS2, KS3 and KS4. School performance measures set 'expected’ progress from KS2-4. Whilst measures are changing at both KS2 and KS4 we felt confident that learners would still join us banded into High/Middle/Low 5+/4/3- attainment bands. And expected progress will still be around the equivalent of three levels of progress.
With this in mind our model takes each subject, splits this into three bands, and maps out the expected learning in each year to ensure that middle level learners join us and progress to at least a grade C+ equivalence. High level attainers to B+ etc.
We asked each academic subject to map out the learning for each of their three bands. Pasting in the GCSE PoS outcomes into Y11, and any NC outcomes into Y8 (we have moved to a 2 year KS3). Then shuffling these around to form their high level scheme of work.
Anyone who has read the NC or GCSE PoS’s will know that the language used therein is not great for use with pupils and parents. We asked our teams to cut these down to the key 'milestones’ that were crucial for progress in the subject. And we asked them to re-write these in language that pupils and parents would understand, without dumbing them down too much, I do think we should avoid hiding away from subject specific terminology. Staff were encouraged to use blooms and SOLO taxonomy language and structures as a guide in this process. This gave us a roadmap for each subject detailing exactly what we expected a student to learn each year, and it gave us a framework of expected knowledge and skills to assess learning against.
As an example the Computing roadmap is below:
Reporting on progress
Each assessment window (we have four a year) we ask staff to report on each student’s progress. They simply report on whether students are making Significantly Above / Above / On / Below / Significantly Below expected progress. This judgment is made by taking a range of formative and summative assessment information and judging whether a student is on track to learn what is expected of them according to the milestone pathways.
Needless to say this makes reporting at class/subject/year group level incredibly easy, a simple tally and percentage of each grade allows us to monitor progress at this level.
Staff also record the next two key milestones that a student needs to master in order to make maximum progress. This might be a key skill that they should have mastered by now but are struggling with, or it might be an important topic that will be covered in coming weeks. Parents get a quarterly report detailing the SA/A/O/B/SA progress measures along with a pair of key milestones for each subject.
Reflections two terms in
I’m pleased with how things have gone so far. Staff worked incredibly hard over the Summer to write the frameworks for this to work. I do believe we have a system that has fulfilled our original aims. More assessment is focussed on specific areas of progress, the entire data collection and analysis system is far simpler, freeing our middle and senior leaders and reporting to governors et al is simplified.
I worry we may have set our expectations too low. 'Expected progress’ was set at the old equivalent of three levels of progress form KS2-4. We took the measure of 'expected’ as per performance tables and mapped it to individuals, sometimes individual expectations need to be different to those we 'expect’ of classes or year groups. The more work I’ve done in successful schools during my NPQH the more I’ve realised that setting an 'expectation’ high than that can lead to higher expectations from staff, parents and pupils of what progress is possible, and in turn leads to better progress. This was always planned as a flexible model that we could tweak as expectations and measures at KS2 and KS4 change and as the new PoS’s come into force. We will review formally at the end of the year and if we have to slide milestones around to raise expectations then so be it.
We have been through a brief spell of ’re-calibration’. Analysing the data showed that more students than should have been were making 'expected progress’ and less than should have been were making 'above expected progress’. On discussion with middle leaders and teachers it was clear that staff had set the bar a little too low when making judgements of 'expected progress’. And conversely too high for 'above expected’. Also staff were forgetting where students had started their journey. Those who joined us as level 4 learners and had worked hard for several years were being judged as making 'expected progress’ because that’s what staff had come to expect from them. When in fact, in terms of KS2-now measures they were working well 'above expected’. Much as it pained me a little to talk levels again, the diagram below helped staff to re-calibrate in their minds our progress statements.
In part two I’ll explain the implementation strategy we used to lead this change.