Dylan Wiliam’s principles for designing an assessment system

Teach Primary recently shared an article on their website by Dylan Wiliam, a member of the Expert Panel selected to advise the Secretary of State on revisions to the national curriculum. Dylan believes there are lots of important questions all schools can ask themselves when developing their new assessment system in light of the removal of levels, but that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Dylan was actually a fan of the levels system, and believes that “had we stuck to reporting student achievement at the end of each key stage—which is still the only legal requirement—everything would have been fine”. However, when schools began reporting levels termly and even on individual pieces of work, and Ofsted starting asking students what level they were working at, he felt a system which was designed to be a ‘summary of the totality of achievement across a key stage’ was being inappropriately used. He says it was the fact that levels were getting in the way of children’s learning that he recommended they be abolished, and not because they were a bad idea.

Dylan explains: “It will be up to each school to decide how to determine whether children are learning what they need to be learning. Some schools are planning to continue with national curriculum levels for the time being. That’s fine. But it is important to realise there will be no straightforward way to carry levels forward from the current national curriculum to the new curriculum. Continue reading →

Ten key themes from Colin Watson’s Education Show presentation

Colin Watson is the Deputy Director of Assessment Policy and Development at the DfE. Unsurprisingly his presentation at the Education Show this morning was ‘standing room only’ as hundreds of teachers gathered to hear his update on assessment for Primary schools. We thought it would be useful to summarise some of the key themes for those of you who were unable to get to the NEC today.

  1. Levels are not in line with the freedom intended to come with the new curriculum and the accountability system did not allow for great work to be recognised, therefore levels are not to be used with the new curriculum.
  2. Formative assessment is vital in classrooms every day but it is the responsibility of schools and not something central government should be involved with.
  3. New national tests mean a new floor standard has been raised. 85% of children will be expected to achieve a scaled score of 100 by the end of primary school.
  4. A school will only fall below this floor if pupils make poor progress AND fewer than 85% achieve the expected standard in national KS2 tests.
  5. The scaled score is yet to be determined and can only be decided using real data from the first set of new tests.
  6. The new progress measure will be a ‘value-added’ measure rather than an ‘expected level of progress’ measure. Continue reading →

Michael Tidd tells us about his end-of-year assessment strategy

Michael Tidd is Deputy Headteacher of a primary and nursery school in Nottinghamshire, having previously taught in middle and primary schools in West Sussex. We asked him for his thoughts on summative assessment in the new curriculum. Here’s what he had to say.

 You don’t need a test to supplant teacher assessment, but it certainly helps to support it!

The chances are, any school you go into across the country this academic year, you’ll likely find different things going on with regard to assessment. In some schools, National Curriculum levels are a distant memory; in others, you’d never know that they were meant to be going. But probably for the vast majority of schools, teachers are finding their way from one system to another in an attempt to ensure that nobody slips through the cracks.

But the cracks can feel like a chasm at the moment. If your school is one of the many running two systems in parallel, with a view to removing levels in time for September, then the coming months probably feel quite daunting. None of this is helped by the lack of clear information from the Department for Education. We know that end-of-key-stage tests will underpin many judgements, but we still don’t know quite what level the thresholds will be set at. We know that teacher assessment will remain important, but we saw the Performance Descriptors consultation rounded upon by all sectors. In fact, all we do know for certain is how little we know for certain.

As we approach the end of the year, therefore, many schools will be looking to make combined judgements, summarising this year’s achievements using levels, and trying to set a benchmark starting point for future judgements in the brave new world of life after levels. Continue reading →

The Depth vs. Breadth Challenge – Assessing Pupil Knowledge in the New Curriculum

At the BETT show this year, Rising Stars and Classroom Monitor joined forces to assemble a panel of experts to discuss the New Curriculum, Mastery and its implications on Assessment.

The debate was chaired by Chris Scarth, Commercial Director of Classroom Monitor and the panel was made up of:

Ed Walsh: Lead consultant for science at Cornwall Learning

Shareen Mayers: Primary English Adviser for Sutton Improvement and Support services

Ben Fuller: Joint Lead Assessment adviser at Herts for Learning Ltd,. Former primary school teacher and local authority adviser for assessment.

Tanya Parker: who has worked as a consultant at a number of different education technology companies including Classroom Monitor and was a primary teacher with responsibility for assessment and maths.

Some sizeable issues were dissected during the debate and our panel offered some really interesting and practical perspectives on how teachers can approach mastery and assessment in a world free from levels.

The first point of discussion was around the depth vs breadth debate. Chris Scarth questioned whether focusing on fewer things in greater depth was intrinsically linked to mastery.

Ben suggested that finding a balance between the two could be a more useful way of approaching mastery, commenting: I would say that in really good schools teachers always go for depth and breadth, helping students take knowledge and applying it in a range of different contexts.”

The conversation then moved on to question whether mastery could lead to repetitive teaching. However, Shareen offered a positive and practical approach that would avoid this pitfall, suggesting that teachers could approach one concept in a variety of ways. Continue reading →

Assessing the new National Curriculum for science

From 2016 statutory teacher assessments of science will continue for all pupils at the end of Key Stage 1. At the end of Key Stage 2 science tests will continue with a sample of schools and pupils. The tests will take place every other year starting in 2016.

In July the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) published sample questions, mark schemes and commentaries for all the new National Curriculum tests that will be introduced from summer 2016, including samples for the new Key Stage 2 sampling test for science. These can all be downloaded from the DfE website. The final versions are due to be published in July 2015.

Features of the sample tests 

  • The format of having an extended question over two pages remains, but now the biology, chemistry and physics elements have been separated into different tests rather than being mixed within one paper (possibly in preparation for secondary school).
  • The questions relate directly to new the Programme of Study. They start with elements from the lower Key Stage 2 Programme of Study and progress to related elements from upper Key Stage 2.
  • There is more emphasis on ’knowledge and understanding’ than on the skills and processes found in ‘working scientifically’, whereas previous tests had more Sc1 questions.
  • The working scientifically questions are still set in the context of the other curriculum areas and are well integrated.
  • The level of difficulty is similar to the previous 2012 tests.

Continue reading →

Performance Descriptors – what they will mean for me and my school

Thank you to Michael Dillon, Head Teacher at Kew Riverside Primary School for this guest post

I recently attended our Local Authority’s (Richmond & Kingston) annual Assessment and Learning Conference, which is always well organised and extremely informative.  Throughout the day there were several excellent speakers and presentations, including South Farnham School[1], the Institute of Education and the assessment consultant and writer Shirley Clarke[2].

However, what was particularly interesting this year, was the presentation by the Standards & Teaching Agency of the draft Performance Descriptors for Key Stage 1 and 2 teacher assessment.  I know that all my colleagues found the information really useful, especially as it was coming directly from the STA.

As you are no doubt are aware these have recently been published and are open for consultation until 18th December 2014.  These will eventually become the new indicators by which performance will be measured for Y2 and Y6.

So what does this mean in practical terms for us in school?  Well, I will be spending the rest of the academic year reviewing our whole school assessment policy.

I know the Performance Descriptors are still in consultation, but we will start with using our next INSET day (January 2015) to read them in more detail and take the opportunity to review them against our curriculum, particularly for Y2 and Y6.  We will also discuss different options available to describe performance.  Finally, and to be honest, most importantly, we will begin to review our assessment culture, assessment principles and what is actually happening in the classroom (our procedures).  Our initial focus will be the quality of the marking in children’s books, including evidence of peer and self assessment. Continue reading →

Choosing what type of test works best

Tests are widely used in schools. They include teacher-created tests either written by teachers or perhaps created by selecting questions from a ready-made online bank of questions and also a wide range of tests available from commercial suppliers. There are different types of test available too and what works best depends on why the test is being used i.e. what information the teacher wants from the assessment.

Tests for day-to-day assessment

Teachers need regular information about how their pupils are doing so that they can change their teaching to ensure it is effective. This is also a key focus of Ofsted inspections with inspectors wanting to see evidence of how schools are using assessment to improve teaching and raise attainment and to monitor the progress of all children as well as that of specific groups. For this type of assessment tests linked to specific curriculum areas are useful as they enable teachers to concentrate on particular areas. This makes it easier to identify the strengths and weaknesses that children have and the progress they are making.

This type of test can be used summatively and formatively. Teachers can use such tests at the beginning of a unit of work to assess prior learning and during topics to see how children are progressing and to identify whether further work may be needed. The diagnostic information from the tests enables teachers to make appropriate interventions and provide support and challenge as soon as possible. These tests can also be used summatively e.g. at the end of a topic, term or year to gain data that can then be used for reporting. Continue reading →

The new National Curriculum tests: What can we infer from the sample questions?

In July the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) published sample questions, mark schemes and commentaries for the new National Curriculum tests that will be introduced from summer 2016. There are separate samples for English reading, English grammar, punctuation and spelling and mathematics for each of Key Stages 1 and 2 and also for the new Key Stage 2 sampling test for science. These can all be downloaded from the DfE website. The final versions are due to be published in July 2015.

These exemplars do not give a complete picture of the new tests. For example, they do not

  • include full sample tests (there is a selection of questions instead)
  • reflect the curriculum coverage of the final tests
  • reflect the ratio of question types that will be in the final tests
  • reflect the range of question difficulties that will be in the final tests.

What the exemplars do provide however is an indication of how the new elements of the curriculum will be tested. Note that STA do not recommend that the sample questions be used for assessment purposes as they have not been fully trialled – they are for guidance only.

The sample questions focus on the new areas of the curriculum and there are repeated references to ‘increased demand’. In general, the level of difficulty of questions is higher overall and pupils need to do more to achieve one mark than they do currently.

The language around what each question is testing is a useful introduction for teachers to some of the jargon being used for analysis of Depth of understanding, Computational complexity etc. Such analysis means the test writers will have to be more careful about the overall difficulty level and think very carefully about what the pupil has to do in the process of answering each question. This should lead to improved year on year consistency. Continue reading →

Implications for Teaching and Learning 2014

Every year, Rising Stars commissions a team of experienced Year 6 teachers and consultants to review the Key Stage 2 National Test papers and pinpoint those areas where pupils performed less well.

This report outlines those areas that were identified as being problematic and makes suggestions for helping pupils to address these difficulties. This summary should be used in conjunction with teachers’ and schools’ own analysis of pupils’ performance in the National Tests and knowledge of the teaching that had prepared the pupils for them.

Please fill in the below form to receive your free reports Continue reading →

Assessment approaches developed by teaching schools

In October 2013 the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) invited teaching schools to bid for small-scale research funding to investigate assessment of the new National Curriculum now that there are no longer levels. A report summarising this research, Beyond Levels: alternative approaches developed by teaching schools, is now available.

34 teaching school alliances took part in the research, which involved 238 schools including 153 primary schools. Three priorities emerged from the research:

  • development of assessment tools to support individual progress
  • development of assessment tools to capture and record progress
  • use of technology to track attainment and progress.

Further details of each of these are provided below. Continue reading →