Assessment without levels – A prologue by @PrestonScience

Assessment concerns...

My school has produced a first draft proposal for a new assessment framework relating to the new GCSE grades and looking to move to a system without levels.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Ben Preston and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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The gist of it is: a student comes into school, and based on their prior attainment they’re set a ‘projected grade’. This is the minimum expected GCSE grade (e.g. grade 5).

Teachers will use this to set a professional target.

In each year, the same grading system will be used, so a student should in theory progress from grade 5 in Year 7 to grade 5 in Year 11, with each subject setting the standards against which these judgements will be made.

As I spent some time on my response to this first draft proposal, I thought it would be worth sharing more widely. Below is my response. I’d be interested to know what you think.

Here are my thoughts:

This bit really worries me.

Extensive research shows that labelling people encourage a fixed mindset, and this seems to be even more explicit labelling than had with levels:

How it works

If a student is projected a Grade 5 (equivalent to a C+ now; the new national expected standard) and they make continual good progress towards it, they will be labelled a grade 5 at all points (Most Likely Grade) and end up getting a grade 5.

Surely, we are assessing students’ learning and the work that they produce. We are not judging them as people.

What hope does a teacher have motivating a Year 11 student who has been told: “You are a grade 3/4/5/6/7” for five years? It’s like an imposed intellectual class system. I imagine years of student conversations along these lines: “Hello, I’m a grade 7”  “Oh, you’re much smarter than me, I’m only a grade 5”   “Yeah, but he’s a grade 3! What an idiot!”

If anyone can explain how this system promotes learning and thinking in students, I’ll take it all back.

This video interview with Tim Oates (who led the expert panel that recommended the removal of levels from the National Curriculum) explains why levels are gone – I really think it’s worth watching.

I’d like to see assessment based on “How secure are students in their understanding of [insert topic here]?”  I think the Activate words developing / secure / extending are suitable for this. This would also make for meaningful reports (e.g. “John is developing his understanding of space, and has a secure understanding of elements, atoms and compounds”)

I’d be interested to know what other people (in ours and other departments) think.


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