- Established a common "gold standard" for history in school
- Used research based models of progression to identify how students could make conceptual progress towards this gold standard - picking out key misconceptions to overcome through teaching and feedback
- Developed outline enquiries which would be based around developing students' conceptual understanding as well as their substantive knowledge
- Tied these to enquiry-specific assessments with task-specific mark-schemes. Each mark scheme outlines the broad areas in which a student might demonstrate understanding of a particular task.
We are now considering how our newly designed progression model will work into a system of assessment. We want to make sure we have a credible and useful system of assessment, which leaves behind the mess that "Best-Fit" NC Levels have given us. As such, we are planning on adopting three different modes of assessment, in line with Michael Fordham's excellent suggestions in the HA Supplement and on his blog http://clioetcetera.wordpress.com/
This is our model for how we intend to assess in History from 2014:
Health Checks – regular assessments of substantive knowledge ie. a 10 question quiz every 2 weeks. These will enable teachers to identify students who are getting lost with the primary concepts or chronology. They might also form part of informal reporting and help to reinforce teacher judgments of students' ability in the particular topics.
Formative Feedback – This will be regular, either in lessons, on work or as part of particular tasks. It will be linked to the gold standard already established and the progression models developed. Comments will aim to help students to overcome the kinds of misconceptions discussed in the progression model. The model should not be seen as hoops to jump through however and we need to ensure we don’t make the signposts new ladders to climb – they are not rungs, nor do they prescribe a single route for progressing. Feedback will be related to specific misconceptions in students' work and help them to develop their understanding. Time will be given for students to respond to these comments, thereby allowing them to embed their new understanding. Teaching should also respond to misconceptions so the progression model may help in teachers targeting specific misconceptions as part of lessons or lesson sequences. Formative feedback will form the bulk of evidence that students are progressing in their historical understanding. It will also allow discussions of what students need to do and how parents might support this.
Formal Assessments – These will be done periodically and be tied to specific unit enquiries. They will be assessment data points and could take the form of essays, end of unit exams, or a number of other variations. They will draw together students’ understanding of substantive knowledge as well as second order concepts. They will be based on specific rather than generic mark schemes ie. tied to the question itself and should be understood as providing a summative mark on a particular task against specific criteria. They will be marked on a Fail, Pass, Merit, Distinction basis, established by the task specific mark scheme and therefore will not be seen as measures of progress (although they will contribute to an understanding of a student's progress). Students should understand that they may get a Merit in one assessment and a Pass in the next and still be making progress overall (to give an example - students often fluctuate wildly in mental maths tests or vocab tests - their failure in one test does not automatically make them believe they are making no progress). Students will also be given formative feedback on relevant parts of their assessment, but again this should relate to specific misconceptions relevant to the work/issues of structure etc. Importantly, generic statements such as "next time try to evaluate more" are no use at all here. Students will be given time to apply their feedback and therefore tackle some of their specific misconceptions.
Between these three aspects, I think we can build a fairly comprehensive picture of students abilities in their broader historical understanding, as well as in specific tasks and situations. This should allow teachers to build a sound picture of whether or not students are progressing in the broadest sense.
Now this is all well and good, but I wonder how this will fit into whole school systems of assessment. There will be assistant heads in charge of data having a fit because the system I propose above does not provide a simple linear progress mark. That is to say, there will be no numbered scale of steps which they will be climbing with each assessment (whether this be A*-U or Levels 1-10). The only data points I am planning on providing will be those which relate to specific assessments. Progress will be dealt with through teaching and specific feedback as outlined. Teachers will also of course comment on whether or not they feel students are making progress, but this will be a holistic understanding based on the broader course.
So what if your school continues to use a "progression" based Best-Fit model of assessment as we have seen in NC Levels? For example, they may replace the Levels 1-8 with a series of words: weak, developing, stable, secure, excelling, each of which might have a set of descriptors with them. If students were then expected to make progress from the lower echelons of such a structure to the upper ones, then there would be little difference between this and what have currently. Teachers would be asked to provide "Best-Fit" assessments just like with NC Levels. We would essentially recreate the previous system under a new name.
At the moment for example I am asked to record progress every term. So if little Jimmy is awarded a "Best-Fit Level 5b" (God forbid) on the first reporting point, then he would expect get a "Best-Fit Level 5a" for his next one otherwise he would appear to be making no progress. Now, because the system is "Best-Fit" I technically don't need any specific evidence to show that this move has taken place. I can pick and choose the evidence I want. Lee and Shemilt talk about the ridiculous nuclear arms race which is "Levelling":
"One revolutionary masterstroke was to dispense with rules of evidence for end of key stage assessments. The authors have seen work copied from the board and written by ‘peer tutors’ being used for this purpose and, in the absence of any rules of evidence, such material is (absurdly) as admissible as formal test and
examination papers. Since any material produced under any conditions may be ‘best-fit’ matched against the NCAT nothing is deemed to be unreliable and assessments become ‘error free’." (Lee and Shemilt, Teaching History 113)
This Best-Fit system where marks are tied to "progress" creates enormous issues of grade inflation as teachers aim to demonstrate their students improving. Fundamentally it divorces the grades given from meaningful assessments and therefore gives a result which is no use to anyone. It also means that assessments are forced to become hoop jumping exercises again, so that students might demonstrate their progress against generic descriptors. This system is clearly corrupt - it resembles the centralised reporting system of the Soviet economy more than a meaningful way for children to improve. Yet we seem completely wedded to this idea of reporting progress with linear grades, rather than looking for alternatives.
A Potential Solution
If however, we change the reporting system to record grades for specific tasks rather than assessments of progress, then we move the assessments away from notions of ladder-like progress and can instead provide a mark based on a task specific mark scheme. This means that tasks are seen as snapshots of performance, whilst progress can be seen through comment marking, student feedback, and of course crucially, teacher judgement.
So here is what I am proposing:
- Fundamentally rewrite expectations for each subject - setting a gold standard in each. Use this to then create meaningful progression models for each subject. Step away from ladder-like progression models across the board and think about the misconceptions students need to overcome in each subject to make progress.
- Notions of student progression should be tied to feedback and response to challenges offered through teaching and marking. This would specifically target misconceptions in students' understanding of the topics being covered and allow them to move their thinking forward in specific rather than generic ways. Ie. a comment which challenge's a student's assumptions about the importance of human actions only in causing the First World War and ignores the broader socio-cultural factors might move a student on in a specific topic as well as broader conceptual understanding.
- Divorce the idea of progression from the grades students receive in assessments - accept that students will never progress through their understanding of subjects in a linear way. This is abundantly clear from all the research data on the "3 levels of progress" measures - less than half of history students achieve this in most cases. In short - there are no ladders in education so we need to stop thinking about them.
- Provide parents with a report every term (or whatever) which includes straightforward information:
- a) The student's last assessment grade on a specific task (these will obviously fluctuate but if they are not linked to ideas of linear progression, this should not be an issue)
- b) A flag to note whether the student is making progress (based on teacher judgment and knowledge of the student. Could be a simple yes/no, or something more complex)
- c) Effort/Behaviour or other relevant info (because I believe these are sometimes the most important aspects from a parental point of view
- DO NOT PROVIDE: Best-Fit Levels of any description - these give the impression that students should be moving upwards at all times and lead to a fetishisation of progress in the most meaningless sense. Or generic advice on improvement - this is what the formative feedback is for.
OK - so that turned into a longer piece than expected. I would love to hear thoughts though. How is your school planning on dealing with the changes? Will they be keeping progress based models of assessment? Will they be keeping Best-Fit? (Please don't ask why I capitalise this... I am not entirely sure - it just feels like some sort of trademark). Has anyone seen a really good system in use?
I look forward to reading your comments. I have also written a more in depth version considering what a post-levels system might look like HERE