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Life beyond levels

Posted in Analysing Attainment & Progress, Features, Managing Data

Update: 14th April 2014

In the light of further information published by the DfE, along with other publications and analysis, there is more we can consider when asking what life will be like after levels.

The Government’s response to its consultation on Primary Assessment and Accountability has finally been published.  Although many of their proposals received overwhelmingly negative feedback, it appears they intend to go ahead regardless.

What key things have we learned from this document?

  • The model assessment frameworks, which will be critical in guiding schools as to the DfE’s intentions, and which, in October 2013, were stated as being “available on the DfE website shortly”, are conspicuous by their continued absence.
  • As widely anticiptated, there are no changes to the P Scale descriptors.
  • The reporting of deciles has been removed from statutory testing but the scaled score remains, so end of key stage assessments will in future be by comparison against other pupils rather than a specific level of attainment.
  • The potential game-changer was the unexpected announcement that a set of national ‘performance descriptors’ will now be published, at some unspecified point in time, to support statutory teacher assessment at the ends of key stages.

So let’s think through the possible implications of these national performance descriptors…

  • Schools will use the national performance descriptors when carrying out end of key stage teacher assessments.
  • Sir Michael Wilshaw said recently “I don’t know of any good or outstanding school that doesn’t set targets for children to achieve at the end of any key stage”.  So even though end of key stage target setting is no longer statutory, Ofsted still clearly expects it to happen.
  • It will not be possible to set end of key stage targets based on a scaled score from a test, so the only practical option is to set end of key stage targets in the same way that end of key stage attainment will be measured, i.e. using the national performance descriptors.
  • And when you are tracking progress, you will be tracking progress towards a target expressed using national performance descriptors.
  • Sir Michael Wilshaw also said “I have never seen a good or outstanding school that doesn’t have summative tests at the end of each year”.  So, if the summative test at the ends of key stages will use the national performance descriptors, it would seem sensible to make assessments at the end of other years that use the same broad ‘language’ to describe attainment.

What is critical now is that the Government finally publishes its model assessment frameworks so that schools have a good idea as to what will be regarded as good practice (and perhaps also what will not be considered acceptable), and also to publish the national performance descriptors.

And finally, with just one term left until the new National Curriculum comes into force, there seems to be a belief that schools are required to publish a detailed assessment framework by September. We can find no mention of this in the DfE’s mandatory timeline for schools, nor in any of the National Curriculum 2014 publications, nor in the Statutory Instruments laid before Parliament to enact the changes.  If anyone knows differently, please let us know, otherwise we would echo the advice given by the NAHT Commission for Assessment – Don’t Panic!


Blue Line

Published 4th March 2014

With Ministers’ proposals to remove NC Levels creating a degree of head-scratching amongst school leaders, we are being asked how CASPA will evolve to cater for a world without levels.

The Government has not, at the time of writing, published the outcome of the primary assessment and accountability consultation that ran from 17th July 2013 to 11th October 2013.  The process beyond publication of this outcome is not clear and, until the DfE publishes its final guidance on statutory assessment together with the ‘model assessment systems’ for close-tracking and formative assessment of pupils that it promised by the end of last year, no-one can yet claim to have all the answers as to what the requirements on schools from the DfE and Ofsted are likely to be.

In the meantime, the National Association of Head Teachers has just published the findings of its Commission on Assessment, which make interesting reading.  The Commission acknowledges the problems that fragmentation of assessment systems will cause and makes a number of very sensible suggestions, amongst which is that, due to the time constraints arising from the DfE failing to give adequate notice, the Government should formally support the use by schools of suitably modified NC Levels by schools for the 2014/15 academic year and not require schools to publish a detailed assessment framework until September 2016.

In the longer term, the NAHT would seem to be taking a lead on behalf of the profession in developing an assessment framework which, if adopted universally, would ensure consistency assessment between schools.  Their approach seems to be to condense the content of each Year’s curriculum to a limited number of ‘can-do’ statements, with the extent that the pupil ‘can-do’ being assessed, probably using three judgements not dissimilar to APP, e.g. Developing, Secure, Exceeding.  In addition to these assessments of individual requirements, it would seem inevitable that there will also be a corresponding scheme of summative assessment based on the requirements of each curriculum year, e.g. Year 5 Developing, Year 5 Secure, Year 5 Exceeding.  It would also seem inevitable that there will be some form of direct mapping between the new and old schemes, whereby the current description of ‘secondary ready’ (NC Level 4b for Summer 2014) would map to Year 6 Secure, in order to allow existing tracking data to continue to be used.

As both the DfE and Ofsted have been involved with the NAHT Commission on Assessment, it would be surprising if the model they propose were to differ substantially from the model assessment systems the DfE have been promising.  Whilst the removal of levels purports to give schools complete freedom in assessment, clearly any school that adopts a model effectively endorsed by the DfE and Ofsted will have significantly less explaining to do compared to a school that does something dramatically different.

Whilst it was clear from the DfE consultation that consideration of pupils working significantly below age-related expectations were, as usual, something of an afterthought, there are currently no plans to remove, or change, the P Levels.  Were the profession to take this opportunity to create a set of clear, concise and consistent ‘can-do’ statements relating to the progression of pupils with SEN at the same time as doing this for the new National Curriculum, that is something that would be widely welcomed.

In summary, the ‘best guess’ at present is that many schools will choose to continue to use the existing NC Levels for the 2014-15 academic year, until they are replaced with something that looks very much like levels, but based instead on clear, concise and measurable curriculum requirements rather than vague descriptive statements, with direct mapping between old and new schemes to allow tracking against existing data.

Our expectation, therefore, is that CASPA will be equally relevant under the new assessment framework as it is at present.

We continue to meet with both the DfE and Ofsted on this, and a wider range of topics, and will publish our development plans as soon as possible.

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