Àfter several visits to Secondary schools over the last few months I'm beginning to see a new assessment model emerge where old levels are replaced with GCSE grade numbers. In this system Year 7 start at grade 1 until the end of year 9 where pupils are grade 3 and 'GCSE ready'. Each year grade has the three areas of exceeding, meeting and developing sub-strands.
Now I can see some merit in this system because it is clearly designed to demonstrate to students that they are on a progressive route to exam success in later years. Mr Ofsted, SLT and data managers can see that all important numerical evidence of progression, it makes for beautiful spread sheets and SIMS software managers are happy.
Sarcasm apart, it does fit nicely in with school systems, I can see that. Now whilst I'm personally rolling my eyes skyward at tutting at teacher's (and pupil's) addiction to grading, surely this is problem solved isn't it?
Same old, same old
Er, remind me again why we got rid of levels? It seems to me that this is replacing like for like. This new system takes us back to brandishing pupils with a number instead of more meaningful advice on how to improve. Also, if everyone starts year 7 at grade 1 then I'm ignoring prior primary attainment because what grades should they use; minus numbers? And some pupils will certainly be at grade 2 in Year 7 and some will be pretty close to zero or not even in the game. By year 9 you should have some at grade 4 or 5 at least with some at grade 1 or 2. But you won't do that because it is misleading pupils to tell them they have passed/failed a GCSE before they've even started it.
This system reveals further flaws when you consider that these key stage 3 grades aren't really relevant to the actual GCSE because we have to rip them up and start again when they begin Year 10. The grades they've thought they were accumulating don't actually apply in a real sense otherwise there would be a minimum grade 3 for all students in Year 10.
So this system is based on a false impression of progression. Besides, I'm just not a fan of labelling progression in this way. Why do you want to replace levels with an almost identical system, is it just to keep data managers happy? Why can't we be content with less intimidating areas of attainment such as; making good progress in this or that area and needs to develop this area further, for example using the Making Ideas Knowledge Evaluation designed by us folks at NSEAD? You could go as far as saying: 'working to expected standards for age' or even; 'with current level of progression I'd anticipate x outcome at GCSE' (but I'd save that for formalised reports). I'd want to add huge dollops of; 'look how much better you've got since last term!' in my model too because more than anything I want them to feel good about the process they've undertaken.
Assessment needs to be personal not comparative, constructive yet supportive. It has to build my confidence and motivate me to want to try again. The minute you label me with a number you risk demotivating and alienating me. Children are greedy for grades but they aren't good for them.
Senior leaders may console themselves that their graphs of numerical grading show progress is taking place but they know that every Ofsted inspector looks at the key data (starting data and KS4 end point data) then heads straight for the pupils to question them about their understanding, also looking for further evidence in pupils work and lesson observations. They usually pay lip service to KS3 data because it's usually viewed as internal monitoring.
I think it takes a lot of courage to ditch all that numerical grading but I would and I'd replace it with meaningful classroom based techniques, built into the SOW so they don't add to workload and I'd make positive, constructive feedback the priority because motivation is crucial to success not labels.
Finally I get quite frustrated at secondary art departments who largely ignore those who don't want to take exam based art and drop the subject at the end of year 9. What about them? I'd hope they'd leave with a life long appreciation and understanding of art but what usually happens is they think 'I can't do art' and 'I don't like it' because all they've experienced is exam centric art education. All this new system of art assessment does is to compound that feeling.