A Personalised Approach to Student Improvement
SIS is proud to be a school with a progressive and forward thinking vision. We aim to establish ourselves as a research engaged organisation with a relentless drive to pursue innovation, raise standards and improve and reflect upon our pedagogy.
After careful consideration and in line with current practice in the UK, we have decided to withdraw National Curriculum Levels as a means of assessment. Having undergone an extensive period of review and consultation, we have chosen a new and more effective system that better supports our main aim of ‘improving learning and teaching.’
What is the purpose of assessment?
At SIS, assessment plays a key role. For us, the purpose of assessment is to improve learning and teaching.
For many, their educational experience has lent itself to an understanding of assessment being purely summative in nature – but it’s so much more than this! Although testing is a credible means to judge student progress and can be an effective tool within a teacher’s toolbox, it should not be seen as the entire toolbox. Assessment can take many forms and come in many shapes and sizes.
In essence, assessment should be able to:
- Motivate by rewarding and promoting achievement;
- Positively inform students, teachers and parents;
- Result in supportive and critical reflection as to the progress and future targets of individual students and teaching groups.
Assessment should also be seen as continual and formative. It exists to provide feedback and improve the learning and teaching process. Below is a good link that explores the concept that assessment is for learning, rather than of learning.
What was the concept of NC levels in the past and how did they work?
The document above reflects how level descriptions were created in an attempt to demonstrate progression in learning. To quote from the document, the purpose of NC levels was to establish:
"the criteria for assessing learners' progress (which) are set out in descriptions of performance at nine levels for each attainment target (levels 1 to 8 and 'exceptional performance'). Level 2 represents expectations for most 7 year-olds, level 4 represents expectations for most 11 year-olds and levels 5 to 6 represent expectations for most 14 year-olds. These descriptions of performance,
originally established in 1995, allow children and their parents, carers or guardians, as well as their teachers, to see how well they are doing in relation to their prior attainment and to expectations for children of their age."
What were their limitations?
Tim Oates talks about assessment above, and this is a great place to begin your understanding. Levels, as they were, began with a noble concept in mind, but for many, became a set of shackles and were simply a burden upon the process of learning. Although they were developed for use at the end of a key stage, they were rapidly divided into sub-levels of a,b and c, and used for individual pieces of work, due to the need for schools to show progression and be accountable. This accountability to government, and the focus upon data, rapidly became the focus, rather than the learning itself.
This lead to a whole number of issues; some of these issues were:
The problem that learning is not always linear. Students may be good at some things, but not good at others.
For some, levelling became hugely bureaucratic, and with 8 levels plus 3 sub levels for each, a massive amount of paperwork was alienating many of the teaching community.
In some subjects, levels were very abstract in nature and increasingly difficult to judge accurately. Members of the same department would often level pieces of work differently, and it could become a very subjective experience.
Teachers felt under pressure to level students in order to show progression, no matter what the performance.
An integrated approach
It is our belief at SIS that assessment does not come at the end of the learning process, but rather at the beginning and at regular points. That is, assessments should not be conceived after teaching a unit, but actually be designed as part of the planning process itself. This sense of ‘backwards planning’ enables the teacher to set out the key skills and knowledge to be assessed, and to create a unit plan that enables students to demonstrate those areas of learning. Assessment should therefore not be summative at the end of the unit, but rather frequent and cumulative, allowing students the opportunity to reflect and improve. For us at SIS, this focus upon Assessment for Learning and its effect upon planning has opened up the possibilities of making the curriculum even more fit for purpose. Backwards planning gives teachers the opportunity to dispense with learning that does not move children towards the ‘big ideas’, and rids planning and teaching of the unnecessary focus upon level descriptors. In practice, this means concentrating upon the skills, knowledge and understanding required by students at key points, such as Cambridge Checkpoint, IGCSE and A Level. We therefore envisage that it will help students ‘move beyond’ much more quickly and prepare students more rigorously for the academic challenges awaiting them.
Therefore, a focus upon planning, and the setting out of a ‘mastery model’ of what should be achieved by the end of the unit, will make assessment both simpler and more informative. It also relocates the dialogue between student and teacher, focussing instead on the substantive content rather than the abstracted language of levels. It will provide a great tool for both teachers and students alike, who can reflect quickly and concisely and identify areas for improvement and further action. It is therefore also a system for accountability, for tracking progress and for improving performance.
Some useful links can be found below;
How assessment shall work at SIS
Therefore the concepts behind assessment at SIS are heavily interlinked with the qualities of backwards planning. This shall include:
Teachers planning each unit with the ideas of mastery in mind, that is, what learners should know and be able to do, as well as the means to move beyond to the next stage. (Differentiation.)
Planning of units should therefore give children the opportunity to demonstrate the model.
The models should be shared before the unit begins, and be reflected upon regularly throughout the unit, with students given assessment as required to identify success and to close the gap before moving on.
Achievement of the mastery model shall essentially be reported and tracked as a ‘B’ grade, with students who move beyond receiving an ‘A’. Grades below (C-E), will then relate to students’ ability to move towards the mastery level.
After each unit, students shall be assessed as above, with each teacher free to define the method of assessment, be it continual or summative. This grade shall then be tracked against CAT tests with intervention strategies enacted as required.