Redefining Key Stage 3 Assessment

It seems not that long ago when key stage 3 national levels were completely scrapped and for the right reasons but what replaced them? Its successor was far from a common approach; instead every school pretty much took a different path. Well, it appears that way but it seemed as if the majority of school merely copied and pasted the national levels and gave them new names. I’ve seen mastery, development, green, the experts, progressing and so forth. Other schools, me included, created linear flight paths mapped from key stage 2 starting points and key stage 4 target setting. Flight paths, however, are still, sort of, similar to levels in that they are micro-level knowledge and skill descriptors lifted from the GCSE specification. It appears as if the golden age of a new assessment system was missed because the whole idea of abolishing levels was to move away from broad, un-defined unreliable descriptors and all we did was name 4C something else.

Of course it was difficult not to simply hit control-c, control-p with Ofsted knocking on the door asking for internal data. Surely the Department of Education and Ofsted would realise scrapping a national system that was in place for many years to be replaced by nothing except the belief in teacher creativity would take more than the summer holiday to put in place. Unfortunately, we had little true time and space to make it work. However, that is in the past and now it seems that Ofsted has realised that pretty much all key stage 3 assessment is worthless. How do we know? Technically, Ofsted is no longer interested in it, though, there is a small caveat in the handbook that it will be considered. Ofsted may have unlocked the shackles of internal data to allow for space to think but even space would not solve the issue. We could have years and we still will have a multitude of worthless systems that is not providing a quantitative picture of pupil progress. But Ofsted has intentionally or unintentionally provided a nugget, no, wait, they have dangled the Hope diamond in front of us.

Hope is the right word. Ofsted’s big focus in now on knowledge and they have even redefined the concept of progress. Progress is no longer judged by Ofsted on internal assessment measures but defined as pupils “knowing more and remembering more”. I’m not too naïve to believe that numbers will not be involved, although, as above stated, Ofsted are not interested in internal data. Instead, they will consider a range of first-hand sources to determine the progress pupils are making. For instance, this could entail a more intrusive pupil voice that can include quizzing pupils, judging pupil completion rate compared to the subject curriculum map and in-depth book scrutinise that may be used to challenge teacher planning and pupil learning. All in all, it sounds great but, in my humble opinion, this approach will provide nothing more than before. The issue is not disregarding numerical data at key stage, I’m saying it needs to remain to provide a full picture, but to do so it’s about redefining what the data means with a clear and quantitative system to measure progress – not the use of descriptors.

Hear me out.

Scenario A: Including data

Me: Hi inspector, this piece of work is a ‘can do’ grade.

Inspector: Lets see a ‘can do’ in action and while we are at it, can we do a book scrutiny with a set of ‘can dos’ and throw in a few ‘can’t does’ and ‘those doing’?

Scenario B: No data

Me: Hi inspector, here is a curriculum map and this is where the pupils are currently.

Inspector: Hi pupil, it says you know this and that, what are they? May I see your book?

Okay, I am fully aware that I have amazingly over simplified the process, in particularly as I am a big fan of the current Ofsted framework and deep dive process. My issue is that the deep dive will make a judgement based on a string of subjective variables without the basis of a standard to judge against. I’m not saying a level is the best standard but at least if provides the inspector something to make comparisons with or against. My concern is that the evaluation of progress could be based on a set of, for example, shy pupils who are loaded down with nearly twelve subjects of knowledge and skills and subsequently hundreds of next steps who will, unfortunately, get confused or just flat out wont know what the inspector is asking or they pick up a boy’s book that does not look pretty. Outcome: Boys’ are making less than expected progress because of lack of challenge and slipping standards.

Whereas, actually the pupil who got nervous is fantastic and the boy with a messy book is actually on track for grades 8s across the board. Nothing will be perfect but we have to at least try, which is why I do believe that internal data needs to be considered – but not the current data systems that the majority of schools are using. The hope of redefining key stage 3 assessment is provided by Ofsted’s new definition of progress “ to know more and remember more” because we can actually, now, flip key stage 3 assessment from a qualitative framework to a quantitative system.

So, here is the blue pill that may change your world.

  1. If the curriculum is a progression model it has to progress towards something – that something are end points. End points are the product of curriculum development: scope, coherence, sequencing and rigour. From a data perspective, I am only interested in the number of end points.
  2. End points are knowledge and skill statements that the pupils needs to know and remember, therefore, creating a set database providing a set number. For instance, a unit in history has 20 end points.
  3. These endpoints should then be the basis of the unit assessment. Side note: A unit assessment, depending of the subject, could include two or more variations of the end point  which will improve reliability of the data.
  4. Therefore, the end points provide us a data set for a unit assessment, in which correct answers can be divided against to produce a percentage.
  5. The percentage will then represent that pupils current rate of “knowing and remembering more” of the curriculum.

In maths terms: correct answers/total number of defined end points = percentage of progress

To illustrate:

In history, pupils are preparing to sit a unit assessment on “life in the middle ages”. Over a period of seven or eight weeks the pupils covered the required 20 end points. These 20 end points formed the basis of the teacher assessments and was completed enthusiastically by all pupils.

Pupil A correctly answered 17 of 20, therefore, knowing and remembering 85% of the unit curriculum.

Pupil B correctly answered 10 of 20, therefore, know and remembering 50% of the unit curriculum.

By tracking the percentage of endpoints obtained, the data:

  • Allows for the pupil, teacher and parents to have a clear picture of progress for that unit of work. Pupil A knows and remembers 85% of the learning or across two unites we can produce a mean score – Pupil A knows and remembers 82% of the learning of unit 1 and 2 combined.
  • Can be aggregated to track and compare individual pupils, key pupils groups and whole classes. Pupil B received a 50%; class average was 65%; Non-disadvantaged pupils scored 70% and disadvantaged scored a 60%.
  • Can be tailored to each pupils or groups of pupils. Gaps, therefore, can easily be identified can form the basis of intervention.

On another side note: This redefined system could change how summative assessments look in key stage 3 which could have a pretty big impact on teacher workload because it opens the door for the use of multiple-choice and short answer assessment pieces.

Let us revisit our Ofsted scenario

Scenario C

Me: In history, 75% of pupils have made “progress” through the curriculum. Here are the key learning gaps and this is what has been done to address them.

We have a 10% between non-disadvantaged and disadvantage, here are their books and [now because we have clear data] we know that pupil group A struggle with recall. We have tailored lessons to focus on retrieval practice to help memory recall and retention.

Ofsted: Thank you, yes, I can see the implementation strategies and the impact it is making on pupil progress. However, Pupil A’s book is not the neatest and is a boy.

Me: Pupil A is currently “knowing and remember” 85% of what is being taught, nearly 20% higher than the class average – LEARNING IS’NT PRETTY. Though, you are right, we have an expectation that is not being met currently but this is how we are addressing it _______.

Ofsted: Awesome – that is what we wanted to hear, this all sounds amazing. [This statement is, of course, is extremely fictionally and would probably never be said]

I may be over simplifying assessment, but it is long overdue to consider a straight forward system that produces data that is more reliable and valid and is easily understood by all. Ofsted is wary of the current systems in place, that is why they are somewhat ignoring it. Or am missing the point and this may be the great redo opportunity to be creative with key stage 3 without Ofsted breathing down necks since we should not be doing things for Ofsted? This may be true, but being creative does not mean reinventing the wheel that confuses the heck out of pupils and parents, which gives us little real information and burns teachers out.

I do believe that Ofsted have given us an opportunity to not have to guess what progress means – they tell us loud and clear “progress means knowing more and remember more”. Therefore our assessment system should reflect that by considering endpoints to create assessments where we can produce a percentage that can help provide good data which tracks and monitors pupil progress across key stage 3.