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11 July 2015

Assessing progress through Key Stage 3: A model for the post-levels world

After a year's moratorium in which levels were given a temporary reprieve, the school I'm working in has decided to take the plunge and move away from using levels to assess students' attainment at Key Stage 3.  Until this point, the school has been applying the principles of APP, in which each curriculum area has a number of discrete and separate Assessment Focuses (strands/skills/concepts) which are then broken down sharply into level descriptors which are used to assess students' attainment on an on-going basis.  However, from September 2015, the school will adopt new methods of assessment designed to focus on students' progress over time.  Interestingly, the school intends to pilot this new approach with Year 7 and has given freedom to curriculum areas to design their own assessment frameworks.  So this is the task I've been wrestling with for the last month or so. 
APP - Our current assessment framework

For all their flaws, the discrete and sharply defined level descriptors used under our old APP framework did have the advantage of setting out very clearly what it meant 'to get better at doing history'.  Of course, the levels and sublevels applied were often meaningless and as teachers, we all know that students' progression does not happen in a linear fashion, in which students move neatly from one level up into the next in individual areas of skill.  But as a curriculum leader, the APP model did give my colleagues a framework to identify what progression in History might look like and thus formed an important reference to shape their planning.  In creating a pilot framework for measuring progress over time, I was keen to retain this aspect.  However, I was also keen to reflect the emphasis placed by the 2014 National Curriculum on a more integrated approach to the historical concepts and to avoid simply reinventing the APP level descriptors.  Thus the finished model identifies four 'descriptors' or stages of development which are altogether more holistic.  In designing this, I stumbled across the work on progression by @andallthat, which gave me food for thought.

The difficulty at this point was to put together a framework which would make it manageable for colleagues to identify and measure the progress of student over time, determining whether or not the students were making adequate progress or not.  This presented a challenge, as students would have different starting points. So while two students might produce the same quality of work (attainment), the journey towards that might represent much greater progress for a student with a lower starting point.  That posed the question of how to make it possible for staff to recognise and compare this progress.

In the end, I developed the model below.  Students will enter the school on one of three routes based on their Key Stage 2 English + Maths averages.  Those entering on the highest starting point would be on the 'Red route' for example.  Referring to the model, staff are then able to determine what is 'below expected', 'acceptable', 'good' and 'exceptional' progress for each individual student.  This judgement would be made in a summative fashion on a summary task at the end of a unit of work.  As students enter Year 8, they remain on the same route (even if their attainment has improved, their starting point has not, thus the route remains the same). Once again, the model makes it possible to identify what is satisfactory progress and with reference to the student's starting point.
A new framework for measuring progress over time

There remain challenges ahead surrounding this shift in thinking about how we measure students' progress.  There are conversations still to be had at whole-school level on how this information is shared with parents.  After all, sharing a judgement of 'below expected' progress has implications which might be disguised by sharing a judgement of 5c, which might well represent good attainment but disguise poor progress.  Secondly, it has implications for us as teachers.  We cannot be satisfied with our students making below expected progress when it is presented in sharp relief like this.  Finally, I'm also convinced that this will require the introduction of very task-specific mark sheets at Key Stage 3, for which the wording of the new framework will form a basis.  I'll post my work on this at some point in the future.

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