When is a level not a level?

And so the performance descriptors loom large!

The DfE has launched its consultation into the new performance descriptors for statutory teacher assessment at the end of Key Stages 1 and 2. And as feared, they are essentially just levels re-packaged. For all the talk about freedom to assess properly, the power of linking assessment directly to the curriculum, and other such bluster, we’ve ended up with simply a re-worked level system for KS2 Writing that includes an extra ‘level’ for us to “measure” against. And a whole host of levels to work with at KS1

Parents didn’t understand levels, apparently. But now we’ve added an extra one they somehow will?

Levels were too vague to be useful for assessment. But now they’ve been re-written with APP-type labels they’ve magically become better?

APP was an unwieldy paperwork nightmare foist on us by an all-controlling government, they said. And so now we have pages of descriptors instead.

The future is coming into view already: cue publishers and other organisations writing equivalent descriptors for each year group, or intervening phases, and across the subjects, and lo and behold we replace the complicated and confusing systems of levels 1 to 6 with a system of vague threshold titles, lengthy descriptions… and before you know it, a whole host of sub-grades to help “show progress” every fourth day.

After all, surely a mixed system of performance descriptors, scaled scores and whatever other categories they come up with will be confusing – it’s all but inevitable that we’ll end up with the lowest common denominator in too many cases.

Levels are dead. Long live levels!

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11 thoughts on “When is a level not a level?

  1. cazzypot2013 23 October 2014 at 11:29 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  2. Lee Haynes 24 October 2014 at 7:18 am Reply

    Totally agree with you.
    Surely with ‘scaled scores’ for end of KS2 tests we are going to be measured by Ofsted against that. They never wanted to see APP assessments in my experience and will just work against end of KS scores.
    Could we add this to the workload survey as we know how long it is going to take to complete!
    I love tick lists…I love tick lists…I love tick lists…I love tick lists

    • Michael Tidd 24 October 2014 at 7:21 am Reply

      I will definitely be adding it to my feedback to the department about workload!

  3. nik 24 October 2014 at 4:14 pm Reply

    Completely agree. Such a shame that we are going to waste this opportunity to really look at assessment. I had an email from a headteacher saying that I can now cancel the assessment working group I had set up because they have a new Sims system…
    Tracking does NO equal assessment!! Rant over 🙂

  4. Ian Lynch 24 October 2014 at 5:25 pm Reply

    Thing to get rid of is Key Stages. You can easily track progress through a programme of study and assess competence in the basic content formatively. If you want to know where someone is in attainment then give them a test. (better still several over a period of time as one result is not going to be very reliable and then you can see progress too) If you want that to be contextualised eg in comparison to age, compare the results with a representative sample at that age. We are doing it for free in computing and about 50,000 assessed so far. If we use technology its low cost and saves teacher time.

  5. Sasha 24 October 2014 at 5:44 pm Reply

    Sorry, I’m not an expert but it’s not really clear from your post what it is that you would have wanted? No performance descriptors? Or levels back?

    As I understand it the PDs are more or less directly tracked across from the NC; so it doesn’t seem like a huge pile of work either.

    The PD consultation is after all a consultation – what will you be submitting to it?

    • Michael Tidd 24 October 2014 at 5:51 pm Reply

      That’s a fair point.
      Personally I’d have been happy to see a single descriptor for Writing with expected outcomes, and the same for subjects at KS2. My objection to the descriptors is that they’ll recreate the problems with levels – if kids go to secondary schools labelled as “below the national standard”, no information will be gained that indicates what they can and can’t do, because descriptors like this can only ever be “best-fit” models.
      My other issues is: if we were going to end up with 5 level descriptors, then why not just update the level descriptors, as that is likely what will now happen, but at greater cost.

  6. Onlyamanatee 24 October 2014 at 9:24 pm Reply

    And why choose such an unhelpful & emotive label as ‘below national standard’? I feel disheartened even thinking about it!

  7. Tim Taylor 25 October 2014 at 8:15 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Primary Blogging.

  8. BekBlayton 25 October 2014 at 8:36 am Reply

    Some really interesring comments here – I can see completely what people are worried about – this kind of explicitly labelled ‘descriptors’ will just lead to schools obsessing over term on term tracking, again, and teachers learning a whole new set of ‘level’ descriptors.

    BUT the government is still stressing end of key stage tests, schools need to stick to their guns, look at what will work for their pupils. Using these end of key stage descriptors to see if pupils are on track to achieve, rather than labelling kids at every stage? Giving teachers the descriptors and let them work towards the best way of getting them ‘secondary ready’ – if Ofsted and HMI take the lead an insist only on progress data from statutory tests, then on evidence for school judgements (rather than detailed numerical term/term progress) then it could still work…

    Hmm.. Still lots to think about, but we need to make sure we fill in the consultation – it could just be a rough starting point!!

    And when’s the general election…..?

  9. […] like the statements in the National curriculum itself.  Michael Tidd (@MichaelT1979) has already blogged about the fact that the performance indicators appear to be levels in all but name, so I won’t […]

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