I’ve been prolific in my complaints about schools buying into systems for assessment which focus on tracking rather than assessment, that pander to the myths of levels, or re-introduce burdensome approaches like APP. Every time, quite reasonably, several people ask me via Twitter: What are you doing?
I do my best to reply, but the reality is that what works for my school, is not necessarily right for everyone. That said, I have shared the Key Objectives on which our model is based. However, what I really want to advise people to do, is to access the NAHT materials which set out how to build a really effective model. Unfortunately, while the materials themselves I think are excellent, the problem seems to be that the NAHT has not promoted them, nor made them particularly accessible. So here’s my attempt to do so.
The NAHT framework for assessment
The NAHT model is broadly the same as that which led to my Key Objectives, although notable for its brevity in terms of objectives. There are a few key principles that underpin it, which include:
- The assessment should link closely to the taught curriculum
- Not everything that is taught should be assessed (note Dylan Wiliam’s point about this)
- Key Performance Indicators [KPIs] should be selected for each year group and subject, against which teachers can make assessments.
- End of year descriptors, based on the KPIs can be used for more summative judgements
- The whole process should include in-school, and where possible, inter-school moderation
All of these things strike me as very sensible principles. The NAHT team which put together the materials to support this model went to some lengths to point out that schools (or groups of schools) may want to adapt the specifics of what is recorded for tracking purposes, but to support schools in doing so they have also provided examples of Key Performance Indicators for each year group and core subject area. These can be downloaded (rather frustratingly only one at a time!) from the NAHT website – regardless of whether or not you are a member.
The theory, then, is that assessment can take place throughout the year against specific objectives, rather than simply allocating children to meaningless code groups (‘3c’, ‘developing’, ‘mastery’, ‘step 117’, etc.). Over the course of the year, teachers and pupils can see progress being made against specific criteria, and can clearly identify those which still need to be covered. Similarly, at the end of each year, it is possible to make a judgement in relation to the overall descriptor for the year group. Schools may even decide to have a choice of descriptors if they really wished.
Annual tracking of those who are, and are not, meeting the performance standard for the year group can be kept, with intervention targeted appropriately.
There are several advantages of the NAHT system: firstly, it provides a sensible and manageable approach to assessment that can actually be used to support progress as well as meaningful tracking; secondly it doesn’t create unnecessary – or unrealistic – subdivisions or stages to give the impression of progress where none can reasonably be measured. Perhaps importantly, it also provides a ‘safety in numbers’ approach for schools who fear that Ofsted will judge schools on their choice. As a reputable professional organisation, the NAHT is a good backbone for any system – much moreso that relying on creations of data experts, who while clearly invaluable in creating tracking and analysis software, are not necessarily themselves, experts in education.
The aspect which seems to worry colleagues about approaches such as mine and the NAHTs, is that it doesn’t offer easily “measurable” (by which they usually mean track-able) steps all through the year. The fear is – I suspect – that it wouldn’t be possible to ‘prove’ to Ofsted that your assessments were robust if you didn’t have concrete figures to rely on at termly, or six-weekly intervals. Of course, the reality is that such things were nonsense, and it’s important that we recognise this as a profession. The robustness comes from the assessment and moderation approaches, not the labelling. The easy steps approach serves only to obfuscate the actual learning for the benefit of the spreadsheet. We need to move away from that model. Through use of internal and inter-school moderation, we can have confidence in our judgements part-way through a year and can improve our professional understanding of our children’s learning at the same time.
Of course, plenty of software companies will have come up with clever gadgets and numbers and graphs to wow school leaders and governors – that is their job. But the question school leaders should really be asking software companies is not “what are you offering?”, but “what are you building that will match our requirements?”
I notice this week that the latest release of Target Tracker includes an option for filtering to show the NAHT Key Performance Indicators. Infomentor offers a similar option, which also allows schools to link the objectives directly to planning. They also have a setup where schools can opt for my Key Objectives instead if they prefer (which offer slightly more detail). David Pott has already demonstrated how SIMS can be used to track such assessments.
The options are out there, and schools should be looking for tracking systems that fit with good educational principles, not trying to tack the latter on to fit with the tracking system they’ve got.
The NAHT does have a video available which summarises their approach rather well, if in a rather pedestrian manner. Available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2aK3Rs2IJQ