I can’t claim to have scrutinised them in full depth, and I urge anyone who teaching in KS1/2 to take a look at them, but here are my thoughts on the new interim assessment frameworks for KS1 and KS2.
Firstly, let’s deal with that “I” word. You might have sensed in my July post (How dare they?) that I wasn’t too impressed by the poor progress on assessment from the department. To be offered an “interim” structure, after all this time strikes me as atrocious. Schools have not been offered the chance to teach an interim curriculum. We will not be judged on interim tests while we roll out the new curriculum to children who’ve been following the old for years. Schools have had no option but to move fast, and prepare to be evaluated by Ofsted. What a cheek to take a whole year since the draft performance descriptors were scrapped to come up with something that will only last a single year. It’s an embarrassment – especially for teachers who have to present to parents or governors about new systems. We’ve been let down, again, and the minister should apologise.
Out with best fit…
This has been a slightly unpopular aspect of the proposals, but it’s not actually one I object to. I do, however, object to the way in which it has been handled.
Part of the trouble of the old best-fit descriptors was the way in which a child could, for example, achieve Level 4 (or Level 5 for that matter) without knowing their tables, leaving a gaping chasm in their core knowledge. A threshold model avoids that problem by making it clear that pupils must secure all the core content. That’s a principle I broadly support.
However, we were promised a new standard that would be broadly in line with the old level 4b (whatever that was). By that reckoning, the bar could have been raised that far simply by keeping the broad content of the old level 4 descriptors, and making them minimum thresholds. What has actually happened is a significant raising of the bar, and then the further raising by setting the expectation of complete security in all areas.
That presents some real challenges in some areas. What of the child in Year 2 who reads competently with good understanding, but struggles to maintain a pace of 90 words per minute; are they to be deemed to be falling behind? What of the child in Year 6 whose motor control does not yet allow them to write with a neat and fluent hand; is the rest of their work therefore automatically not good enough to demonstrate the “greater depth”?
A threshold standard is not of itself a bad thing, but it’s not something that should be hastily drafted.
And as for the Writing descriptor…! As I posted over the weekend, there’s nothing about the ‘expected standard’ descriptor that looks anything like the old Level 4b to me. Indeed, I’d argue that it matched a secure Level 5 much more closely:
No Man’s Land
One of the issues of the draft performance descriptors was the bizarre use of categories like “working below the national standard” and “working towards the national standard”, with little indication of why one was better than the other. Mercifully the number of categories has been reduced to a maximum of three (including the amusingly-worded “Working at greater depth within the expected standard”), but we still have one of the same problems that we had before:
What happens to the children who are not yet Working Towards the Expected Standard, according to its new definition? In some cases – especially the Writing – that could be a good chunk of pupils. Do they simply get no result at all?
Of course, what this really highlights is the huge number of unanswered questions about the whole process, despite the fact that the whole thing has been years in the department’s making:
- When will see exemplification materials?
- What moderation processes will be in place?
- When will these judgements need to be made by?
- What on earth with be happening for our current Year 5s?!
My cynical suspicion
Maybe this is just the dying breath of a system of teacher assessment that has outlived its appreciation at the department. Since 2010 it has been made clear that government has no interest in coursework and similar approaches at GCSE; maybe the view is now that Teacher Assessment is a redundant process.
Might we see the whole thing scrapped in 2017… under the banner of reducing teacher workload? I’m beginning to think that that wouldn’t be the worst outcome in the world!