Local Authorities: the real barrier to Assessment without Levels?

I have done a lot of work all over the country for the past couple of years trying to help schools to move forward with the new curriculum, and particularly with venturing into the brave new world of life after levels.

Having initially been reticent, I have been a keen advocate of schools taking control of assessment so that it matches their curriculum, and moving away from points-based systems which expect linear progress. No teacher has ever argued that a linear model makes sense; we all know that it was meaningless. In many cases schools and their leaders feel liberated to focus on what matters for their children. Teachers are freed up to focus on real assessment that drives teaching and learning, helping children to make better progress.

Except there’s that word.

For the first year or so, headteachers would often ask me: but how do you show progress? As Ofsted have told us time and again: progress can be seen in books, by talking to children, and occasionally by some summative assessment. The Assessment Commission report was clear in its use of Good Practice examples where schools recorded data only annually. In its draft form, it even pointed out that collecting data too frequently could actually be damaging. There should be no need for schools to be falling over themselves with data every 6 or 12 weeks!

So why is it that local authorities up and down the country are still pestering schools for termly data that shows measurable progress for each term? Why are so many trying to re-label old measures, such as “expected progress” by just calling them “sufficient progress” or “good progress”.

The fact that my own authority still has a form entitled “Termly Evaluation of progress of current cohorts” is bad enough. The fact that it takes up 5 pages to record various percentages and proportions for each year group is very frustrating. The fact that any of the numbers that could possibly be put into it would be essentially meaningless is a shocking waste of everyone’s time. The idea that conclusions might be drawn from such data: positively worrying.

So it seems like local authorities could do with some advice. I’ll draw upon that most useful of documents: the final report of the Commission on Assessment without Levels. So perhaps the leaders in local authorities up and down the country could take heed of the following:

The expectation to collect data in efforts to track pupils’ progress towards target levels considerably increased teachers’ workload. The Commission hopes that teachers will now build their confidence in using a range of formative assessment techniques as an integral part of their teaching, without the burden of unnecessary recording and tracking. For this approach to be adopted effectively, it is essential that it is supported by school leaders.

Notice, that last bit includes you, local authority experts!

Another extract:

In-school summative assessment is not designed to support comparisons between schools

The summative information schools use should be for their information. My school’s meaning of ‘on-track’ in December may be very different to another schools. Any data isn’t designed to be comparable, and so shouldn’t be used to compare!

Perhaps Local Authority teams should take their lead from Ofsted:

Inspectors will want to know how schools are assessing whether their pupils are making progress which is appropriate for their age and ability and is sufficiently challenging. Inspectors will gather information from observations in lessons, pupils’ work, discussions with pupils about their understanding and acquisition of knowledge, and the school’s own records. However, Ofsted will not expect any particular data outputs from a school’s assessment system.

It’s time to stop asking for the same old data, and start asking the right questions. Every time you insist schools complete a pro forma that just tweaks the old levels-based style of data, not only are you not helping: you may well be stopping the school from moving forwards with more effective assessment.

In defence of those who work for Local Authorities who are not making such demands, it’s worth sharing this tweet from @clivetaylor915

15 thoughts on “Local Authorities: the real barrier to Assessment without Levels?

  1. BekBlayton 13 February 2016 at 2:25 pm Reply

    Absolutely! I worked for an LA and was shocked at how much work they added to the schools in there area. This post cannot be shared widely enough!

  2. R Waring 13 February 2016 at 2:40 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on rwaringatl.

  3. Clive taylor 13 February 2016 at 2:54 pm Reply

    Following on from my tweet that you kindly quoted, I think there are a number of things to add….but here are just two.
    Firstly, one worries about HTs who meekly submit termly data……it can’t be anything other than flawed, so what is its purpose and who is it for?
    Secondly, in the LA that tolerates my presence, it makes me positively proud that we have advocated repeatedly the need to be extremely cautious in the purchase of fancy schemes or materials. These often claim to be about assessment, but in fact are about tracking. We urge our schools never to mix up the two activities! Finally, for now, we constantly return to the quality of teaching and learning.
    Are children engaged, are they challenged and is the learning captured in some way? If those three are in place, we believe the rest will follow.
    That’s it! Like I said, when I was a HT, or even as an independent consultant, I never thought I would feel genuine pride in the philosophy of an LA. But there it is. Mind you there may well be HTs who would prefer us to tell them what to do…….that would be the worrying bit!

  4. paulmartin42 13 February 2016 at 6:02 pm Reply

    “So, does your LA collect any termly data? ” Not sure if you’ve heard but Scotland is going into this in a big way, soon ….. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-35237834

  5. oldprimarytimer 13 February 2016 at 9:05 pm Reply

    I so want to whole-heartedly agree…but until this year I never really appreciated how beautifully concise data is. Is Mandy making progress? Oh yes look her reading age/ standardised score/% of objectives achieved has gone up xxx. As opposed to, er well she learnt fractions ok last week and her long division is getting much faster and more accurate. How do you share that with governors? Ofsted may not demand graphs and tables but asked to,’prove’ that pupils are making good progress I’d rather reach for something on excel than remember where in which book each pupil has clearly made progress.

    • Michael Tidd 13 February 2016 at 9:08 pm Reply

      And you believe that a standardised test can give you that sort of data accurate to within 3 months? And that children will make 3 months worth of measurable progress every 3 months?

      • oldprimarytimer 13 February 2016 at 9:44 pm Reply

        No but it might alert me if very few are making progress. We used pira for reading and puma for maths in December. Forget points- it was reassuring to see that children who scored averagely the previous June were still scoring averagely and the high scorers were still high scorers and occasionally that a lower scorer was creeping towards average. And where kids scored lower than previous scores might have suggested, we checked books extra carefully and discussed if it was text technique or indicative of a real problem. It did flag up a few kids who seem to read ok in guided reading but on close analysis understand very little of what they read- which was really useful.

        • Michael Tidd 13 February 2016 at 9:46 pm

          That all seems very reasonable. So, from that, do you think you could provide useful termly data to your LA showing %ages making ‘expected’ and ‘better than expected’ progress?

        • oldprimarytimer 13 February 2016 at 9:49 pm

          No and they (Tower Hamlets) have never asked for it. We’d tell them where to get off if they did mind- but it’s not that sort of authority. We’ve never given yearly data either- was very surprised when I heard some LA’s did this.

    • Clive taylor 13 February 2016 at 10:19 pm Reply

      Michael, your questions, (or more worryingly the answers you got) reveal a fundamental truth.

      There are still many people who think a good old spreadsheet tells them what they want to know. Give me a sneck at the books and a chat with the teacher and the child every time. Happy to use periodic assessment like tests or quizzes and the odd diagnostic etc, but only when I know what is its purpose and what I will do with the outcome.

      Why does it fill me with such dread when people talk glibly of using “pira” and “puma”. (God knows what they are and how many of these tools there are) It’s like that other awful expression so beloved of people who don’t get to know the children……”it’s all on the system”.

      When will folk like oldprimarytimer understand that learning is extremely complex and can’t be shoe-horned into what we might want it to be to suit our own purpose?

      I can honestly say that of all the schools I know, the very small number that are truly outstanding are those that know the children and their families best.

  6. Michael Tidd 13 February 2016 at 9:56 pm Reply

    Think we share a common viewpoint then. There’s absolutely a place for tests – I’m on record as saying as much. But those tests should be for schools to assess their pupils and judge their progress; they aren’t intended – and shouldn’t be commandeered – for local authorities to draw comparisons to other schools.

  7. TF 14 February 2016 at 12:46 pm Reply

    Have LAs ever asked for termly data? Where I work we are certainly encouraging schools to develop their own systems and not to rely on Target Tracker etc, but to look more at what books tell us. You can’t blame schools for wanting hard evidence, but don’t blame LAs for this.

    • Michael Tidd 14 February 2016 at 6:26 pm Reply

      Have you read the blog? In it I clearly show that my own LA has asked for termly data. And that’s far from the only example I’ve come across!

  8. […] Local Authorities: the real barrier to Assessment without Levels? […]

  9. just an average student 23 February 2016 at 3:14 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on Just a student teacher.

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