I have made no secret of my loathing of the Interim Assessment Frameworks, and the chaos surrounding primary assessment of late. I’ve also been quite open about a far less popular viewpoint: that we should give up on statutory Teacher Assessment. The chaos of the 2016 moderation process and outcomes was an extreme case, but it’s quite clear that the system cannot work.
It’s crazy that schools can be responsible for deciding the scores on which they will be judged. It has horrible effects on reliability of that data, and also creates pressure which has an impact on the integrity of teachers’ and leaders’ decisions. What’s more, as much as we would like for our judgements to be considered as accurate, the evidence points to a sad truth: humans (including teachers) are fallible. As a result, Teacher Assessment judgements are biased – before we even take into account the pressures of needing the right results for the school. Tests tend to be more objective.
However, it’s also fair to say that tests have their limitations. I happen to think that the model of Reading and Maths tests is not unreasonable. True, there were problems with this year’s, but the basic principles seems sound to me, so long as we remember that the statutory tests are about the accountability cycle, not about formative information. But even here there is a gap: the old Writing test was scrapped because of its failings.
That’s where Comparative Judgement has a potential role to play. But there is some work to be done in the profession for it to find its right place. Firstly we have to be clear about a couple of things:
- Statutory Assessment at the end of Key Stages is – and indeed should be – separate from the rest of assessment that happens in the classroom
- What we do to judge work, and how we report that to pupils and parents are – and should be – separate things.
Comparative Judgement is based on the broad idea of comparing lots of pieces of work until you have essentially sorted them into a rank order. That doesn’t mean that individuals’ ranks need be reported, any more than we routinely report raw scores to pupils and parents. It does, though, offer the potential of moving away from the hideous tick-box approach of the Interim Frameworks.
Teachers are understandably concerned by the idea of ranking, but it’s really not that different from how we previously judged writing. Most experienced Y2/Y6 teachers didn’t spend hours poring over the level descriptors, but rather used their knowledge of what they considered L2/L4 to look like, and judged whether they were looking at work that was better or worse. Comparative Judgement simply formalises this process.
It particularly tackles the issue that is particularly prevalent with the current interim arrangements: excellent writing which scores poorly because of a lack of dashes or hyphens (and poor writing which scores highly because it’s littered with them!). If we really want good writing to be judged “in the round”, then we cannot rely on simplistic and narrow criteria. Rather, we have to look at work more holistically – and Comparative Judgement can achieve that.
Rather than teachers spending hours poring over tick-lists and building portfolios of evidence, we would simply submit a number of pieces of work towards the end of Year 6 and they would be compared to others nationally. If the DfE really wants to, once they had been ranked in order, they could apply scaled scores to the general pattern, so that pupils received a scaled score just like the tests for their writing. The difference would be that instead of collecting a few marks for punctuation, and a few for modal verbs, the whole score would be based on the overall effect of the piece of writing. Equally, the rankings could be turned into “bands” that matched pupils who were “Working Towards” or “Working at Greater Depth”. Frankly, we could choose quite what was reported to pupils and parents; the key point is that we would be more fairly comparing pupils based on how good they were at writing, rather than how good they were at ticking off features from a list.
There are still issues to be resolved, such as exactly what pieces of writing schools would submit for judgement, and the tricky issue of quite how independent the work should be. Equally, the system doesn’t lend itself as easily to teachers being able to use the information formatively – but then, aren’t we always saying that we don’t want teachers to teach to the tests?
Certainly if we want children’s writing to be judged based on its broad effectiveness, and for our schools to be compared fairly for how well we have developed good writers, then it strikes me that it’s a lot better than what we have at the moment.
Dr Chris Wheadon and his team are carrying out a pilot project to look at how effective moderation could be in Year 6. Schools can find out more, and sign up to join the pilot (at a cost) at: https://www.sharingstandards.com/