Does summative assessment of Key Stage 3 matter? And why data is king.

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There’s a lot of chatter about the demise of levels.  This has been focused around with what to replace them with.  This is interesting as there will still be an end of Key Stage 2 testing regime (see also here, national testing frameworks here, and sample national test material here)  which will set the baseline for Secondary School progress between the ages of 11 and 16.  We also know that there are GCSEs at the end of Key Stage 4.  This leaves  Key Stage Three with some flexibility over how to  measure and assess the learning of young people.  It’s important to note, that there is no real need to replace levels. Indeed, the energy created to do so, could be wasted.  I’ve always thought of secondary school as a five or seven year journey toward and external qualification so wonder what value there is in creating a measure at all.  After all, what were KS3 Levels for apart from a way of making schools accountable at the end of Year 9? Levels were simply a way of measuring schools, and now they’re gone so it’s possible to assume a certain level of freedom.  Progress 8 as the main measure makes it clear to schools that the KS2 to 4 measure is most important.  I think it’s a fair(ish) measure.

I can understand the move away from giving a summative measure to students that has been written about. Indeed, I moved away from that years ago, only sharing the summative level at appropriate intervals.  I worry that  students will be ‘emerging’ for a while or even ‘exceeding’ but still fail to make the needed progress in the terminal examinations in Year 11.  I worry that these measures in Key Stage 3 aren’t measures at all, after all, what are they based upon? In addition, I’m yet to meet a young person who really doesn’t want to get any form of qualification. Consider the running example below:

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I want to have run at least 1,200 miles in 2014.  At  the moment, I may be on track to miss this.  I have an end point though, and  I can track my progress toward this.  In addition, I have the following data:

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How lush?  However, all of these stats miss a vital element: me.  How am I feeling? What have I eaten that day? How much sleep did I have?  Did someone frustrate me that day?  Which way was the wind blowing and how strong was it?  What was the temperature and what did I wear?  All of these factors and more contribute not only to the pace and distance I run, and consequently how far I can run over the year.

Of course, there’s the option to raise my game.  I started 2014 with 1000 miles in mind. However, I’ve already met that this month and decided to raise the bar mid way through the year.  This is similar to the estimated grades that follow a student through school.  It’s not the target that makes learning rubbish, it’s how they are used by teachers to create a relevant and personalised curriculum for those students.  In this way, it’s similar to textbooks and many other tools.

My point?

We know where students would like, and need, to get to at the age of 16.  Therefore, any system that is created must be one that encourages a holistic view of secondary education: a journey from the first lesson in Year 7 to the last examination in Year 11 or 13.  For years, I’ve been using GCSE style questions with Years 7 to 9 for example.  With careful planning, it’s possible to create an engaging curriculum that is also rigorous.  One that develops the skills as well as the knowledge.  The removal of summative measures at KS3 strikes me as similar to primary sports days where there are no winners.  Eventually, they find out that there are losers in life.  When is best to come to terms with this?

We also risk undermining the professional skill of teachers.  Quality learning is not going to look, feel, smell, taste or sound any different now then it did two years ago. Replacing levels with another system or measure isn’t, in itself, going to transform schools.  Schools have always had to prepare students for jobs that didn’t exist yet as well as plenty that have been around for ages.  Lawyers, accountants, police, fire, teachers, doctors, engineers, dog shampooers.  Given the freedom and guidance, teachers can get to know their students and employ a range of successful strategies that assess learning and well as progress.

Data is also the most important thing:

  • What is their name?
  • Age?
  • Hobbies?
  • Are they happy?
  • Home life like?
  • Brothers or sisters?
  • Do they have an ambition?
  • Are they able to play the game of education, or do they need help?
  • How many lessons have they missed?
  • Where else have they lived?

There’s also something called Progress Checks and levels and other stuff that give an insight into where the students are. It’s an important part of the overall picture, but far from the whole.  However, think back to an interview lesson.  You know, you ask for the data, get it and think you can teach the kids based on this.  How’d that go?  Or do you need to know more?

Will the energy spent on creating a replacement for levels be well spent?  I remember being put in charge of curriculum days.  You know the thing, off timetable days.  We could create whatever we wanted.  What we ended up with looked and felt like a five period day.  Have teachers, like many professions that have been constrained by endless prescription, have forgotten what to do with professional freedom?  Is this an opportunity to rethink what a secondary school looks like?  Would our time be better spent developing and honing existing AfL techniques that already exist? 

Isn’t like without levels simply about the end of term test?

Does summative assessment at KS3 matter? Yes.  For the student, yes.

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