The Education Insider: To data or not to data?

In her fourth post for us, education expert Jodie Lopez is asking – to data, or not to data? Have we really changed anything by doing away with the levels system, or are we still failing to move forward?

Halfway through the autumn term – to data or not to data?

If you have read the Final Report from the Commission on Assessment without Levels you will have seen this very important line:

…recording summative data more frequently than three times a year is not likely to provide useful information.

As we are reaching the middle of the autumn term, however, I suspect that many teachers have been asked to record or discuss some sort of summative data. This request is borne out of habit rather than necessity in most cases – i.e. “we used to do this with the old levels system therefore we carry on with the same but we have cleverly renamed the summative scores we refer to.”

So the conversations will be something like this:

“No of course we are not asking for how many 2B’s are in your class! That’s levels! Noooo…just tell us how many of your class are “Emerging” already!”

“67% of them are Emerging.”

“Oooh only 67% already? Oh dear….well make sure 90% are fully Emerged by Christmas!”

Yep totally different. Or maybe…just maybe…there might be a better way?

We know that, for the new curriculum and a life after levels, formative assessment is king. The link between teaching, learning and assessing is paramount. There must be evidence that assessment is used to feed straight back into planning and, therefore, teaching. So where do the new “levels” come from? Well, hopefully, they are at least based on a system which is assessing some sort of curriculum coverage. This way, you can say that your 67% have accessed and attained a certain % of the curriculum for the appropriate year group. Still not massively useful so early in the year, but at least an indication which leads to a discussion on a) what has been taught so far and b) which children are struggling to access the content appropriate to their year group.

If, however, your summative scores do not have a direct correlation to actual content taught and are somehow plucked from the air based on a rough idea of how students are coping this year, then the system itself is already flawed and won’t help you in December either, let alone now! I have heard stories of teachers being asked to simply tick a list at half term to say whether each child is at, above or below age related yet. No correlation to anything with curriculum objectives next to it. This also means that every child with a SEND need automatically gets a tick in the “Below” box 6 times a year.

The problem with this is not that I don’t think teachers know whether their class is operating at the right level or not – I will assume that the majority, at least, do know. They spend all day with them and mark the books and give feedback. Of course they know who is struggling and who is not. So the problem is not with the judgement per se – the issue is with the focus. If we say that assessment is just a means to tick a box six times a year (or three times a year max if you read the aforementioned report!), then we have brought levels back.

The new curriculum, the loss of levels, was brought about by a need to move that focus forward and look at what you can actually impact on during the year, and indeed the key stage – which is to tackle any needs in teaching and learning. So if you are a member of SLT and you asked for “hard” data at half term, here is a question for you – what did you really learn from it?

Jodie is an award winning ex-primary teacher who now works as a Freelance Edtech Consultant. Her interest in using technology in education has led to her working with a number of educational technology businesses since leaving the classroom. Most recently she has been Head of Education for an assessment system provider and has specialised in helping schools to transition to the new curriculum and leaving levels behind. Follow her on Twitter here.

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