The Education Insider: This is not the data you are looking for

In her fourteenth post for us, education expert Jodie Lopez discusses why it’s so important to devote some time to gap analysis in a life after levels.

As you welcome back your students for the summer term, and start crossing off the days until the SATs are over, it is likely that you are also studying a few graphs. Last term’s data may be sat next to you as you read this. Your lovely tracking. Or maybe not so lovely. The graph, hopefully, is on an upward trajectory. Or maybe you are panicking about a few flat lines or even a dip or two.

As much as we talk about life after levels, we are still a long way away from everyone dropping those graphs, so don’t hide them guiltily behind your back. I know you have them. Very few people do not have them. We are still in a system with very high stakes accountability built right in and that isn’t likely to change just yet, so I understand your need for those graphs; I really do. They have all sorts of “not levels” labels on. An ‘Emerging’ here, a ‘Developing’ there. Things have changed, see.

I am going to urge you to put them down for a bit though, especially with the SATs coming up. You see, those graphs will be useful for you at certain points of the year, and when tracking year on year results to find trends and sort out resourcing to ensure students have the right interventions and support. What they will not help with, I am afraid, is getting children to pass tests. In some cases they might be fairly decent predictors of how many of your cohort will pass. In other cases you may be shocked that they didn’t offer a very accurate prediction at all. You can deal with that after SATs, but for now you need to go way past the graphs.

Whether you are a class teacher or a member of the SLT or both, if you focus on, or talk about, or ask about, whether a child is ‘Developing’ then you will find this has zero impact on their SATs results. What you need to know now is what gaps there are in their learning. You certainly need to break down the subjects further than “they are behind in maths.” Behind in maths? I hear this a lot. What a huge subject that covers! In fractions? Decimals? Number bonds? Telling time? Saying a child is behind in maths is the assessment equivalent of writing a learning objective which says “Do better in maths.” It’s not targeted or specific enough to be of any use to anyone.

I know schools do not want to feel they need to constantly test pupils in the run up to SATs (as a parent I am not too excited by such prospects either) but the best way to get useful data right now, data you can actually do something about in time for the SATs, may be to do some practice tests. Then have a really good look at some gap analysis. And I mean get REALLY geeky about it. You cannot fix seven years worth of learning right now or even over the last two terms. But you can find some really quick wins and some longer term gains that you can impact within the next few weeks.

Good, solid, gap analysis should be the instant path to a block of lesson plans, targeted interventions and appropriate staffing and support at the right times for the right children. Not what is often referred to as “hot housing” but targeted and thoughtful teaching and learning.

So ensure your discussions over the next few weeks have sentences like “how are we tackling these misconceptions in fractions” rather than “what are you doing with the emerging pupils” or other meaningless labeling. Make time in the upcoming diaries to sit with staff regularly to review and reflect on successes and ask where you can support.

It will all be worth it in August when the beach towel gets rolled out, I promise!

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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