The Education Insider: Who are we even doing this for?!

In her latest post for us, education expert Jodie Lopez discusses the importance of changing the SLT conversation so that teachers know exactly who their assessment data is for.

Every teacher assesses their students all the time. I don’t think this is any bone of contention. Assessment in all of its forms takes place in every classroom. From a simple question through to a summative test, teachers mark work daily and use this to give feedback to students as well as to inform planning.

However, a need to evidence this assessment has rather coloured and skewed the view of the word ‘assessment’ for teachers. Yet it is vital for teachers to understand the importance of assessment data. The best way for an SLT to change teachers’ approach to assessment data is to change the conversation around it. Life after levels has given us a platform with which to do this.

Let’s break down the common approach and see how we can make the change. Since the invention of the old levels teachers became beholden to progress graphs on which they had to show two sub levels of progress every school year. Their 2Bs in September had to be 3Cs in July. Their 4Cs had to become 4As and so on. It became so ingrained that teachers after a few years in the job could look at a piece of writing and happily declare “2B” or “3A” in an instant. SLT across the land would rejoice in that line graph going up in uniform linear fashion.

What we know about that system of best fit and micro levels, however, is that it started to become meaningless when looking at the results countrywide. Ofsted and the DfE noted that a 2B in one school was not at all the same as a 2B elsewhere in the country. A child with a 4C could easily have gaps in spelling that had been skipped past year in and year out through their schooling. And at the end of a 2 sub levels per year journey, a Year 6 child might still have 6 sub levels to catch up on in order to reach that magical 4B. Poor Year 6 teachers! The new curriculum has, in theory, taken out that last problem, as each year group is expected to learn the content for the year group. No longer can you teach and assess one child as a 2C and another as 5B all in one class. In theory. Everyone will learn the same curriculum and the teacher will simply adjust their tasks and support to give every child access to the relevant curriculum (SEND exemptions apply).

What this means is that assessment must now focus on the minutiae instead of the bigger picture. Teachers must know exactly what a student struggles in within the curriculum. That sounds like much more work. Yet it isn’t. It’s what teachers are doing every time they mark the work. It’s just about how you evidence and talk about those results.

So what has changed so far? Well mostly teachers are doing that detailed view, looking at which of their class struggled with fractions last week, which ones have yet to tell the time, and which have misconceptions around long division. These are not necessarily all the same children. They might be. But often they are not. Being brilliant at fractions does not automatically mean you grasp the concept of time and the clock, and especially when digital clocks are thrown in the mix. Yet SLT (often driven by LA requests) are still asking teachers to sum up all of this detailed assessment into an overall score or pseudo-level of some sort.

“Mark is doing well in fractions but struggles with time.” “So is he a 5 emerging or a 5 developing?” “Well in fractions he is secure…” “Yes but overall in maths?”

You see the problem? It’s levels again. And by having conversations like this SLT are reiterating that the level is more important than the learning, which encourages teachers to wonder who this data is really for. This leads teachers to sometimes dismiss all data as pointless data when in fact this is not the case.

The results an SLT really want (rightly) are the good SATS results which are good for the school and the pupil alike. This shows deep understanding of the curriculum as well as giving lovely upward pointing graphs should you want them!

The best way to get those lovely graphs is to encourage teachers not to throw out a “result” from formative assessment – “he’s a 2 Secure!” – but to look deeply at their data and know which group of children need intervention or additional support, offering the teacher resourcing, as necessary, when you can. Use this information on a bigger scale to see which areas of maths need whole school INSET. And which classes have strengths worth sharing so other teachers can go and see how that teacher is achieving this.

By changing the SLT conversation we can ensure that teachers know exactly who the data is for. It’s for the children. It’s for their lesson plans. It’s for their support staff. What they don’t want to feel is that it is for some external agency. That doesn’t mean you cannot use it for the external agency…but change the conversation first so that your graphs look better as a result of great ongoing assessment and not because teachers are giving you the termly result you want to hear, ending with a potentially unpleasant surprise when the actual SATs results come in!

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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