Assessment – Performance Descriptors to replace Levels

3 Jan

Michael Gove, former Secretary of State for Education, abolished levelling – the tool schools have been using to determine the standards of pupils and the progress they make.  This was because it was supposed to be too complex and confusing.  Schools now have to decide how best to measure the advancements of their pupils.   On 23 October 2014, the DfE started a consultation on performance descriptors, which its experts aver will be a more effective method for making judgements on pupils’ abilities at the end of Key Stages 1 and 2. The deadline for responses was 18 December 2014.

Should these descriptors be adopted by the government, they will come into effect in 2016.  For the end of each key stage, the government will set the expected standards in reading, writing, mathematics and science.   During the in-between years, schools will be expected to make their own assessment arrangements. Performance descriptors for pupils at the end of Key Stage 1 will be in reading, writing and mathematics.  The government will provide one descriptor for the expected standard in science.   It will set a number of descriptors for English at the end of Key Stage 2 and a single descriptor at this stage for each of the subjects – reading, mathematics and science.   Key Stages 1 and 2 test results will be reported against scaled scores rather than levels.

At Key Stage 1, pupils’ achievements will be measured at four levels in reading, writing and mathematics – i.e. below national standard, at national standard, above national standard and mastery standard. For science, it will be one measure – i.e. at national standard (or not).  In all cases, the judgements will be made by teachers and, with the exception of science, included in the floor standards.

At Key Stage 2, teacher assessments will be the basis of making judgements on pupils’ achievement in writing.  Again, there will be four levels, below, at and above national standard and at mastery standard.  There will be no writing test.   However, there will be a separate English grammar, punctuation and spelling (SPAG) test.

For reading and mathematics, there will be separate tests, externally marked and pupils will be judged to be working at the national standard (or not).  For science, there will be sample test papers issued once biennially and teachers will make assessment judgements on whether or not their pupils are working at national standards.

Each performance standard is linked to a lengthy checklist – some of which include 40 criteria.  A child is assigned to a given standard based on whether or not she/he has met the majority of requirements.   However, this is causing concern if not confusion. Nansi Ellis, assistant general secretary of ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers) posed the questions: “When it says pupils must meet the majority of elements, what does that mean?  Does it mean 51%?   What if a pupil can count in multiples of 2 and 10 but not 5? Is she/he at the national standard or not?”

Michael Tidd, in his blog on 13 November 2014, savaged the performance descriptors saying that they were the former (confusing) levels by another name.

The consultation posed five key questions for the reader.

(i)         Do the names of the draft performance descriptors allow teachers and parents to understand the meaning of, and differentiate between, each performance descriptor?

(ii)        Are the performance descriptors spaced effectively across the range of pupils’ performance to support accurate and consistent judgements?

(iii)       In your opinion, are the performance descriptors clear and easy to understand? If no, which bullets lack sufficient clarity to allow for effective teacher assessment?

(iv)       In your opinion, does the content of the performance descriptors adequately reflect the national curriculum programmes of study? If no, please state what amendments are required.

(v)        Should any element of the performance descriptors be weighted (i.e. should any element be considered more important or less important than others)? If yes, please detail which performance descriptor(s), which element(s) and why.

The document invited the reader to provide comments on the performance descriptors with supporting information that would be helpful in understanding and using performance descriptors.

The consultation is now over and the ball in now in the government’s.  We wait with baited breath to see what will follow and the steep learning curve that teachers, headteachers and governors must take to ensure that they are able to measure reliably the progress and attainment of pupils in their care.

In the meantime, inspectors will scrutinise how well schools are assessing the progress and achievements of pupils in the light of their own measures.   The guidance Ofsted issued to its inspectors in summer 2014 explained this in detail.  They will

(i)         spend more time looking at pupils’ work to assess the progress they are making in the different disciplines;

(ii)        talk to the school managers about the use of formative and summative assessment and how this improves teaching and raises achievement;

(iii)       evaluate how well pupils are doing against relevant age-related expectations as set out by the school and the national curriculum (where it applies);

(iv)       consider how the assessment information identifies pupils falling behind or who need additional support to reach their full potential, including the more able, and what teachers are doing about addressing the issue; and

(v)        evaluate how the school reports to parents/carers on their children’s progress and attainment and assess whether the reports help the parents/carers understand how the children are doing in relation to the standards expected.

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