Life After Levels

I was never a huge fan of assessing the work of students using the KS3 National Curriculum level descriptors. They were always designed to assess a pupil at the end of a key stage and give a very broad overview of what the pupil should be able to do. Applied to individual pieces of work you ended up with a lot of “This describes and doesn’t explain – level 4” reasoning and “Explain your points” became such a frequent comment I should have invested in a stamp. The other issue was that it didn’t track very well with the requirements of the GCSE and so pupils who could write beautifully and achieve a high level at KS3 sometimes lacked the skills need at KS4.

This means that when it was announced that the National Curriculum levels were to be abolished I didn’t shed a tear. I did though wonder what would follow them. The answer was nothing. Or at least nothing nationally. Schools still need to be able to track pupil progress, and individual class teachers certainly do, so this left each school or academy chain reinventing the wheel and trying to work out just how to assess pupils’ work and report on progress.

Our school, like many others, has adopted a “flightpath” model – which we are calling a “Pathway”. Pupils in year 7 will be given a Pathway to a grade they should be aiming to achieve in each subject by the end of their GCSE. This target if achieved would put them in the top 20% of the country based on their KS2 score.

What each subject is doing is plotting out criteria for each Pathway and for each year in KS3 and KS4. In our department the process looked like this.

Firstly we sat down and discussed what we expected an excellent geographer to be able to do by the end of year 11. What are the key skills and understanding that makes Geography what it is. We narrowed this list down to 8 key strands. The first draft of this you can see below.

What makes an excellent geographer by the end of year 11?

Once we had come up with these core skills we pictured students who went on to get a C at GCSE and considered the work they were able to produce from Year 7 onwards. We thought about the kind of work a student would do at around an old National Curriculum L5 and the mark schemes for the new GCSE course. We then used this to come up with a set of criteria for a student on this Pathway in each year. We can now adapt this for every GCSE grade from 1-9. A first draft of this document is below.



The idea is that we are able to assess work against this criteria and use it to report to parents and to the students whether they are on track to reach their target. We can also assess against each of the eight strands and progress with these.

My questions are;

  1. Do you  agree that our 8 strands do cover the key aspects of Geography? Is there anything missing?
  2. Does the criteria for a “C grade (level 5) student ring true in your experience?
  3. What willassessment against this criteria look like?

I would appreciate your comments and ideas.

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One thought on “Life After Levels

  1. I think a lot of people are doing something similar to you, but I dislike APP style grids and so called success criteria in general – they are too vague and open to interpretation. In my department we now assess against questions rather than criteria. We publish a scheme of work with the knowledge and skills for each unit listed, but we devise an assessment at the end of each unit with questions designed to show if a student has mastered the knowledge and skills for that unit sufficiently. Quite simply, if a pupil gets above a certain percentage we say they have. When they want to know how to improve, we get them to look at the questions where they lost most marks and reflect on why they lost marks on that particular question or questions. They then write a paragraph in their books reflecting on where they lost marks (DIRT!!!) No tick box grids! You might also be interested in posts by Daisy Christodoulou and Chris Wheadon about comparative judgements. However I am well aware that what works in one subject may not always work in another.

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