Adventures in Assessments: Life After Levels

During the holiday, I came across Alex Ford’s advice to a new HoD whose school is introducing GCSE criteria to grade KS3 students. I think I have mentioned before that I am also in that boat; it was comforting to see that Alex had mentioned many of the arguments I presented to SLT when they ran the consultation on this. Unfortunately, I was the lone voice of dissent among the middle leaders, and so the model was adopted. I can understand why: as a data manager it is important to know exactly where students are and if staff can forecast how they will do at GCSE even better.

I’m pretty grumpy, love getting my own way and mostly think I know everything so I did not take this well and had to go away to think about it for a great deal of time before I was able to come to terms with it. Luckily I was attending the course with the CIEA that I’ve mentioned before; I was completing an Aspiring Leaders in Education course at school; I had the pizza group to commiserate and discuss with; and I have an extremely supportive line manager who was willing to chew the fat with me extensively, particularly in the later stages of the year. All of these things helped to prod me into creating what will hopefully be a workable model. I’m still not quite there, but I need to put it into practice now so that I can see where the holes are.

Here’s my advice, then:

1. Read everything you can get your hands on. This document from the DfE, all about the way that the new standards are being set, is a good place to start. A couple of interesting points from this – level 9 is not actually a thing; it is simply the top 20% of students achieving L7 and above. Secondly, the model chosen was the one that the exam boards most favoured. By its very nature, this is going to be the best model best suited to taking a snapshot of progress, not assessing it over time. Keep that in mind.

The Teaching History from December 2014, all about assessment, is also a must-read. Don’t feel wistful about all the spectacular, mould-breaking, new-wheel models people are coming up with: you can pick the best bits of theirs and incorporate it.

I didn’t read this before I created my model, but Daisy Christodoulu has written extensively about assessment design on her blog recently. She mentions the No More Marking website which I want to use next year for making A-level essays.

2. Consider your context. Do you have non-specialist teachers? Are you a combined Hums department and, if so, does your model need to be similar to other Hums subjects? What sort of units and assessments work best for your students? Do you offer an A-level, or a fringe qualification (like Classical Civilisation)? Factor this in when building your model.

3. Remember that you are the specialist in this. Your model needs to work to show progress in history over time and adequately prepare students for GCSE. It’s unlikely, unless your SLT is all history specialists, that anybody will ask too many questions as long as it is fit for this purpose.

4. Pick a GCSE. This was really quite straightforward for me: I’ve been examining for so long that it was sensible to go with the exam board for whom I work. Once you’ve done this, you can pick the spec apart to find out how the exam board have met the assessment objectives, and this will help you write your model.

5. Make sure your assessments work for the new model. We’re cutting right back on the amount of extended writing that students will be doing, since there is no requirement for extended writing at GCSE anymore. If we’re assessing to GCSE criteria, we should be completing GCSE-style assessments, is the argument. It feels seventeen shades of wrong; thankfully I’m long enough in the tooth now to have had times when something that felt counter-intuitive actually worked out quite well, so we’re giving it a go.

6. Don’t forget your content. There was a suggestion, during the introduction of the model, that the content taught at KS3 should be what students need for GCSE. We are not going to do that. However, we have tweaked our KS3 PoS to make sure there is a good foundation of knowledge on which to build the GCSE topics.

I wrote Assessing Progress in History, a briefing document, for the other history staff on how the new model will work. It picks up the threshold concept work I blogged about in May. This was completed some time ago now so things have moved on a little since then. I am in the process of constructing a ladder for progression through the levels (1-9 and, to fit the school model, B1-5 which sit below level 1…with pluses and minuses this presents us with 42 different levels at which a pupil can be working) so I will share that when it is fit to be seen.

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5 Responses to Adventures in Assessments: Life After Levels

  1. Dominic Salles says:

    Teach the curriculum and skills you value. Only teach exam skills when you have to, especially as these sound less difficult than the ones you valued. This would be year ten at the earliest.

    • sallythorne says:

      Under our new assessment model, “have to” is now year 7. Apologies for not making this clearer in the piece above.
      I think, in the end, it’s going to give us more time to focus on things like threshold concepts and reading more widely.

  2. Freddie Lyon says:

    Here are my threshold concepts, some taken from a study of uni students ( Apologies for taking up space and for odd bullet point presentation.

    1. CAUSE
    3. CHANGE


    • Key to this is comprehending:
    o INTER-RELATIONSHIPS (between AUDIENCES receiving narratives)
    o PURPOSES (of narrative)
    o CONTEXT (of narrative)
    o E.G.
     Who produced the document?
     What were the goals and motivations of the writer?
     Who is narrative for?
     Who was the intended audience and how did they interpret the document?
    • Thus, historians attend carefully to:
    o GENRES (category of art, music, or literature)
     To fully understand a primary source document, one must understand:
    • The relationships between a discourse community
    • The genre(s) it values
    • The conventions of those genres
     I.E.
    • Victorian era diary commentating on Napoleon/Sexuality/Morality, etc.
    • 1950’s newspaper article commenting on Napoleon/Sexuality/Morality

    • Which come about either:
    o Because historians are producing narratives for different discursive communities
    o Or because historians differ in their evaluation of evidence and arguments.
    • Key point:
    o History is subjective
    o Students typically find this concept of multiple, competing narratives ‘counter-intuitive, alien… or incoherent’

    • Essay writing – Introduction, Aurgument, Conclusion
    • State, Quote, Analyse
    • Important to connect evidence to your argument rather than let the evidence speak for itself
    • Vernacular of academic historian essential

    • Important to get students to consider
    o How do I think about putting a story together?
    o How have these other historians thought about making their arguments?
     Have they recognised that their interpretation will be influenced their era?


    • sallythorne says:

      Thank you for sharing these. Can you explain the last two a bit more? Are writing and reading history skills to be developed?
      I really do think grasping that history is a construct is a huge game changer that I haven’t focused on enough in the past.

  3. Pingback: 2015: That was the year that was | High Dive Teaching

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