The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Mick Walker

Why aren’t teachers trusted when it comes to assessment?

In the changing landscape of primary assessment, Mick Walker, Former Executive Director of Education at the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, discusses the new accountabilities.

Put your questions to Catherine Wreyford, head of assessment policy, from the DfE at the Primary Assessment and Data Use conference

It’s now almost two years since the revised primary National Curriculum was introduced into schools and we are about to set the associated assessment wheels in motion. However, rather than seeing the revised assessment arrangements dovetailing into every day life in schools, assessment is yet again hot news.

There is uncertainty about the required performance standard of tests and concern over the standards set in the interim teacher assessment frameworks. Major concerns have also been raised about the timing of exemplification materials and the shortened timeline for moderation and the submission of teacher assessment.  
The government has responded to concerns over the shortened deadline for the submission of teacher assessment data by reverting back to last year’s timeline: but just for this year only. The government has held its ground on the new more demanding standard.
Further, there is more to come. Year 7 catch-up tests and new on screen tests for times tables in Year 6 – even though these should be mastered by Year 4. 

Floor standards

Then we have the impact of revised performance standards on floor standards that set higher demands on reading, writing and Maths. At one point, the government had signaled a revised floor standard of 85% of pupils meeting these higher demands, but then quietly reverted to 65%. 
However, the 85% figure wasn’t entirely wasted as it re-emerged as the required level of attainment in the new ‘coasting standard’, along with the required progress standard. As yet, it is unclear what expected progress will look like. This will, of course, be counted over a three year period, but adds yet another measure of accountability – and we haven’t even mentioned Ofsted.
This is complicated further by an assessment procedure that requires teachers to have evidence that a pupil demonstrates attainment of all of the statements within that standard and all the statements in the preceding standard(s). This is very different to the ‘best fit’ model introduced in the mid-1990s following concerns that pupils tumbled like stones down through the levels if they failed to meet each statement within a level.

External accountability vs. increased autonomy 

So why is this government, and to be fair preceding governments, so focused on external accountability measures? There is much said of local autonomy on the one hand, yet heavy external accountability on the other. Why aren’t teachers trusted when it comes to assessment?
To be blunt, the removal of National Curriculum levels was absolutely the right idea as they were meaningless shorthand. Even more so when fragmented into nefarious sub-levels! 
Taken alongside a much-improved National Curriculum, this should be seen by the teaching profession as a gift. For some, it has set them free to develop assessment systems that link directly to the taught curriculum measuring key performance indicators that act as the fulcrum of high quality teaching and learning rather than spreadsheets full of meaningless data. 
Unfortunately, this has not been universal. Too many schools are in danger of wasting the opportunities presented by simply looking for something to replace levels as closely as possible. They are missing the point and as a result, the profession is in danger of missing a real opportunity, the opportunity to show its collective worth as reliable assessors of valid educational measurement. It’s like opening a birdcage: some birds fly and flourish whilst others panic and head back to the cage. Others daren’t let go of the perch!
As long as we fail to demonstrate our professional understanding, fully supported by high quality research, we will continue to be subjected to the heavy hand of government accountability measures regardless of their position on the political spectrum.

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