Huw Williams and Fiona Ryan share a summary of their article ‘Assessing Without Levels – National Pilot Case Study’, published in the Autumn edition of Physical Education Matters.
The Education Secretary’s June 2012 announcement that “…the current system of levels and level descriptors – which is confusing for parents and bureaucratic for teachers – will be removed and not replaced” was well received by Wilmslow’s PE staff and, as a result, we chose to pilot assessment without levels from September 2013 with our Year 7 core PE groups.
Although we had a clear and comprehensive core levels based assessment structure in place, staff had become increasingly disillusioned with the process; staff were uncomfortable with assigning levels and sub levels for up to 12 different practical activities each year and then generating an average number at the end of the year. Students knew they were a “5c” but what did that mean? What did they need to do to improve? What were their particular strengths and weaknesses? How were they going to make progress?
We were keen to develop a system that worked for us as a department – one that would give our students meaningful feedback and enable them to identify their strengths and areas for improvement in a language they could understand. We wanted students to be able to tell us that, in order to make progress, they needed to improve – for example – the accuracy of their overhead clears in badminton or the fluency of their sequences in gymnastics. We wanted students to be able to talk in specifics rather than in numbers.
Units of Work were revised during the summer term 2013 and draft recording sheets were drawn up using Excel Spreadsheets. The assessment document focused on 3 areas: Doing, Thinking and Behavioural Change. “Doing” related to essential skills – sports specific techniques for KS3, for example in badminton: grip, clear, serve, net play. “Thinking” focused on understanding and analysing performance in the activity, for example, identifying strengths and areas for improvement or accurate use technical language. “Behavioural Change” focused on attitudes to PE and healthy active lifestyles such as resilience, self management, responsibility and involvement in extra curricular or club sport.
Staff completed an assessment document for each activity and across the course of the year, a student in Year 7 may have a record which involved up to 10 focused assessments. Staff used a RAG (Red, Amber, Green) rating, which indicates whether a student has been able to perform particular skills or apply particular tactics. For example, in terms of “Doing” a student may have Green ratings for their grip and clear in badminton, an amber for their serve and red for their net play. The red rating may indicate that a student simply cannot perform a particular skill or that he/she was absent for lessons when this was taught. This gives clear feedback to the student as to the areas that he/she needs to improve, while also giving vital information to the member of staff taking the group for Year 8 badminton as to the further opportunities that need to be provided.
Rather than recording a final handwritten level in their planners at the end of a six week block, staff recorded performance in three areas in terms of their doing, thinking and behaviours using a RAG rating. Staff may use the RAG rating to indicate a baseline and then adjust that rating if there has been a clear improvement over the six weeks.
The detail included in the assessment document has huge benefits for staff and students alike. Skimming through your planner to find “5c” next to a student’s name for Rugby in the first term gives you very little to go on come the Year 7 parents’ evening in March, as staff frantically search for some indication of how that student could improve in this area.
The assessment without levels document was extremely useful when giving feedback at parents’ evening. Staff could identify specific areas that students could work on, for example, decision making in a 2 v 1 situation, identifying strengths and weaknesses in performance or accurate use of technical language. The quality of feedback to Year 7 students and parents has improved considerably since adopting assessment without levels. The final lesson in our Units of Work for all activities is based on House competitions. The structure of these lessons means that staff can speak to individual students and give feedback based on their assessment in that activity. The colour coding and visual representation of the data on staff IPads has helped to engage the students and the nature of the assessment under the headings of Doing, Thinking and Behavioural Change, enables students to clearly identify their strengths and areas for improvement in specific activities and allows them to set targets to develop and progress.
For those people staring with horror at the number of colourful boxes included in the assessment document, fear not. The spreadsheet is set up in such a way that it generates the Doing, Thinking, Behavioural Change and Overall Progress columns automatically. In addition to this the spreadsheet will generate an overview of progress in each of these areas in each of the activities covered by the student during the year.
Following the successful pilot scheme, we introduced assessment without levels across Key Stage 3 in September 2014 and are developing a similar system that can be used at Key Stage 4. Our developments for September 2015 include a recognition of exceptional performance and the development of a report card that will be automatically generated from the spreadsheet data.