Assessing Without Levels

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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.

assessing without levels

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.

The Physics Intervention Programme (PIP)

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This week, Ceri George contributes an interesting article that explains the rationale behind the Physics Department’s new intervention programme.

As a teacher of Physics, there are a number of rules and laws that regularly feature in my everyday life: the conservation of energy, Newton’s laws of motion, Einstein’s theory of relativity and – on a more frustrating level – that GCSE Physics can be pretty hard!

In actual fact, the last point is highly debatable; last year 47 WHS students attained an A* or A grade in GCSE Physics. However, I hold my hands up when I say that Physics is a bit of a “marmite” subject: results generally show that you either “get it” or you don’t.

The Physics Intervention Programme (PIP) is out to change that, along with the popular perception that achieving a positive grade in Physics is beyond the average student.

Based on Year 10 GCSE Core Science marks, we have selected 14 students who are currently underperforming in Physics based on their FFT and 3 LoP estimates, often doing worse in this area than in Biology or Chemistry. Coincidentally, 5 of them are PP students, fitting in with the current whole-school drive to enable such students to fulfil their potential and achieve in-line with their peers.

The PIP mainly revolves around a weekly session which is held by Nicola Lennon, an experienced Physics teacher within the department. Each Tuesday morning during registration, she meets the students and for 20 minutes they consolidate the Physics work they are currently doing in class. This might involve revisiting the theory behind some of the more difficult concepts, practising past paper questions, or simply discussing the underpinning ideas and key words in a topic and ironing out any misconceptions.

We have chosen to hold the sessions during morning registration as this is a constructive use of what is often seen as “dead time” by the students. We also felt that the students would be more likely to attend during official school time, as opposed to during their lunch break or after school.

It is hoped that by providing this additional lesson within a small group setting, we will eliminate any gaps in students’ knowledge and understanding, improve their examination technique and develop their confidence. For me, this latter point is key: if students think that they can “get” Physics, they are more open to learning. This means that they are more willing to develop their current knowledge and understanding, are not afraid of new topics and will persevere when they initially find an idea or question challenging. I mean, if you’ve conquered using Ohm’s Law, what have you possibly got to fear about F=ma?!

The big hope is that this new found confidence will then translate to the exam hall, as in my experience, if students walk into an exam confident that they can do well, largely, they will.

The Sutton Trust Report: What Makes Great Teaching?

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A new report from the Sutton Trust has reviewed the evidence around successful teaching practices. Here is their summary of the report, some ‘take away’ key points and various links to its reception in the media and blogosphere.

The Sutton Trust’s Summary

“This report reviews over 200 pieces of research to identify the elements of teaching with the strongest evidence of improving attainment. It finds some common practices can be harmful to learning and have no grounding in research. Specific practices which are supported by good evidence of their effectiveness are also examined and six key factors that contribute to great teaching are identified. The report also analyses different methods of evaluating teaching including: using ‘value-added’ results from student test scores; observing classroom teaching; and getting students to rate the quality of their teaching.”

Quick Take Aways

Deemed Effective

  • (Pedagogical) content knowledge
  • Quality of instruction
  • Classroom climate
  • Classroom management
  • Teacher beliefs
  • Professional behaviours

Deemed Less Effective

  • Using praise lavishly
  • Grouping students by ability
  • Addressing low aspirations and confidence before teaching content
  • Presenting information to students in their preferred learning style
  • Allowing students to discover key ideas for themselves
  • Encouraging re-reading and highlighting to memorise key ideas

 Links to its Reception

Certainly, the report both challenges many of our everyday practices as teachers and offers some serious thinking points.  We’d love to know what you think so please remember to leave a comment below!