As we approach the start of the new school year, some of us will be continuing to try to make a silk purse out of the sow’s ear of the new assessment requirements, ‘formally’ introduced last year. Whatever system individual schools decide to use to approach this farce, teachers will be expected to make judgements based on ‘teacher assessment’. Almost everywhere, this will be accepted without question, so I’m going to try to outline in simple terms just how I think it does not make sense.
I’m using a high-stakes analogy in which human judgement of performance needs to be seen to be as reliable as possible – the ‘execution’ score for competitive gymnastics as follows:
- 6 independent, highly skilled, judges
- 1 individual is judged on 1 performance at a time (and within a limited time)
- Each performance has a small number of clearly defined criteria
- There is no conferring (or moderating!)
- The maximum score is 10 and points are dropped for errors
These are pretty good conditions for a high degree of reliability and yet the judges still arrive at different scores. Because of that, the top and bottom scores are dropped and the remaining 4 are averaged. Even so, the resulting scores are often ‘disputed’, although queries and official objections are not allowed. The judges are not the coaches and will not be held to account for the performance of the gymnasts.
Now let’s compare that with teacher assessment in an English primary school:
- 1 class teacher, most of whom are not experts, neither in the subject, the curriculum nor in assessment
- 32 individuals are judged on multiple performances in multiple subjects throughout the year
- There are hundreds of criteria (somewhere along the lines of 130 for the core subjects in year 5)
- Reliability is expected to be improved by moderation and discussion (conferring!)
- There is no way to eliminate outlying judgements
- There is no transparent way to score or translate observations of performance into grades
In most schools, there will be some kind of tracking system whereby teachers will be asked to make termly entries along the lines of ‘developing, meeting, exceeding’ and degrees thereof, for tracking purposes, culminating in a final decision which will indicate pupil attainment (readiness to move to the next stage) and teacher effectiveness for that year. In many cases, in spite of union objections, these judgements will form part of appraisal, promotion and performance-related pay. Is there any way, under those circumstances, that teacher assessment can reliable enough to be used for the high-stakes purposes expected in English primary schools?