Got the T-shirt (a moderate tale)

Given that teacher assessment is a nonsense which lacks reliability, and that moderation can not really reduce this, nor ensure that gradings are comparable, our moderation experience was about as good as it could be! It was thus:

Each of we two Y6 teachers submitted all our assessments and three children in each category (more ridiculous, inconsistent and confusable codes, here), of which one each was selected, plus another two from each category at random. So, nine children from each class. We were told who these nine were a day in advance. Had we wanted to titivate, we could have, but with our ‘system’ it really wasn’t necessary.

The ‘system’ was basically making use of the interim statements and assigning each one of them a number. Marking since April has involved annotating each piece of work with these numbers, to indicate each criterion. It was far less onerous than it sounds and was surprisingly effective in terms of formative assessment. I shall probably use something similar in the future, even if not required to present evidence.

The moderator arrived this morning and gave us time to settle our classes whilst she generally perused our books. I had been skeptical. I posted on twitter that though a moderator would have authority, I doubted they’d have more expertise. I was concerned about arguing points of grammar and assessment. I was wrong. We could hardly have asked for a better moderator. She knew her stuff. She was a y6 teacher. We had a common understanding of the grammar and the statements. She’d made it her business to sample moderation events as widely as possible and therefore had had the opportunity to see many examples of written work from a wide range of schools. She appreciated our system and the fact that all our written work from April had been done in one book.

Discussions and examination of the evidence, by and large led to an agreed assessment. One was raised from working towards; one, who I had tentatively put forward as ‘greater depth’, but only recently, was agreed to have not quite made it. The other 16 went through as previously assessed, along with all the others in the year group. Overall my colleague and I were deemed to know what we were doing! We ought to, but a) the county moderation experience unsettled us and fed my ever-ready cynicism about the whole business and b) I know that it’s easy to be lulled into a false belief that what we’ve agreed is actually the ‘truth’ about where these pupils are at. All we can say is that we roughly agreed between the three of us. The limited nature of the current criteria makes this an easier task than the old levels, (we still referred to the old levels!) but the error in the system makes it unusable for accountability or for future tracking. I’m most interested to see what the results of the writing assessment are this year – particularly in moderated v non-moderated schools. Whatever it is, it won’t be a reliable assessment but, unfortunately it will still be used (for good or ill) by senior leaders, and other agencies, to make judgements about teaching.

Nevertheless, I’m quite relieved the experience was a positive one and gratified and somewhat surprised to have spent the day with someone with sense and expertise. How was it for you?

 

 

 

 

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Trialling moderation

A quick one today to cover the ‘trialling moderation’ session this afternoon.

We had to bring all the documents and some samples of pupils’ writing, as expected.

Moderators introduced themselves. They seemed to be mainly Y6 teachers who also were subject leaders for English. Some had moderated before, but obviously not for the new standards.

The ‘feel’ from the introduction to the session was that it wasn’t as big a problem as we had all been making it out to be. We were definitely using the interim statements and that ‘meeting’ was indeed equivalent to a 4b.

At my table, we expressed our distrust of this idea and our fear that very few of our pupils would meet expected standards. Work from the first pupil was shared and the criteria ticked off. We looked at about 3 pieces of work. It came out as ‘meeting’ even though I felt it was comparable to the exemplar, ‘Alex’. The second pupil from the next school was ‘nearly exceeding’. I wasn’t convinced. There were lots of extended pieces in beautiful handwriting but sentence structures were rather unsophisticated. There was arguably a lack of variety in the range and position of clauses and transitional phrases. There was no evidence of writing for any other  curriculum area, such as science.

I put forward the work from a pupil I had previously thought  to be ‘meeting’ but had then begun to doubt. I wanted clarification. Formerly, I would have put this pupil at a 4a/5c with the need to improve consistency of punctuation. Our books were the only ones on our table (and others) that had evidence of writing across the curriculum; we moved a few years ago to putting all work in a ‘theme book’ (it has its pros and cons!).

Unfortunately the session was ultimately pretty frustrating as we didn’t get to agree on the attainment of my pupil; I was told that there needed to be evidence of the teaching process that had underpinned the writing that was evident in the books. That is to say, there should be the grammar exercises where we had taught such things as ‘fronted adverbials’ etc. and then the written pieces in which that learning was then evidenced. I challenged that and asked why we couldn’t just look at the writing as we had done for the first pupil. By then the session was pretty much over. In spite of the moderator’s attempt to finish the moderation for me, we didn’t. The last part of the session was given over to the session leader coming over and asking if we felt OK about everything, and my reply that no, I didn’t. I still didn’t know which of the multiplicity of messages to listen to and I hadn’t had my pupil’s work moderated. I had seen other pieces of work, but I didn’t trust the judgements that had been made.

The response was ‘what mixed messages?’ and the suggestion that it may take time for me to ‘get my head around it’ just like I must have had to do for the previous system. She seemed quite happy that the interim statements were broadly equivalent to a 4b and suggested that the government certainly wouldn’t want to see the data showing a drop in attainment. I suggested that if people were honest, that could be the only outcome.

My colleague didn’t fare much better. She deliberately brought samples from a pupil who fails to write much but when he does, it is accurate, stylish and mature. He had a range of pieces, but most of them were short. The moderator dismissed his work as insufficient evidence but did inform my colleague that she would expect to see the whole range of text types, including poetry because otherwise how would we show ‘figurative language and metaphor’?

I’m none the wiser but slightly more demoralised than before. One of my favourite writers from last year has almost given up writing altogether because he knows his dyslexia will prevent him from ‘meeting’. Judging the writing of pupils as effectively a pass or fail is heart-breaking. I know how much effort goes into their writing. I can see writers who have such a strong grasp of audience and style, missing the mark by just a few of the criteria. This is like being faced with a wall – if you cant get over it, stop bothering.

We are likely to be doing a lot of writing over the next few weeks.

 

Primary Science Assessment – no miracles here

In April I wrote here on the draft science assessment guidance from the TAPS group. The final version is now out in the public domain (pdf), described thus:

“The Teacher Assessment in Primary Science (TAPS) project is a 3 year project based at Bath Spa University and funded by the Primary Science Teaching Trust (PSTT), which aims to develop support for a valid, reliable and manageable system of science assessment which will have a positive impact on children’s learning.”

I was vainly hoping for a miracle: valid, reliable AND manageable! Could they pull off the impossible? Well if you read my original post, you’d know that I had already abandoned that fantasy. I’m sorry to be so disappointed – I had wished to be supportive, knowing the time, effort (money!) and best of intentions put into the project. Others may feel free to pull out the positive aspects but here I am only going to point out some of the reasons why I feel so let down.

Manageable?

At first glance we could could probably dismiss the guidance on the last of the three criteria straight away. 5 layers and 22 steps would simply not look manageable to most primary school teachers. As subject leader, I’m particularly focussed on teaching science and yet I would take one look at that pyramid and put it away for another day. Science has such low priority, regardless of the best efforts of primary science enthusiasts like myself, that any system which takes more time and effort than that given to the megaliths of English and Maths, is highly unlikely to be embraced by class teachers. If we make assessment more complicated, why should we expect anything else? Did the team actually consider the time it would take to carry out all of the assessment steps for every science objective in the New Curriculum? We do need to teach the subject, after all, even if we pretend that we can assess at every juncture.

Reliable?

In my previous post on this subject, I did include a question about the particular assessment philosophy of making formative assessment serve summative aims. I question it because I assert that it can not. It is strongly contested in the research literature and counter-indicated in my own experience. More importantly, if we do use AfL (assessment for learning/formative assessment) practices for summative data then in no way can we expect it to be reliable! Even the pupils recognise that it is unfair to make judgements about their science based on their ongoing work. Furthermore, if it is teacher assessment for high stakes or data driven purposes then it can not be considered reliable, even if the original purpose is summative. At the very least, the authors of this model should not be ignoring the research.

Valid?

Simply put, this means ‘does what it says on the tin’ – hence the impossibility of assessing science adequately. I’m frequently irritated by the suggestion that we can ‘just do this’ in science. Even at primary school (or perhaps more so) it’s a massive and complex domain. We purport to ‘assess pupils’ knowledge, skills and understanding’ but these are not simply achieved. At best we can touch on knowledge, where at least we can apply a common yardstick through testing. Skills may be observed, but there are so many variables in performance assessment that we immediately lose a good deal of reliability. Understanding can only be inferred through a combination of lengthy procedures. Technology would be able to address many of the problems of assessing science, but as I’ve complained before, England seems singularly disinterested in moving forward with this.

Still, you’d expect examples to at least demonstrate what they mean teachers to understand by the term ‘valid’. Unfortunately they include some which blatantly don’t. Of course it’s always easy to nit-pick details, but an example, from the guidance, of exactly not assessing what you think you are assessing is, ‘I can prove air exists’ (now there’s a fine can of worms!) which should result from an assessment on being able to prove something about air, not the actual assessment criterion ‘to know air exists’ (really? In Year 5?).

1. Ongoing formative assessment

This is all about pupil and peer assessment and also full of some discomforting old ideas and lingering catch phrases. I admit, I’ve never been keen on WALTs or WILFs and their ilk. I prefer to be explicit with my expectations and for the pupils to develop a genuine understanding of what they are doing rather than cultivate ritualised, knee-jerk operations. Whilst I concede that this model focusses on assessment, it’s not very evident where the actual teaching takes place. Maybe it is intended to be implied that it has already happened, but my concern is that this would not be obvious to many teachers. The guidance suggests, instead, that teachers ‘provide opportunities’, involve pupils in discussions’, ‘study products’, ‘adapt their pace’ and ‘give feedback’. I would have liked to see something along the lines of ‘pick up on misconceptions and gaps in knowledge and then teach.’

Most disheartening, is to see the persistence of ideas and rituals to do with peer assessment. Whilst peer assessment has come under some scrutiny recently for possibly not being as useful as it has been claimed, I think it does have a place, but only with some provisos. In my experience, the most useful feedback comes not when we insist that it’s reduced to a basic format (tick a box, etc.) but when pupils can genuinely offer a thoughtful contribution. As such, it has to be monitored for misinformation; the pupils have to be trained to understand that their peers might be wrong and this takes time. After fighting hard against mindless practices such as ‘two stars and a wish’, my heart sinks to find it yet again enshrined in something that is intended for primary teachers across the country.

2. Monitoring pupil progress

In this layer, we move from the daily activities which are considered part of ongoing, formative assessment, to the expectation that teachers are now to use something to monitor ‘progress’. This involves considerable sleight of hand and I would have to caution teachers and leadership to assume that they can just do the things in the boxes. Let’s see:

TEACHERS BASE THEIR SUMMATIVE JUDGEMENTS OF PUPILS’ LEARNING ON A RANGE OF TYPES OF ACTIVITY

When? To get a good range, it would have to start early in the year, particularly if it includes all the science coverage from the curriculum. In that case, summative judgements are not reliable, because the pupils should have progressed by the end of the year. If it takes place at the end of the year, do we include the work from the earlier part of the year? Do we ignore the areas covered up to February? If we don’t, do we have time to look at a range of types of activity in relation to everything they should have learned? Neither ongoing work, nor teacher observation, are reliable or fair if we need this to be used for actual comparative data.

TEACHERS TAKE PART IN MODERATION/DISCUSSION WITH EACH OTHER OF PUPILS’ WORK IN ORDER TO ALIGN JUDGEMENTS

Oh how I despise the panacea of moderation! This is supposed to reduce threats to reliability and I’m constantly calling it out in that regard. Here they state:

“Staff confidence in levelling is supported by regular moderation. The subject leader set up a series of 10 minute
science moderation slots which take place within staff meetings across the year. Each slot consists of one class
teacher bringing along some samples of work, which could be children’s writing, drawings or speech, and the staff agreeing a level for each piece. This led to lengthy discussions at first, but the process became quicker as staff developed knowledge of what to look for.”

Where to begin? Staff confidence does not mean increased reliability. All it does is reinforce group beliefs. 10 minute slots within staff meetings are unrealistic expectations, both in perceiving how long moderation takes and in the expectation that science will be given any slots at all. Whatever staff ‘agree’, it can not be considered reliable: a few samples of work are insufficient to agree anything; the staff may not have either science or assessment expertise to be qualified to make the judgement; more overtly confident members of staff may influence others and there may be collective misunderstanding of the criteria or attainment; carrying out a 10 minute moderation for one pupil in one aspect of science does not translate to all the other pupils in all the aspects of science we are expected to assess. It might also have been a good idea to vet this document for mention of levels, given that it was brought out to address their removal.

3.Summative reporting

A MANAGEABLE SYSTEM FOR RECORD-KEEPING IS IN OPERATION TO TRACK AND REPORT ON PUPILS’ LEARNING IN SCIENCE

I just want to laugh at this. I have some systems for record-keeping which in themselves are quite manageable, once we have some real data. Where we have testable information, for example, factual knowledge, they might also mean something, but as most of us will know, they quickly become a token gesture simply because they are not manageable. Very quickly, records become ‘rule of thumb’ exercises, simply because teachers do not have the time to gather sufficient evidence to back up every statement. I note that one of the examples in the guide is the use of the old APP rubric which is no longer relevant to the new curriculum. We made the best of this in our school in a way that I devised to try to be as sure of the level as was possible, but even then, we knew that our observations were best guesses. The recording system is only as good as the information which is entered, despite a widespread misconception that records and assessment are the same thing! I’m no longer surprised, although still dismayed, at the number of people that believe the statistics generated by the system.

I didn’t intend this to be a balanced analysis – I’d welcome other perspectives – and I apologise to all involved for my negativity, but we’re clearly still a long way from a satisfactory system of assessing primary science. The model can not work unless we don’t care about reliability, validity or manageability. But in that case, we need no model. If we want a fair assessment of primary science, with data on pupils’ attainment and progress that we feel is dependable, then we need something else. In my view, it only begins to be attainable if we make creative use of technology. Otherwise, perhaps we have been led on a wild goose chase, pursuing something that may be neither desirable, nor achievable. Some aspects of science are amenable to testing, as they were in the SATs. I conceded to the arguments that these were inadequate in assessing the whole of science, particularly the important parts of enquiry and practical skills, but I don’t believe anything we’ve been presented with has been adequate either. Additionally, the loss of science status was not a reasonable pay-off. To be workable, assessment systems have to be as simple and sustainable as possible. Until we can address that, if we have to have tracking data (and that’s highly questionable), perhaps we should consider returning to testing to assess science knowledge and forget trying to obtain reliable data on performance and skills – descriptive reporting on these aspects may have to be sufficient for now.

Shouldn’t we just say ‘no’?

I’m beginning to wonder why we are playing their game at all. Why are we not questioning the basis for the assumptions about what children should know/be able to do by whatever year, as prescribed in the new curriculum and the soon to be published, rapidly cobbled together, waste of time and paper that are the new ‘descriptors’. Have they based these on any actual research other than what Michael Gove dimly remembered from his own school days?

We recently purchased some published assessments, partly, I’m sorry to say, on my suggestion that we needed something ‘external’ to help us measure progress, now that levels no longer work. It wasn’t what I really wanted – I favour a completely different approach involving sophisticated technology, personal learning and an open curriculum, but that’s another long story and potential PhD thesis! Applying these assessments, though, is beginning to look unethical, to say the least. I’ve always been a bit of a fan of ‘testing’ when it’s purposeful, aids memory and feeds back at the right level, but these tests are utterly demoralising for pupils and staff and I’m pretty sure that’s not a positive force in education. I’m not even sure that I want to be teaching the pupils to jump through those hoops that they’re just missing; I strongly suspect they are not even the right hoops – that there are much more important things to be doing in primary school that are in no way accounted for by the (currently inscrutable) attaining/not attaining/exceeding criteria of the new system.

So what do we do when we’re in the position of being told we have to do something that is basically antagonistic to all our principles? Are we really, after all this time, going to revert to telling pupils that they’re failures? It seems so. Historically, apart from the occasional union bleat, teachers in England have generally tried their best to do what they’re told, as if, like the ‘good’ pupils they might have been when they were at school, they believe and trust in authority. Milgram would have a field day. Fingers on buttons, folks!

OFSTED at the ASE

On Friday I went to Reading to attend the ASE (Association for Science Education) conference and one of the sessions was run by an OFSTED HMI. I took some notes and these are as below for your interest (!).
Looking at books to monitor progress
Apparently, since they rarely see any actual science going on, they tend to look in pupil books to see what science is happening. Hopefully we can point them in some more directions than that, e.g. pictures and videos etc. Talking to teachers and pupils would be nice.
Levels or not – so what?
They don’t care what we call the levels/degrees/grades/points etc. They want to know how we use assessment to identify whether or not individuals are making progress, how we identify those falling behind and what we do about it.
Evidence of feedback making a difference
It’s crucial to allow time to feed back to pupils and for them to respond in a way that shows that they have overcome misconceptions or improved understanding. This really needs to be built into the time we give to lessons. I know I have to do this, but I still tend to start ‘new’ lessons sometimes without thinking about whether I have finished the previous one and done all the follow up properly. My junior school teachers were brilliant at this. Why do we still need to be told?
General statements to parents will be fine.
Just like the ones we gave out after parents’ evening last time. We wrote a descriptive summary on each of the core subjects, instead of just giving them the level. They actually preferred it.
Heads up on schools paying lip service to evolution.
They’ve been given instructions to look out for schools teaching evolution but only because they ‘have to’ and giving any kind of weight to ‘alternative theories’ – these are not scientific theories – they are religious indoctrination by the back door.
Detailed formative and summative information
OK
Show high expectations
Be careful in any ‘differentiation by task’, since this frequently consigns the lower attaining pupils to lower expectations. Pupils should have access to the curriculum relevant to their age. Good – because I’ve been saying this for years. Differentiation by preplanned task is counter-productive.
We need to have local cluster moderation
Or we’ll deceive ourselves about our assessments (?).
Make sure pupils finish what they start
Unfinished work is a dead giveaway that we’re not allowing for follow up time. Make sure we allow for pupils to finish in subsequent sessions.
Make sure the work is by and from the children
There should not be work by the teacher in the pupils’ books. Think about it – how much of the content of the books (backgrounds, printouts, learning intention decorations, worksheets, proformas etc.) is currently produced by you?
It should not look all the same
Avoid ‘production line’ outcomes. Pupils’ work should demonstrate individuality.
Writing up science is literacy
I think we knew that.
Use past papers to assess units
Interestingly – the use of ‘test’ papers in a constructive way and to give good feedback etc. is recommended.
He also said that OFSTED inspectors were not allowed to say how any teacher ‘should have’ done anything. That’s considered giving advice. He said that they should only say what happened, what was successful and what was missing or not successful. Hmm…

‘We haven’t the time’ – the problem of teacher CPD in England

It is an expectation on teachers around the world, that they maintain and develop their subject knowledge and understanding through professional development. This is often a matter of personal choice with management support for what is seen as a priority. In some countries, teachers are expected to document their commitment through a reflective portfolio. Access to CPD (continuing professional development) couldn’t be easier than it is now. In addition to the ubiquitous search engines that can lead to a fractal exploration of any subject or question, are a range of high-quality online courses proffered by reputable institutions. In the last couple of years, I’ve accessed several, myself. But how likely is it that teachers in English schools are even contemplating their own CPD, never mind systematically and seriously pursuing it?

Not very likely, I think, from my recent experience of trying to engage teachers in committing to improving their own subject knowledge in essential, key areas of the curriculum. These are otherwise dedicated professionals working in a school with an ‘outstanding’ reputation, but advancing one’s own knowledge and understanding, independently in one’s own time is a step too far. This is a problem. Much research points to the quality of teacher subject knowledge as a key factor in pupil attainment and yet it is known that this falls far short of what it should be in primary schools, particularly in subjects such as science and technology. I was party to a discussion recently about how this could be addressed, given the fragile state of science education in England and our desperate attempts to stabilise it before we lose it altogether. Teacher CPD was seen as a major issue. This led me to thinking about how CPD could be better embedded in real world practice.

So many unhelpful directives are forced upon the profession and the workload has genuinely become excessive (yes really!), that it’s not surprising that teachers are resistant to anything that hasn’t actually been demanded in black and white. We are all expected, however, to undergo a yearly process entitled ‘appraisal’ and I think it might be time that subject knowledge became a central feature of this process, with time being dedicated specifically to CPD. Would it be too much too expect for teachers to identify and demonstrate through certification, a level of knowledge appropriate to the teaching of the subject and for school leaders to commit to resourcing this in time and materials?

Assessing 21st Century skills with 19th Century technology

In England we’ve just had a revision of what used to be the ICT (Information and communications technology) curriculum for primary schools into what is now going to be ‘computing‘, focussing on what are imagined to be necessary skills for modern life, such as programming and ‘digital citizenship’. Interestingly, there is little mention of the use of the computer in any other subject of the new curriculum.

Having just completed the excellent FutureLearn courses ‘Teaching computing 1 and 2’, my initial thoughts were that there was little new here. The programming part is straight out of the latter half of the 20th Century. That’s not really surprising, though, given the paradigms of that time. What I find difficult to understand, however, is the anachronistic attitudes towards the assessment of this subject. Like everything else in the English primary system at the moment, it’s ‘teacher assessment’ – that old fall-back, catch-all, that miraculously covers everything. This is to be done by observing, of course; observing 32 pupils all carrying out a multiplicity of activities at a computer.

So why not use the computer?

This is my rant straight from the CAS (Computing at school) site:

Are we failing to exploit the potential for e-assessment to capture rich data in terms of pupil behaviour as well as give instant feedback to pupils? Why are we trying to construct elaborate rubrics with a multitude of descriptors which require hours of teacher observation? What is the likelihood that teachers are going to manage to dedicate any time to assessment of computing, given that the core subjects will have something like a total of 4600 items for a class of 32? I feel that on the one hand we’re supposedly promoting 21st Century skills (though I’ve yet to see that, in fact) whilst using 19th Century systems of assessment.

The ‘disastrous’ attempts to use e-assessment can largely be put down to the inappropriate use of the technology. I’m not advocating a ham-fisted approach which replicates online what pupils could do on paper. I’m amazed that computing practitioners are even considering that a paper-based approach is somehow more ‘academic’. Computers have enormous potential in terms of tracking and analysing what is done on the computer (and let’s face it, most computing is done on the computer!’). We haven’t even begun to tap into the formative potential of such things as ‘serious games’ and immersive software, and yet these are everywhere in the commercial world, in high risk occupations (medicine, aerospace, motor racing). Pupils’ behaviour is being assessed every day by the games they play online. It really is an issue for policy makers, educationalists and software companies, but I imagined that here in the computing curriculum domain, there would at least be that kind of thinking.

There are interesting developments in the US and in Australia, as well as some promising work in further and higher education. However, we really don’t seem to be aware of what is possible in English primary education which is overly influenced by a belief that ‘teacher assessment’ covers everything. It doesn’t, it can’t and the current model is severely flawed.

I’m growing increasingly frustrated with the education community in England, and their narrow inability to see the benefits of digital technology in teaching and assessing, even when the very subject is about the use of digital technology.

Moderation still doesn’t tell us the weight of the pig.

The recent culture of leaving more and more of the process of assessment in the hands of teachers, raises the important question of reliability. Much research into teacher assessment, even by strong proponents of its advantages, reveals that it is inherently unreliable. We might have guessed this from our experience of human beings and the reliability of their subjective judgements! This is difficult even for quantitative measures, such as the weight of a pig at a fair, but much more so for such qualitative aspects as those in the wording of rubrics. These are what we are currently working with in the English primary school system. We teachers are required to be: assessing formatively and feeding back; summing up and evaluating; reporting in an unbiased way and  all along being held accountable for progress, which we, ourselves are expected to be measuring. Imagine, if you will the aforementioned pig. Judge its weight yourself now, and then again when you have fed it for a month, but bear in mind that you will be accountable for the progress it has made. How reliable will either of these judgements be?

So, in an attempt to improve the reliability of teacher assessments (in order for them to have high-stakes, accountability purposes) we introduce the idea of moderation. This usually takes the form of a colleague or external moderator assisting in the judgement, based on the ‘evidence’ produced by the teacher. Now, whilst I can see the value to the teacher of the moderation process, if it involves discussion of criteria and evidence with colleagues and supposed ‘experts’ (who, exactly?), I’m skeptical that simply introducing more people into the discussion will lead to greater reliability. The problem is that the external yardstick is still missing. Even if the teacher and all those involved in the moderation process agree on the level, objective or whatever measurement is required of us, we are still making subjective judgements. Are collective, subjective judgements any better than individual ones? Sometimes, they may be if they genuinely have the effect of moderating extremes. However, we need also to consider the impact of cultural drift. By this, I mean that there is a group effect that reinforces bias and this does have an impact on assessment. I am convinced that I witnessed this over the years in the assessment of writing, where the bar for attaining each level seemed to continually be raised by teachers, afraid that they would be accused of inflating results – a real shame for the pupils who were being judged unfairly. In these instances, the moderation process doesn’t improve reliability; all it does is give a false sense of it which is then resistant to criticism or appeal. This is where we all stand around staring at the pig and we all agree that he looks a bit thinner than he should. Without the use of a weighing device, we really do not know.

June 2016

I had a look back at this post – moderation being in the wind at the moment. I was interested in articles such as this one and I wonder what it will take to stop doing such pointless, meaningless practices in education? Do we not know? Do some people still believe these things work? Isn’t it a bit obvious that teacher assessment for high stakes purposes is completely counter-productive and that moderation can in no way be considered a strategy to achieve greater reliability?

I’d like to extend the ubiquitous pig metaphor now. In the case of primary writing moderation in 2016, it’s not even a case of staring at the pig and guessing its weight. We have a farmer who has a whole field of pigs – he has been told to guess all their weights, but he’d better not have more than 30% underweight! In order to make sure he doesn’t cheat, another farmer comes along, equally clueless, and tells him whether he thinks the farmer’s guesses are the same as his own guesses. The farmer next door doesn’t have to go through this pointless ritual. Strangely, that farmer’s pigs are all just a little fatter.

Another pointless consultation

The DfE are apparently ‘seeking views on draft performance descriptors for determining pupil attainment at the end of key stages 1 and 2’.

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/performance-descriptors-key-stages-1-and-2

They have previously ‘sought views’ on the draft national curriculum and the assessment policy, which they acknowledged and then proceeded to largely ignore. I should imagine this will be no different. Needless to say, I still responded, as I did with the others, if only for the opportunity to point out how vague and meaningless their descriptors are.

My response in brief:

It is really important that you remove all vague terminology, such as ‘increasing’, or ‘wider’. In removing levels, you acknowledged the unreliability of the system and difficulty faced by teachers in agreeing levels. This document falls into the same trap. It would be far better to provide examples of what was expected at each key stage (and in each year), than these vague descriptions, some of which could apply to any level of study (Reception to post-doctoral). Many teachers have worked for years on helping colleagues to understand exactly what was required to show a pupil’s attainment, and in one fell swoop, the new curriculum has demolished all that work without replacing it with anything effective. Give us a standardised set of concrete examples and explanations (not exemplars of pupils’ work), along the lines of those provided by Kangaroo Maths (when we were grappling with what the levels represented in the old curriculum). Give us some e-assessment software that will allow us to quickly determine and collate this information.

I did want also to say, ‘Give us some mid 20th Century text books, since that’s obviously the source of your ‘new’ curriculum.’ In actual fact this isn’t just a just a bitter jibe. A text book would at least guide us through the current morass. We could really do with some clarity and consistency. I suggest a state of the art information source written by actual experts rather than the range of opportunistic publications which will be cobbled together by commercial companies who are ill-prepared to jump on this latest bandwagon.