The end of National Curriculum Levels has been greeted with both unbridled joy by some teachers or with utter horror by others. However, it does provide an opportunity to investigate whether there is a better model or whether it is a case of better the devil you know!
Interesting starting point:
Review by the expert panel for the National Curriculum review – Chapter 8
8.3 We have concerns, expressed also in the Bew review and by some respondents to this review’s Call for Evidence about the ways in which ‘levels’ are currently used to judge pupil progress, and their consequences. Indeed, we believe that this may actually inhibit the overall performance of our system and undermine learning. For this reason, we suggest a new approach to judging progression that we believe to be, in principle, more educationally sound. This has some significant implications for assessment and accountability.
8.4 We are concerned by the ways in which England’s current assessment system encourages a process of differentiating learners through the award of ‘levels’, to the extent that pupils come to label themselves in these terms. Although this system is predicated on a commitment to evaluating individual pupil performance, we believe it actually has a significant effect of exacerbating social differentiation, rather than promoting a more inclusive approach that strives for secure learning of key curricular elements by all. It also distorts pupil learning, for instance creating the tragedy that some pupils become more concerned for ‘what level they are’ than for the substance of what they know, can do and understand. This is an unintended consequence of an over-prescriptive framework for curriculum and assessment.
- Familiar language of assessment – grades are already known to parents and students – less confusion.
- Raft of existing assessment materials in each subject which could be used/adapted for use at KS3.
- Easier to show progression from KS3 to KS4.
- Clearer understanding of potential outcomes for students at the end of Year 11
- GCSE grade descriptors already exist for subjects. No new criteria would need to be created.
- Easier to ensure consistent reporting of progress between teachers and across the school.
- With GCSE grades changing from A*-G to 1-9, this could confuse the issue if this new KS3 grading system changes after one year in operation.
- After a period without a standardised system, government may introduce new system which may lead to more confusion if another change made. Therefore is it better to stick with the status quo?
- Many departments will have spent a lot of time and effort creating assessments based on National Curriculum levels, so is changing worth the upheaval?
- May act as disincentive if students receive G grade. Also parents may not be happy with this as G or F grade may imply failure or lack of achievement in their minds.
I must confess, I never have liked NC Levels since the expectation that they be used to assess individual pieces of work, something they were never designed to do. I find them too vague and cumbersome to use in this context. In the absence of standardised assessments and exemplar materials in the ‘foundation’ subjects as they used to be known, I find that they are open to too much interpretation.
Here, there is a definite move away from numbers and letters (at least when communicating progress with students) – this may address one of the concerns I raised above about the de-motivation that may result in using the lower GCSE grades.
Since asking for ideas on Twitter, colleagues have shared other models being developed by schools. Such as using gold, silver and bronze:
More here: Assessing without levels Example 4
After reading these blog posts and thinking about GCSE grades, I wonder whether there is a middle ground, where we report to students and parents using the terms such as secure, excellence etc but record the corresponding KS3 GCSE grade so that we can still have a handle on how students are progressing and what intervention, improvements need to be made in order to improve understanding, application, skills etc, but without students and parents getting hung up on a number or letter – as was the original concern in the expert panel review .