Making Good Progress

How can we put the lessons from Making Good Progress into practice?

I had originally intended this to be a follow up to my two blogs reviewing the new Robert Peal series of textbooks. However, I think the ideas contained in Daisy Christodoulou’s book demonstrate weaknesses with the design of most school’s assessment models and require application far more widely. There has been a refreshing focus on models and theories of assessment in education discourse recently. However, it has only served to depress me, that we’re doing it wrong! Time for some optimism, and to start thinking about what the next steps are to accurately assessing our pupils’ work.

You would need to read the book in full, of course, to see Daisy’s evidence base and full analysis of the problems with assessment in schools. I have written a particularly thorough summary of Daisy’s book that I would be keen to discuss with anyone should they wish to get in touch: it is a powerpoint slide summary for each chapter. However, I would suggest that Daisy’s unique contributions and her most important ideas are as follows:

  • Descriptor-led assessments are unreliable in getting an accurate idea of the quality of a piece of work.
  • Assessment grades are supposed to have a ‘shared meaning’. We need to be able to make reliable inferences from assessment grades. This is not the case if we simply aggregate levels applied to work in lessons, or to ‘end of topic’ pieces of work, and then report these aggregate grades. Daisy calls this banking, where students get the credit for learning something in the short-run but we do not know if it has stuck over time. I would suggest this is one of our biggest flaws, as teachers. We test learning too soon, rather than looking for a change in long-term thinking.
  • Summative assessments need to be strategically designed. We cannot use formative and summative assessments for the same task. Instead, we need to design a ‘summative assessment’ as the end goal. The final task, for example a GCSE exam question, needs to be broken down as finely as possible into its constituent knowledge and skill requirements. These then need to be built up over time, and assessed in a formative style, in a fashion that gives students opportunities for deliberate practice, and to attempt particular tasks again.

 

What Daisy proposes as a solution is an integrated model of assessment. A model which takes into account the differences between formative and summative assessments, and where every assessment is designed with reference to its ultimate purpose. What this looks like would be:

  • Formative assessments which are “specific, frequent, repetitive and recorded as raw marks.”
    • These would be regular tests, likely multiple-choice questions, where all students are supposed to get high marks and marks are unlikely to be recorded. Recording marks starts to blur the lines between formative assessment and summative assessment.
  • Summative assessments which are standard tests taken in standard conditions, sample a large domain and distinguish between pupils. They would also be infrequent: one term of work is not a wide enough domain to reliably assess.
    • For ‘quality model’ of assessments, such as English and the Humanities, these can be made particularly reliable through the use of comparative judgement. You could, and should, read more about it here. Daisy also suggests that we should use scaled scores, generated through nationally standardised assessments or comparative judgement. This would have the advantage of providing scores that could be compared across years, and class-averages can provide valuable data to evaluate the efficacy of teaching. I must confess that I need to understand the construction of ‘scaled scores’ more before I can meaningfully apply this information to my teaching practice. I would welcome the suggestion of a useful primer.

 

I’m starting to think about how I could meaningfully apply these lessons to a history department. Daisy suggests that the starting point is to have an effective understanding of the progression model. I think this is something that the history teaching community is already strong on, though the model remains contested which is no bad thing. However, the lack of standardisation across the history teaching community means we are unlikely to build up a bank of standardised summative assessments which we could use to meaningfully compare pupils’ work across schools, to diagnose weaknesses with our own students’ performance. This is something for academy chains and the Historical Association to perhaps tackle. I might be wrong, but I think this is something PiXL seem to be doing in Maths, and Dr Chris Wheadon is setting the foundations for in English. This isn’t something that can be designed at the individual department level.

Where teachers can more easily work together is on the construction of a “formative item bank”. This would consist of a series of multiple-choice questions that will expose students’ thinking on a topic, tease out misconceptions, and judge understanding. Invariably, students’ conceptual thinking in history is undermined by a lack of substantive knowledge. Only once teachers undertake this task, which surely must be a collective effort, can we discern the extent to which this style of formative assessment can detect first and second-order knowledge. Some adaptations might be required. We can then integrate this formative assessment with an appropriate model of summative assessments where the power of collective action on the part of history teachers will undoubtedly be even greater.

I shall therefore spend my holidays thinking about, among other things, what the first steps I need to take as a teacher are to develop such a bank of formative material, and how I would need to shape the structure of summative assessments across the various Key Stages. I intend to write more on this subject. I think it is at the very core of ensuring that we maximise the potential of the new knowledge-rich curriculums many are advocating. Of what use is such a curriculum if we do not have an accurate understanding of how far students are grasping its material?

 

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