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GL Assessment

Assessment at Key Stage 3: from levels to validity

Debden Park High School, Essex

Age Range

We have been able to develop Assessment Experts who are free to assess in the way that works best for students.

Gareth Davies, the Deputy Headteacher of Debden Park High School, explains how they have built an assessment system that meets the needs of students, parents, teachers and leaders with little or no impact on teacher time, is nationally standardised, and impacts directly on learning.

Four years ago, the Department for Education removed national curriculum levels at Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 with the introduction of a new curriculum. This removed the agreed national assessment framework for schools at KS2 and KS3 and left no national replacement. Each school was left to create its own. As the DfE said at the time:

“The assessment framework should be built into the school curriculum, so that schools can check what pupils have learned and whether they are on track to meet expectations at the end of the key stage, and so that they can report regularly to parents.”

Looking back now, there is little to argue with here. The problem was that assessment systems in schools are not JUST about assessment, are they? They are about USING assessment to:

  • Inform students and teachers about what the student does or does not “know”, and can or cannot “do”
  • Inform school leaders about which students are “succeeding” and which need support – pupil by pupil, class by class and year by year
  • Inform parents (in an accessible way) about how well their child is progressing at school
  • Inform governors and school visitors about how well the school is doing

We wanted to ensure that we created a system that could satisfy all of these things, but above everything, did not get in the way of staff and student dialogue about what skills and knowledge they demonstrated and what areas they need to review.

In fact, the removal of levels gave us a great opportunity to develop ‘Assessment Experts’ who had the time and space to have those learning conversations with students.

We decided that developing our teachers’ expertise in assessment was more important than trying to invent levels by another name. The concern was how we would know if the students were making the same amount of progress as their peers nationally – but we later found that GL Assessment would fill this gap for us.

We used the idea of reporting all assessments at KS3 numerically, as a simple percentage, based purely on how much of the criteria being used to make the assessment has been demonstrated by the student. This freedom (eventually) allowed accurate, valid, reliable and efficient assessments to be created by staff, and importantly, for different class groups with different curriculum experiences. It allowed us to give detailed guidance of how students were achieving compared to their peers within school, and some guidance to parents about how students were achieving compared to the new GCSE specifications.

The national context
The next step was ensuring that our students were indeed making the same progress as their peers on a national scale. Without having an overarching cross school curriculum (the national curriculum isn’t time based so different schools obviously vary their curriculum maps) how could we compare our students to that of national peers? This is where GL Assessment came in.

By using the Progress Test Series (which covers English, maths and science), we can now tell that, in maths, our Year 7 students matched their peers nationally with the exact same standardised score. In terms of attainment, I can tell you that on average they are better at certain mathematical skills than the national average, but are slightly less successful at others. We can also say that they have made (on average) more progress than the national average in their fluency in conceptual understanding, and the processes they use, but we can also see that we need to work as a year group at their ability to problem solve.

In Year 8 we now know that our students demonstrate skills and knowledge above that of their national peers in certain mathematical skills again, but also they now have caught up in terms of probability (a key curriculum focus in Year 8).

We know that reading comprehension is above average in Year 7 (compared to national) but most year groups need to further develop their grammar and punctuation skills. By Year 9, we can see that in English disadvantaged students have matched the national average for all students in terms of average overall score.

As a school we are very confident that our maths and English teams already know what skills and knowledge students need to develop. However, in a world beyond levels and new 9-1 GCSEs, by benchmarking our students’ attainment and progress against others nationally using standardised tests from GL Assessment, we were able to validate that confidence, and support teams and teachers in developing themselves as assessment experts that impact on learning, rather than creating ever more complicated ways to reinvent levels.

Here are eight reasons why we use the Progress Test Series:

  1. To compare our cohort to the national context

  2. To compare a cohort’s skills and knowledge (demonstrated) to those same skills nationally

  3. To compare a cohort’s attainment question by question to the national average

  4. To measure overall progress by year, by group, by class, benchmarked to the national average

  5. To validate that internal assessments were telling us the correct information

  6. To demonstrate progress at KS3 to visitors

  7. To provide parents with individual feedback

  8. To impact on learning

In summary, with the help of GL Assessment’s national standardised data, we have been able to develop Assessment Experts who are free to assess in the way that works best for students, while providing evidence of students’ success to parents, leaders, governors and school visitors.

Oh, and did I mention all without impacting on teachers’ time? GL Assessment marks and standardises it all for you, leaving more time for the conversation. The conversation between teachers, the conversation between teachers and students and the conversation between parents and teachers – it’s those conversations that lead to learning.

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