Assessing mastery without using levels
The end of National Curriculum levels at KS3 is an opportunity to step away from talking about what level a student is currently on, and instead focusing on how a student can learn and develop. However, schools still want (or need?) data on where students are (ie: a level). Any new system should meet the aspirational goal of shifting the dialogue away from levels, but realistically will still need to give an indication of where students are in relation to expected progress. This topic has been blogged about extensively, so here I am focusing exclusively on the system we are developing to assess our mastery curriculum. Although this is far from the perfect system, I think it could achieve the goals of life without levels. It is still a developing idea so all feedback is welcome and will be useful.
Earlier this year I blogged about the mastery curriculum we were developing. Read the details here, the key concepts were: identification of 10 ‘skills’ that students need to master in science in the form of mastery statements; mapping the curriculum from year 7 – 11; frequent low-stakes testing. After half a term of using this system with year 7 and 8 we have learnt a lot, and in this blog I will look at how we are assessing students.
Assessing the mastery skills
The 10 mastery statements (see figure 1 below) have been mapped to the new curriculum so there are key areas where they should be being taught. However gaining any understanding of how individual students are progressing with these skills is a challenge. We have developed a system for assessing the 5 mastery statements that are linked to scientific experimental skills. At present, this provides an individual idea of where students are, and has the potential to generate a ‘value’ for tracking. The assessment takes place with a ‘mastery assessment’ every half term – which is an assessed practical investigation. One key decision we made was to use the same format for this investigation every time. It is pitched as a GCSE level write up, so year 7 and 8 receive a lot of structured support, which will be removed as they progress. Each assessment will focus on 2 or 3 of the mastery statements, so either the other aspects are provided, or the section crossed out on the sheet. We decided to do this rather than changing the sheet each time for consistency.
Students currently spend three lessons on the assessment, which is roughly broken down as: preparation, carrying out the experiment and recording results, and then data analysis and write up. I anticipate that when these students reach year 9 or 10 they will only need 2 lessons to complete this. Students complete the work on yellow paper, which is stuck into their books. To reduce teacher workload, assessment is done by highlighting what level the student has achieved on a ‘student-speak’ version of the steps to mastery (see here for more details on the steps). This then fits the school marking policy as teachers complete the marking sticker and provide a ‘try now’ based on the area of weakness. Since the try now tasks that will be needed are predictable, these can be provided to reduce teacher workload.
Below is a copy of a students work, plus the teacher feedback.
Figure 4: The marking sticker is the school policy sticker (we will have to remove the top boxes to be ‘without levels’ when this truly does happen). The blue grid allows the teacher to quickly highlight what the student achieved, and the final sticker is the try now based on the area of improvement needed – red pen used by student for completing the work
How are we reporting progress to students, parents and SLT?
This is probably the key question here, and unfortunately the answer is that at present we are not reporting based on mastery at all. In Autumn 1 students completed a fairly standard assessment during assessment week, and we are currently discussing with SLT how to report this to parents and students (KS3 levels, 1 – 9 level or other). However, the school is aiming to report based on progress with mastery after Christmas so it is worth discussing the ideas here.
The idea being looked at is on reporting progress along each of the ten mastery strands, and creating an overall ‘percentage of mastery’ figure. This means that students, staff and parents can see a student’s strengths and weaknesses clearly as progress on each strand, and then the overall figure gives some comparable data on how the student is performing relative to others. The challenge here is that the different strands have a different number of ‘steps to success’, and that these ‘steps’ might not be of equal difficulty or weighting. The final grid may look something like figure 5 below, which clearly shows strengths and weaknesses and so immediately focuses the report on progress and next steps. This can also generate an average which could be used for tracking purposes.
Figure 5: This mastery grid clearly shows a weakness in mastery skill 1 and that the next step is step 2 for that skill. This imaginary student is very strong in skill 5, and then the overall average is a comparable and trackable figure. A advantage of this system is that it is easy to idenify the strengths and weaknesses, but the concern at this stage is that it would take too long for teachers to input the data.
Frequent low-stakes testing
Every week year 7 and 8 are sitting a 20 mark, multiple choice quiz on key content. These tests include mainly material learnt during the week, but 5 marks are for content from earlier in the year in an attempt to encourage students to retain information. Teachers log the score into a central tracker each week. Students like the frequent tests and it is a useful tool for teachers to identify where their class struggles. To date, we have not done anything with the centralised data as the focus has been on getting a system working and ensuring data is collected on time from all staff. Next half-term I am aiming to add in a reward system by giving a gold star for 17+ marks and then a prize at the end of term for the most gold stars. Additionally, I would like to start a weekly support club for students who struggle in a particular week. Another big improvement to be made to the system is ensuring these quizzes are all created at the start of the term so that teachers can see what is on them and ensure that their students have understood these key concepts. This has not been possible yet as the curriculum is new and still being written, but we should get ahead with this over the coming weeks. There is no plan to report these results so the focus is entirely on helping students achieve the key threshold knowledge required in science.
An overall understanding?
From the multiple choice quizzes, mastery assessments and summative assessments we are developing a very clear picture of where students are in terms of content, skills and application. This should enable us have focused intervention and re-teaching, and to reflect on our teaching practices and the impact on teachers.
The key next step in working with SLT and other department heads to finalise a way of tracking and reporting that does not simply create a synonym for levels. Delivery of the mastery assessment needs to be fine-tuned, possibly with more standardised teaching, and definitely with a focus on showing students what great practical write-ups should look like, so we will develop a bank of model answers and collate excellent student work.