Assessment without levels – prologue

My school has produced a first draft proposal for a new assessment framework relating to the new GCSE grades, and looking to move to a system without levels.

The gist of it is: a student comes into school, and based on their prior attainment they’re set a ‘projected grade’. This is the minimum expected GCSE grade (e.g. grade 5).

Teachers will use this to set a professional target.

In each year, the same grading system will be used, so a student should in theory progress from grade 5 in Year 7 to grade 5 in Year 11, with each subject setting the standards against which these judgements will be made.

As I spent some time on my response to this first draft proposal, I thought it would be worth sharing more widely. Below is my response. I’d be interested to know what you think.

Here are my thoughts:

This bit really worries me.

Extensive research shows that labelling people encourages a fixed mindset, and this seems to be even more explicit labelling than had with levels:

How it works    

If a student is projected a Grade 5 (equivalent to a C+ now; the new national expected standard) and they make continual good progress towards it, they will be labelled a grade 5 at all points (Most Likely Grade) and end up getting a grade 5.

Surely, we are assessing students’ learning and the work that they produce. We are not judging them as people.

What hope does a teacher have motivating a Year 11 student who has been told “You are a grade 3/4/5/6/7” for five years? It’s like an imposed intellectual class system. I imagine years of student conversations along these lines: “Hello, I’m a grade 7”  “Oh, you’re much smarter than me, I’m only a grade 5”   “Yeah, but he’s a grade 3! What an idiot!”

If anyone can explain how this system promotes learning and thinking in students, I’ll take it all back.

This video interview with Tim Oates (who led the expert panel that recommended the removal of levels from the National Curriculum) explains why levels are gone – I really think it’s worth watching.

I’d like to see assessment based on “How secure are students in their understanding of [insert topic here]?”  I think the Activate words developing / secure / extending are suitable for this. This would also make for meaningful reports (e.g. “John is developing his understanding of space, and has a secure understanding of elements, atoms and compounds”)

I’d be interested to know what other people (in ours and other departments) think.


One thought on “Assessment without levels – prologue”

  1. I heard Sarah Earle from Bath Spa University (my ASE partner in crime for her sins) talk about primary assessment. She said something that stuck with me: “Start with really good formative assessment”. I don’t think what you describe does that, I think your plan starts with the idea of labelling and therefore tracking students. And more than that before you are really confident about what a grade 5 is like in the new system then are you in danger of plucking numbers out of the air? What is wrong with tests scores in this case? I also like the idea of reporting with words rather than numbers and using the Activate descriptions. However, I don’t have the answers and can see why, with tracking such a major priority in schools, the system has been put forward. Good luck in what ever you decide to do.

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