Today, I spent time with an old friend (now one of the last grand old men of art education). We first met, and worked together, as young(er) advisory teachers. We were planning to revisit some of the work we have done on assessment, but more of that later. This is to record part of our discussion – before I forget.
We discussed assessment and ‘levels’. My friend felt they were probably inadequate and had not been affective in defining a national standard. As I have been involved in developing assessment criteria for 30 years, including the various iterations of national levels, I guess I should declare an interest in this. It was helpful, with a sense of distance, to define my position. I think this.
The definition of national levels has not really been useful in defining a national standard. It simply is not the case that there is a coherent, standardised understanding of what a ‘level 5′ actually means amongst secondary art teachers. There is even less of a common understanding amongst primary teachers. In fact, in primary schools there is virtually no sense of a collective agreed standard – and why should there be, there is no national moderation or exemplars.
But I believe levels have been, and are, significant in two ways. Firstly they have served to define, and illustrate, the underlying conceptual framework of the subject. I think this is hugely important and very significant. Before we had a clear conceptual map for the subject (and as chief moderator in the 70′s I know this) we tended to fall back on simply assessing observable technical skills. In fact, assessment rewarded a quality of drawing based on Slade School practice in the 50′s – because ‘O level’ examiners had been trained at the Slade in the 50′s. So the development of national criteria which enabled us to recognise, acknowledge and reward a broader range of skills, knowledge and understanding, beyond a simple technical competence – which was easy to assess – is important, if not vital.
Secondly, national criteria have provided, both a vocabulary, and a framework which enables teachers to discuss, identify and agree, what ‘stages of progress’ might look like, in each of the different assessment objectives, key concepts (or whatever they are called). Although the text, defining the levels, is far too abstract to pin down standards in the abstract, it does provide a vocabulary and conceptual framework which teachers can use to illuminate and compare standards amongst their own students and so come towards and common understanding and set of expectations that work in their school. So I think that level statements probably are meaningless UNTIL they are offered up to the work of real students in each school. At this point they acquire meaning and become useful: to teachers and pupils.
So I believe the defination of national criteria(levels) may not have provided the simplistic definition of standards that some claimed, but it has provided a framework within which teachers can develop effective assessment practices and in doing so they have raised standards.
Click here for my friends blog.