This is another of the ‘thinking out loud’ series about assessment without levels, exploring the idea of assessment based on internally defined measures of progress, rather than externally defined measures of achievement (national standards-levels). A conversation the other day led to thinking about the nature of the criteria that might be used to judge progress. Perhaps there are two aspects to this. One is the need to describe what a student has achieved today, the other is the need to describe progress, or distance travelled, from where to where. ‘This is lovely because…‘ and ‘this is lovelier than…‘.
Assessing and describing what a student has achieved is relatively familiar territory. It is about those things variously called, assessment objectives, gaols, learning outcomes, success criteria, differentiation etc.. So the lesson plan, in a unit about landscape painting, might include a learning objective for the session as: ‘Children will learn about the features and genre of landscape painting.’ Assessment for learning might ask: ‘Can children recognise and describe common features of landscape paintings, talk about similarities and differences they observe and show a developing knowledge about the way in which artists Piper and Hockney work?’ Differentiation might note the need to prompt more able children to use a more sophisticated vocabulary, answer deeper questions (‘why?’ as well as ‘how?’) and consider further artists.
Assessing progress is less familiar territory, or rather, it has been obscured by a system of levelling stretched out of shape and beyond recognition and credibility. If it is no longer going to be appropriate to record that a pupil has ‘made 2 levels of progress over the last 18 months’, how should progress be described? What benchmarks might be used? For instance, is it helpful to consider progress relative to things such as:
- The student’s progress from their original starting point in terms of their own skills, knowledge and understanding (baseline referenced);
- The student’s progress towards the objectives specified in the school curriculum plan (criteria referenced);
- The student’s progress in completing a predetermined set of experiences, techniques, tasks content (process referenced);
- The student’s progress compared to other students in the class, or school (norm referenced.
I guess, each of the above may have benefits and drawbacks, there may be other comparators and it would be inappropriate to use all at once. Nor does this help resolve the simplistic notion that progress is a simple gradient – it’s not, it is sporadic and fractured with plateaux and troughs. But I think it is always helpful to clarify our terms of reference and vocabulary. If we don’t, how can children understand what we are talking about and how to make their work even lovelier.