2B or not 2B, that is the question

I’ve visited a number of schools in the past couple of weeks and nearly all of them intend to continue tracking with levels for all cohorts for this term at least (fine for years 2 and 6, of course). This doesn’t surprise me – it’s the comfort of the familiar – but it’s a bodge and I am becoming increasingly concerned. The big problem is that continuing with levels gives the false impression of parity and compatibility of data either side of the old/new NC boundary. This will inevitably invite comparisons, which are unlikely to do the school any favours. It’s like comparing currencies pre- and post-decimalisation. By making a fresh start – using an entirely new approach – any such issues can be avoided. A line has been drawn.

The main issue is that pupils are going to appear to have gone backwards. Schools continuing with a levels-based system are planning to assign those pupils that have met all the key learning objectives for that point in the year a sublevel/point score that historically indicated age-related expectations (ARE) under the old system. So, a pupil that has met all learning objectives for the end of Y4 will be assigned a 3b/21 points, because that’s how it used to work. That’s the theoretical equivalent. 
Sounds fair enough.
However, the new curriculum does not translate into levels, and those old ‘age-related expectations’ are not a proxy for having met the key learning objectives of the new curriculum. Implying that they do is going to cause problems. I’ll give you an example:
A pupil finishes KS1 with a L3 in reading (that’s around 30% of pupils nationally last year). And as you may or may not know, a L3 is treated by the DfE as a secure level 3, i.e. a 3B (21 points). Now, under the old system of levels, a 3B was considered to be age-related expectations for the end of Y4. In the new curriculum, a pupil deemed to be at age-related expectations at the end of Y4 will have met all the learning objectives for that point in the curriculum. So, ask yourself this: has the KS1 L3 pupil done this? The answer is almost certainly no, which means you can’t really continue to assign them a 3B. Instead they will have to be assigned a new sublevel; a translated value that reflects their position in the new curriculum, i.e. above expectations, but not 2 years above. Maybe a 2A. Who knows? 

In other words, they’ve apparently gone backwards.

Which is daft.

Some tracking systems have not helped matters by a) allowing users to continue with levels, and b) mapping new values back to old point scores and sublevels, implying there is a simple conversion. 

I suggest schools do themselves a favour: ditch levels now. You’ll have to at some point anyway. Adopt a new assessment system and avoid the pitfalls that will inevitably arise by giving the impression of data continuity. A new system will not invite such comparison. You can start afresh. 
So, use your historical data to show progress and attainment up to the end of last year, and then start again this year. Don’t attempt to measure progress across the old/new NC boundary by using end of last year assessments as a baseline. Instead create an early autumn assessment and measure progress from there. Concentrate on tracking percentages of pupils that are below, at and above ARE; hopefully showing increases in those at and above ARE as the year goes on. Individual progress comes down to books and the percentage of objectives met. That’s pretty much all we can do at this point. Next year things get easier because you’ll have a compatible baseline for more in depth and reliable analyses, but producing the 3 year progress data stipulated in the Ofsted guidance is not going to be easy. I just can’t see how it can be done with any degree of reliability and I’m not sure they’ve thought it through. I suspect these issues will become increasingly apparent over the course of this year. 
And finally, I know that many tracking systems are not quite up to speed, and Ofsted make provision for this in the new guidance (see Ofsted handbook p63, para. 191). So, I’m not advocating throwing everything out but do make sure you ask the right questions of your supplier. It’s fine to hold on (for a bit) whilst new versions are rolled out but make sure they have solid plans for assessment without levels (hint: they should have already!). It must be very tempting for established systems to stick as closely as possible to levels and APS because it requires a lot less redevelopment. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for schools.
Remember: the tracking should fit the curriculum, not the other way round. 
Good luck!

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9 thoughts on “2B or not 2B, that is the question

  1. Paul Batchelor
    on September 20, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    Great advice, thank you – but 'emerging, expected and exceeding' for KS1 and 2 doesn't really deliver the required analysis on attainment or progress, given that Raise will pronounce achievement to the first decimal place – or even finer! I think schools need, therefore, to develop different languages for internal tracking and parental reporting. In my small school, the hoped for 'shift' in % at each outcome will be huge, and potentially misleading. Reporting breadth of coverage and depth of understanding seems to be key. I feel a matrix approach coming on…

  2. James Pembroke
    on September 20, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    Hi. Thanks for comment. First, I would always recommend producing progress matrices for EYFS, KS1 and KS2. Probably the best way to present progress in terms of simplicity and common understanding.

    As for tracking progress, this year's Y6 will still be assessed in levels so you can continue with APS and sublevels; and use FFT or VA estimates for targets. Beyond that, we don't know how the DfE will measure progress. We know it'll be a VA score +/-0, but beyond that we have no idea. My concern is measuring progress this year. Once the current Y5 move into Y6 we'll have a meaningful baseline for progress measures. As far as target setting is concerned, we aim for 85% of that cohort (and future cohorts) to meet the expected standard (i.e. on track to meet Y6 learning objectives). So, I take your point about tracking percentages below, at and above age related expectations, but without any further detail on the new DfE VA measure (progress floor standard) I'm not sure what else we can do.

  3. James Pembroke
    on September 20, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    And as for different approaches for internal tracking and reporting to parents, I wrote another blog (Attack of the Clones) on that subject.

  4. Paul Batchelor
    on September 20, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    OK – just playing with approaches at the moment – and my matrix is not for progress, but attainment – 3 columns for breadth of coverage (% thirds) of the current year's curriculum, and 3 rows for depth of understanding – simplistic, understood and 'applying independently' (the words could probably be improved). Teachers award 0 to 3 points against each objective, based on depth of understanding, leading to a total score which, read off from the matrix would give a trackable measure year-on-year, and benchmarkable at different points of the year (e.g. we'd expect a 66% score around Easter).

    For example, a child with mostly 1's against one third of the content has acquired 33% of the learning. Mostly 3's against nearly all the content is approaching 100%.

    I think this could work and tie the actual attainment of pupils to the reporting in a clear way. The same eMarkbook would identify next steps and be of immediate use in the classroom.

    A Progress matrix would also be invaluable to compare progress over time.

  5. James Pembroke
    on September 21, 2014 at 8:30 am

    Ah! Understood. Think you should take a look at Learning Ladders. The approach you describe is pretty much exactly how LL works.

  6. James Pembroke
    on September 21, 2014 at 8:50 am

    It's the measuring of extension that interests me most. There are a number of approaches, e.g. Focus Education's 9 point scale with points 7-9 reserved for exceeding. Problem with percentage is that if they have achieved 100% it suggests they've done what's expected, rather than gone beyond. It implies there's a ceiling to progress. Or would you advocate recording pupils in curriculum year above? e.g. Y4 pupil that has achieved 50% of Y5 curriculum (i.e. 5.5) therefore a year or more ahead. We've gone full circle on this: initially assuming this would be the method for measuring extension, to being told it wasn't appropriate ("breadth, not extension"), to realising it was unrealistic to believe bright pupils wouldn't be extending into the next year's curriculum and that it was the best way to show progress without a ceiling.

    Having said all that, many/most curriculum models combined years 3-4 and 5-6 for reading and writing, which makes things a little more tricky but NAHT have separated learning objectives for individual years and therefore it can be done. I think that Learning Ladders is flexible enough to allow the curriculum to be set out how you want.

  7. Paul Batchelor
    on September 22, 2014 at 8:55 am

    As I understand it, the Focus 9-pont scale is a judgement against the 'milestone' which attempts to sum up the development stage for, say, Reading, in a single paragraph. My thinking will derive the % from on-going teacher assessment of the curriculum objectives – all 21 of them (Year 5&6 Reading). Learning Ladders looks good – but also expensive!

    Extension – absolutely let's assess against the year above when able to do so – otherwise a '3B' child enters Year 3 'exceeding' and makes no progress for the year! I even see the case for tracking both AT THE SAME TIME – for example making good progress in calculation, and reaching objectives in the year above, whilst not yet completing the Geometry objectives in the current year (because they've not been taught yet?) Children being children, their progress is bound not to be conveniently linear in all aspects of learning!

  8. Paul Batchelor
    on September 27, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    Now here's a thing – in old money ( levels) you could be a term 'off the pace' on entry to Year 6 and still attain a summer Level 4 (although probably not a secure/4b+) given progress at the expected rate. In the brave AWOL world, a term behind would mean 'not yet on the Year 6 curriculum' by Christmas. Is that behind, or not? So my interest currently is in the margins – how much deviation from 100% mastery is acceptable? ( In terms of time, 90% mastery represents around a month behind. Is this reportable as a cause for concern?)

  9. James Pembroke
    on September 27, 2014 at 8:55 pm

    Surely you know how much progress the pupil can make, and what he/she is capable of. You must know where they are and whether they are likely to meet the expected standard; and you can't rely on small percentage differences to be the oracle; it's your knowledge of child's ability and capability that is key. The data measures progress; it doesn't replace your judgement.

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