Assessment Manager in the world “without levels”

Quite a delayed post here, following up on a very enlightening presentation from Rachael Marshman (@ RachMarshman – – new Product Manager for Assessment. Some of you may remember Rachael from her Local Authority days.

So, before we get into the main “beef” of how SIMS is going to address the changes in Assessment Guidelines – first, lets do a bit of a history lesson. There is also a fair bit of “myth busting” that needs doing here, explained Rachael.

The Assessment landscape from the DfE has been on the change – and here is what we know…

Dec 2013: Assessment principals and exemplars should have been available
Easter 2014: Assessment system should have been acquired or created
Spring 2014: If customization required, should have adopted
Summer 2014: Implemented and teachers taught

One small problem though, in December 2013, the Principals were promised “shortly”. This delay caused concern to educators, School Leaders and providers. Just to stoke the “fire” a bit more, in March 2014, the end of Key Stage (KS) National Performance was mentioned for first time. Finally, in April 2014, the Assessment Principals were published., and in May 2014 – a list of “works in progress” was also published. Still, bear in mind that in September 2014 – there was supposed to be the first teaching of new curriculum.

Fact: Publication in form of guidance and exemplars was significantly late

Where does that leave us for 2016? Well – we should, by that point, have a new style KS reporting mechanism. But, the old “levels” format will still be a hangover for Summer 14/15. However, test results will be recorded with a scaled score, not levels. That scaled score falls into three categories – >100 Exceeds, =100 Achieved, and <100 Working towards.

According to the DfE, assessment performance descriptions will be provided for Teachers and Leaders.  The general thread of thought on this is that it will provide a method for overall reporting based on performance scores not levels – including the application of phonic knowledge. This descriptions should have a detailed breakdown of knowledge needed at each stage, and set expectations what a child is able to do at the end of a Key Stage. Because, by nature, there is going to be a crossover period – P scales will be remaining, which will allow for the taking into account of children moving into the National Curriculum.

Time for a bit more myth busting! This one is quite a big one – and there is a lot of fear around it. Some believe that “Schools are banned from using NC levels”. This is completely false. It is correct (technically) that it is being removed, but that is because it is not updated to update the new curriculum. There, in theory, is nothing to stop or say that Schools cannot continue to use it if they want. However, and it is a big BUT (however) – Schools must be able to map them onto the chosen curriculum. This really applies to whatever system for assessment a School decides to use. I will return to that point later on – as it really is the key to what Rachael was telling us.

A sight rewind is needed now – to what was available now (as of end of June 2014). Its not good news sadly. The DFE expected market to respond – but, not surprisingly, no-one has wanted to make the first move. Some schools have, thankfully, been making slow progress driven by new curriculum. There have been systems designed by some Schools and Academy Trusts for their groups –  but the challenge is about measuring.

Rachael went on to say “…this doesn’t mean the transition away from levels is going to be without its challenges. What it does mean is that there is a real opportunity for schools to embrace systems that can be tailor-made to suit their specific school assessment policies and chosen curriculum pathways. And the beauty is, it doesn’t have to be complicated!”

Some commercial organisations have also made tentative steps into the market, but the barrier is that no descriptors have been published and won’t be until December at earliest. On a positive note, these are supposed to be “out for comment” in September.

So, with this in mind where do Schools go from here?

Schools going “on their own” is one option – not a good one really –  but it is better than standing still.  Clusters and Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) sharing ways forwards is a better choice. Some have been doing this already –  shared curriculum planning, with knowledge and progress. The result has been some limited exemplars, which gained assistance via the Innovation fund. It is important to note that these are not prescriptions, or policy. This is simply the emergence of good practice – for example the Steps/blocks and learning ladders approach.

The principal is that an assessment policy needs developing in a school. What form this takes – is up for discussion.

Achievement (A>D)  and effort (1-4)  scores. These are standard defined measures. Eg b2 (which is expected). These are used internally, and mapped to external comments.

Next, do you have anything in place to track – and key to this is – at a Granular level; with relevant knowledge descriptors. Then you have a choice to make. Is your school looking to record individual achievements? Are these linked to the curriculum? If so, do you customize the descriptors to match the content? Finally – how do reports appear? These largely depend on whether the school is looking to record overall summative “general” judgments or granular “subject” and “module/topic” progress comments.

This is where the new terminology and language of Entering > Developing > Achieving comes in.

What are Capita and Rachael’s team doing about this – and how will SIMS as a product evolve to match this landscape change? Well – for a start, the Assessment part of SIMS is getting a much needed overhaul. This is partly driven by the change in guidelines, but also as a reflection of the critical nature of accurate and complete progress tracking. Really, there have been three drivers for the developments being seen in Assessment Manager…

  • the increased focus on student progress measures for school accountability by both the DfE and OFSTED
  • the new National Curriculum due for implementation for most students in KS1,KS2 and KS3 in September 2014
  • customer requests for assessment resources they can get started on quickly and easily

The first part of the changes is visible in the Summer release of SIMS. It is important to know that this is by no means complete – and there will be further changes to come as the landscape becomes clearer. For starters, Data Managers everywhere will be pleased to hear that there will be an increasing number of predefined templates available to import, as well as general enhancements to functionality, designed to make it easier to use and also importantly to support.

Schools will have seen in the Summer release, that Capita have “boxed off” the two options for getting started with the new style Assessment and Curriculum Systems – Assessment with levels and Assessment without levels. Phil Neal (Managing Director, Capita SIMS) told me “…with the new curriculum assessment tracking on the horizon, we’ve ensured SIMS provides schools with the flexibility of choice: to continue to use assessment levels, to use tracking grids with the new national curriculum statements, or to design their own assessment scheme”.

Enhanced KS1/2 progress tracking templates have been added in the Summer Release – along with new style “visual grids” and analysis options for core subjects. Also included is the new Assessment progress grid – designed to support the new curriculum.

“Teachers can use the Progress Grid to record whether a pupil is below expected, at expected or above expected knowledge at termly intervals for both the statutory and non-statutory requirements.”

This is a work in progress – but from it, you can see subjects, strands, expected knowledge, and next steps. For Data Managers and those involved in the analysis of the data – a mapping tool is available to match up school “levels” and “indicators” to those provided by Capita/DfE.

What is clear from the development path, is that SIMS Assessment will continue to support the use of levels for as long as schools find the resources useful – meanwhile, new resources are being developed and added as more information becomes available. This is a clear commitment from Rachael and Capita. The expectation is that this will evolve over time following consultancy group meetings with the DfE, NAHT, ASCL and other leading bodies.

Autumn will see the addition of another new component – SIMS School Report, which will display key statistics in a simple, easy to read report. This is similar to RaiseOnline. This is important given the increased focus on student progress measures for school accountability by both the DfE and OFSTED. On that note – another myth to bust!

“Ofsted will have a preferred assessment system against which they will judge a school” – False!

The expectation is being able to communicate the system – whatever it is – to them; and show that teachers, parents and students understand. This links quite well into a previous article about Ofsted and the Inspection routine – which can be found here.

Rachael told us that after researching existing practices and seeing for herself “proven working examples of how some outstanding schools have been living without ‘levels’ for a while now” she was getting a little excited. As we hope has been evident throughout this article – this is the commitment to the journey into a new world of assessment. Levels are going and they will not be replaced. Ongoing collaboration with schools, local authorities, education leaders and support teams will be essential to help manage this change as smoothly as possible.

Thanks also to Rachael Marshman, Graham Cooper and Phil Neal


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