NC Levelling vs Standardised tests (goalonline, Yacapaca) or both?

Introduction

As the Head of an ICT department that covers Nursery through to Year 11, planning and assessment can sometimes get quite difficult.  I teach Y8 upwards, but have wonderful co-ordinators for KS2 and 3.  We have tried to establish consistency throughout each key stage so that a child’s progress can be more easily measured; however, the school’s leaders do not always agree on this same need for consistency.

Levelling

We are not tied by the National Curriculum as we are an Independent School and as such have, in my 10 years at the school, endeavoured to look at the NC Levels and where possible make our own judgements about what we should be teaching and how these topics should be taught.  That was until last year!  With an inspection looming, school leaders decided that we should introduce levelling into KS2.  OK, not essentially a problem, apart from the fact that the levels required were those of the NC and therefore did not reflect accurately what was being achieved in our school.  At times we would be covering work that wasn’t on the NC level and this couldn’t be judged, whilst other times, we consciously omitted some elements and therefore fell down when assessing against that attainment target.

At the end of the last academic year, my KS2 co-ordinator produced levels for SMT that were her best judgement of what the pupils had achieved; however, these where questioned as they seemed higher than the comparable English, Maths and Science levels.  A compromise was reached where some levels were reduced!

Standardised key skills tests – goalonline

In June of last year, at extremely short notice, we were told that the students would be sitting ‘key skills’ tests online using a company called goalonline (owned by EDI).  Again, not a problem as useful data about a pupils progress can only be a positive thing.  Against better judgement, the tests were not trialled in the school and went live immediately, causing huge headaches.  In English, Maths and Science the tests ran relatively smoothly, although the time allocated was too short which meant that pupils rushed, although the tests in these subjects could be saved so that the pupil could return to the test and carry on from where they left off.  The ICT test was completely different:  pupils were expected to complete 40 questions in 40 minutes!  They could not save their work so were very rushed for time.  Emulation software was used that did not look or feel anything like MS Office that the pupils used.  Several questions were difficult to interpret, meaning that it was not the pupils’ ICT skills that were being judged.  We use a skills based curriculum for ICT, whilst the test also focussed on the ‘theory’ elements.

Standardised levelling tests – yacapaca

Despite these goalonline tests being taken in June, I did not receive the results from them until October.  Due to my lack of confidence in the results that I expected, I decided to seek another test (I know, possibly not the wisest thing to do!).  My option this time was Yacapaca and the KS3 assessment which is multiple choice based.  In hindsight, this again did not test a pupils skills but rather there knowledge of different terms and definitions.  The tests ran much more smoothly than goalonline, although did take 1.5 40 minute lessons as the site says that to get accurate results each level needs to be done twice.  The results that we got back did not correlate with the ones from goalonline or indeed our own levelling!  Some pupils scored higher and some lower with very few scoring consistent levels.

Interpretation of the results

In the space of a couple of months I had received three sets of conflicting results from three different methods of levelling.  My (possibly over simplistic) conclusion was that the tests, apart from being a huge interruption to my pupils learning, did not test what the students had been taught.  As a result of this, the pupils could not possibly score favourably as they were being assessed on work that they hadn’t done and not what they had done.  I would expect my end of KS2 pupils to mostly be scoring L5.  The most common levels were 3 and 4.

Where next?

My immediate reaction was that as the school wanted to achieve statistically better NC levels, I should revert back to ensuring that our schemes covered only what was contained in the NC attainment targets.   This would be a step too far as it would mean, in my opinion, that we could no longer teach some skills and would be stuck with others that we didn’t want to include.  Before making any solid decisions, I opened the NC attainment targets again to see exactly what they said.  As everyone here knows, they are quite vague and can be interpreted in many different ways.  What I needed to do was to rewrite them in such a way that they would be much easier to understand both by the pupil and the teacher.  The rewritten statements should also lend themselves so that they can be identified directly in our SoW.

The power of twitter

When I put my concerns about rewriting these statements on Twitter @ianaddison advised that his school “found the NC levels hard to follow, so we made up new ones (sort of based on the originals).”  Ian also sent me the link for his great site ICT Planning which has this introduction The purpose of this site is to give teachers an overview of different tools throughout the school and how they can be used to achieve objectives and levels. Although this is aimed at the teachers within my school, it has been made public so that others can use it as well.”  @dan_bowen also suggested a tool that he had created for levelling and I am keen to discuss further with him exactly how he does this – watch this space!

 

Looking through Google Reader last night using FlipBoard I came across a post by Claire Lotriet on her tweecher blog titled ‘creating a new ICT curriculum.”  Here, Claire has kindly shared her ICT curriculum map as a very easy to understand table of “I Can” statements.  Like Ian, she has also started a resource bank for her school which again, she has kindly shared online.

Conclusion

There is incredible support to be found on twitter and on different Blogs, showing that many teachers have been, are going or about to go through similar situations to ourselves.  This has lifted my spirits and inspired me to move forwards with creating our own descriptors rather than changing our curriculum (although I will take a close look at that as well!)

  1. I feel that rather than foolishly matching our curriculum to standardised tests, I must first establish exactly which bits of the NC we wish to keep and which additional ideas we wish to introduce.
  2. I am happy with the idea of levelling as a means to demonstrate the progression of a pupil but not as the only method of assessment.
  3. I need to convince SMT that this is the best route forward and that it would hold up in an inspection (I truly believe that it will!).
  4. I need to complete “I can” statements for KS3
  5. I need to borrow / amend ideas from Ian, Claire and Dan if they allow
  6. I need to closely match the “I can” statements to our SoW.
  7. I need to borrow / amend / add ideas from existing resource banks created by Ian and Claire if they allow
  8. Most importantly, I need to share my ideas!
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4 comments on “NC Levelling vs Standardised tests (goalonline, Yacapaca) or both?

  1. Hello, thanks for the mention in your blog post. It was very interesting read for me! I’d be interested to see your ‘I can’ statements for KS3 to see the connections and differences to my KS2 ones. I often wonder about the transition to secondary. Feel free to borrow, use and amend anything I have shared on my blog. If you need anything further just yell.

  2. Sad to hear your experience with Yacapaca was not 100% positive. I have to agree with the core of your conclusion, that if you test what you have not taught, you are going to get fairly random results. And I sympathise with your dilemma: do you try to conform to the ingloriously-vague National Curriculum, or do you teach your own non-standard syllabus that is clearly-defined and understood?

    My first thought when I read this was that may have made a mistake in going straight for the ICT Baseline tests. They are just one of over 9,500 courses in Yacapaca; a little digging would probably turn up something better-suited. If you want to have another go, give me a shout and I will be delighted to see how I can help.

    • Thank you for your comment. I shall, as you suggest, have a dig to see if their is something more suitable and would welcome any help or pointers. Maybe it would be better to write our own questions?

      • You certainly could, and Yacapaca will support that. Writing good questions with valid formative feedback is more work than you might realise; a quicker route than starting from scratch would be to find some assessments that come close to meeting your need, and adapt them.

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