Nothing to lose? Putting teacher judgement to the test
It is almost 20 years since one of the most important sea changes in education took place. In 1998, Paul Black and Dylan William published a research review that claimed to establish strong evidence that formative assessment can raise standards of pupil achievement, but that the assessment practices entailed were not implemented in most classrooms. It inaugurated the concept of Assessment for Learning, which produced a model of academic progress in schools based on National Curriculum levels. The authors prepared a short summary of their work for teachers, called Inside the Black Box, and it was a gamechanger.
It could be argued that no single document in recent history has had a greater effect on the daily working life of teachers. Frequent leveling of students became a novel way of assessing how effective lessons really were and whether teacher practices that had been used since time immemorial were actually doing much good. In turn, this put a new emphasis on pedagogical technique and educational research. The idea that progress should be evident for every child in every lesson was nothing short of a revolution.
However, in recent years, National Curriculum levels have been dropped and Dylan William has been clear in his disapproval of how the educational establishment used his research. Yet the response by many schools has not been to celebrate, but to create their own alternative level systems instead.
What’s going on? Was Assessment for Learning a worthwhile project, a welcome corrective to decades of teacher complacency? Or did it mark the beginning of the end of teacher autonomy and the rise of a new bureaucratic approach to teaching?
Is there a ‘life after levels’ - an alternative way to measure progress? For that matter, isn’t the whole notion of ‘progress’ part of the legacy of Assessment for Learning anyway? With a new emphasis on knowledge entering educational discourse, what does it mean to be knowledgeable? Have schools always struggled to capture the actual learning achieved by their pupils? Is the task virtually impossible in reality?
This Education Forum debate seeks to tackle these questions head on. We are delighted to welcome two brilliant speakers to help us do so.
Daisy Christodoulou is head of assessment at the Ark Academy chain. She is also author of Making Progress, which met with a strong positive critical reception after its recent publication, in which she argues for a new model of assessment based on the idea of comparative judgement.
Mark Taylor, vice principal of the East London Science School, has interrogated the notion of progress throughout his career in an attempt to determine the best way to measure success in education.
Surely one of the most important things a school does is test its pupils. But what is the difference, if any, between testing and educating? What happens when testing drives the system? And maybe most important of all, who is really being tested - the student, the teacher or the system?
Listen to the opening remarks here: