Notes on making good progress?: Chapter 6

In this series of posts I record my notes from Daisy Christodolou’s book “Making good progress? The future of Assessment for Learning” It is quite excellent. You can buy a copy here.

Life after ‘Life after levels’: creating a model of progression

The two assessment systems described in the previous two chapters suffer from the same flaws:

  • The expect the same assessment to produce two very different inferences
  • lead to overgrading and overtesting
  • lead to unhelpful feedback
  • lead to the measurement of formative progress with summative grades
  • inadvertently encourage a focus on short-term performance and discourage long-term learning.

The purpose of a grade is to describe performance not measure progress. No assessment system can succeed unless it is based on a clear and accurate understanding of how pupils make progress in difference subjects.

Assessments have to be selected and designed with reference to their purpose. Different assessments serve different purposes and have to be designed accordingly. We cannot rely on one assessment or style of assessment for the all the assessment information we need. Pupils who get better at decoding phonemes do become better readers; those who establish a clear sequence of historical events do get better at source analysis.

A good assessment system must not only clarify the current state and the goal state, which is can do through the use of summative assessments, but it must also establish a path between the two: the model of progression.

Textbooks have a role here. They can be used to communicate the the model of progression. In science they provide exemplars, it is noted in Kuhn’s work that scientists gain expertise by learning many examples. Textbooks offer an effective and detailed way of communicating a progression model.

Modern textbooks can look very different to the older ones, as they can now be online and do not have to feature just prose.

A progression model needs to be specific, not generic, and it needs to break complex skills down into small tasks that do not overload pupil’s limited working memories. As the model builds, pupils will be able to manage more complex tasks because they have memorised and automated the initial steps, but the model must start with the basics.

It will look different in different subjects and for different concepts within the same subject. Teachers are required to make decisions about what tasks are most likely to lead to the attainment of the end goal in that particular topic.

We need to clarify what the final aim of education is and we must use these aims not exam success to build our progression model. Exams are only samples of wider domains and because of this, there will always be ways of doing them well that do not lead to genuine learning. However if we set mastery of a domain as a goal the exams will be valid measures.

Goodhart’s law: when a measure becomes a target it loses it’s value as a measure.

If our end goal is success on an exam we will end up with a progression model which leads to exam success but not to the wider goals we really want.

Teaching to the test and exam prep does not correspond to the problems that students will face in real life so, if they have focussed excessively on these types of questions it will compromise the validity of the results.

If pupils are graded every term or every few weeks and dramatic improvements are expected then cramming and teaching to the test is likely the only methods that will provide short term improvements.

Memorising the right thing vs the the wrong thing is exemplified by memorising model essays or memorising lines of poetry. Memorising poetry  helps pupils move towards the end goals of the English curriculum in ways that are not achieved by memorising essays.

How should we make decisions about what knowledge is worth remembering and what isn’t? Daniel Willingham provides some pointers – how could these be applied in group 4 specifically bio?

Lessons should be viewed in the context of the progression model. Remembering somethings will create meaning, other not so much. The same lesson may or may not create meaning depending on the sequence it is part of. It is possible for a lesson to be highly effective if part of one sequence and ineffective if part of another.

In establishing a progression model we first have to establish what it is we want a pupil to be able to achieve. We have to define this in terms of the fundamental concepts we want them to master, not in terms of exam success.

Isobel Beck recommend a list of 400 words per year to be taught for the first 10 years of education. The research on teaching vocabulary also  suggests that pupils learn examples of vocabulary in context rather than definitions.

Subjects may not always be the best way to think about progression models. Some traditional subjects have arbitrary content. Some subjects have content that is in other subjects in different national systems.

Progression models should be focussed on concepts that we want students to acquire. The metaphor of marathon training for a progression model is particularly helpful

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