Otherwise entitled: The least popular person in the school.
Yesterday, I had a flash forward 6 months to see what my life is going to be like in September. A Pupil Progress Meeting (for a year group who are still currently assessing with levels) had finished and we ended up having a casual chat about assessment. My colleague was asking lots of questions about Optional SATs, reading tests and other assessment methods. My year group are currently the only year group flying the ARE flag, carving a way through the assessment minefield to find some workable approach to ascertain how our children are performing. This has been a very long, very slow and VERY painful process, with our year group feeling quite isolated in this mission. We have deliberately kept quite quiet about our approaches amongst the other staff, as a) up until now, I have actually had very little idea about what we were going to do, and b) I wanted to get everything sorted properly before talking to other year groups about it. However, my colleague was very insistent last night, and so I ended up giving her some information (albeit very vague) about what life was going to be like in September. The look that registered on her face could only be described as horror: was I really going to ask teachers to assess children with NO form of level and NO tests to help them to do it? To be honest, the answer to that question is ‘yes’, I am.
At that point last night, I suddenly realised the level of resistance that I am going to face. Up until now, I have focussed solely on my part in all of this: working out what we are going to do, introducing it to my teaching partner and giving it all a go. So far, so good. My TP has been brilliant in all of this: I have thrown tests and assessment grids and bits of paper at her, and she has tried it all out with me. A fair amount of it hasn’t worked, but she’s been alongside me as we’ve just bumbled on and tried something else. The most impressive part of it all has been her enthusiasm; it’s a rubbish job, being the teaching partner of an Assessment Leader, but she’s embraced it all. I need to capture some of her enthusiasm (which I’m sure is mostly for my benefit; she probably groans inwardly when I suggest another afternoon together to “thrash things out”!) and get her to spread it to the rest of the staff. I know there will be a huge amount of insecurity amongst many people. “Professional judgement” is something that many of us have either lost or never developed, having relied far too heavily on tests to provide assessment data. How many times do we say “I’ve given this child a 2a. That’s what they got on their test, but actually they’re a 3c.”? Why? Why do we do it? If our professional judgement has told us they are a 3c, why are we undermining it because of their performance in one test on one day? I know that, ultimately, their performance is assessed at the end of their primary career through a test, but for me, Teacher Assessment is far more useful and certainly more accurate. Staff need to redefine and reapply their professional judgement as we enter this new way of assessing. The language we use will be different, and the criteria we assess against is new; this will all take time for staff to familiarise themselves with, but the principles remain the same: work out what the children can do, work out what they can’t do, and make a judgement against the year’s objectives. Of course I’m going to provide the staff with guidance, and of course we will need to plan time to moderate, but teachers should be excited by this new autonomy. Teachers will finally get to use their own expertise to make judgements on their children. No more endless marking of tests (although we have just purchased in some new maths tests as part of “Mission: Figure This Assessment Mess Out.” They will be a useful tool for checking understanding, but they certainly won’t be providing an exclusive assessment). We won’t need to have an Assessment Week three times a year where all forms of learning go out of the window in favour of testing. Instead, we will pay much closer attention over the whole year to how our children are performing and where the gaps in their learning are. We will use our Assessment Points as a time to collate information. It’s going to take a huge change in attitude and in practice, but I am convinced that it will be a change for the better. It will just take the performance of my career so far to convince everyone else of this too.