Progression: develop towards an improved or more advanced condition
Standard: a level of quality or attainment
So now that NC levels are toast (although I heard a teacher in a classroom next to me talking to her class about what levels they were going to get) a lot of teachers are quite rightly considering what they are going to do to replace it so that they can continue to assess pupils appropriately.
I hated levels with a passion. I remember years ago being asked to convert the levels we got in official documents into “pupil-speak”. This helped convince me that levels were largely useless. I get the rationale behind them but the theory did not translate into practice at all.
Another key issue is that levels are essentially divorced from a curriculum. They may contain references to what pupils are going to be doing in class but essentially in the last school I was at where levels were used extensively we were fitting what we needed to teach into the demands of the levels. This seemed incredibly artificial to me and limiting on the nature of what we were teaching.
Before I go any further I will just get out of the way where I stand on knowledge and skills. Pupils need to be taught good, detailed and challenging subject knowledge but they, especially in my subject, need to also develop the skills to use that knowledge effectively.
So given that levels are useless and knowledge and skills are key to a decent curriculum, how do you assess progress? I think that progression is a bit of a red-herring, or a false god (whichever mildly pejorative term fits here) . Perhaps we have in the past focussed too much on whether the pupil is progressing and not on whether the curriculum is progressing effectively.
If the focus remains squarely on the curriculum then assessment boils down to testing pupils on either their understanding of the curriculum or their ability to use what they have been taught (depending on whether you are testing for knowledge or skills). So how do you measure how a pupil is progressing from year to year?
If I have a pupil in my class who is intelligent, works very hard and grasps concepts at a very good level I might expect them to be achieving let’s say 80 to 90 percent on average in my subject assessments. Year after year I would expect that pupil to be continuing to hit marks in that range. That’s not progression but rather maintaining an effective standard in that subject. That same pupil in another subject might be way down simply because they are not very good at that subject. Back in my subject if that same pupil starts dropping in her marks that may be because the topic has changed and they are struggling a bit more. I identify that as a teacher and work with them to bring them back up to their standard.
Levels in a sense were like ladders, pointless (and frustrating to the pupil) if there was some nebulous goal at the top saying you had “achieved the highest level” whilst meanwhile you couldn’t get off level 4. Standards are more like being able to maintain a fast pace on a bike. You may drop off over a difficult bit like a hill but with practice and determination you might be able to do it a bit faster next time. The other point though with being on a bike compared to a ladder is that a ladder stops at some point whereas a bike ride can go on and on for as long as you theoretically like.
This to me is the final nail in the coffin of levels. They never fitted what I understand to be the excitement and challenge of continuing to learn and explore in a subject area. You never reach a finishing point in any field where you ‘understand it all’ and levels therefore remained a kludge in order to suit the demands of showing that your pupils are progressing. Keeping the focus on the depth, breadth and excitement of a challenging curriculum is what will ensure pupils reach and maintain the standards they are capable of.
ps: I need to get back on my bike tomorrow …