Attainment targets and levels were introduced with the national curriculum in 1988. When the new national curriculum was published in 2014, new forms of assessment were developed to align with its content and principles. From September 2015, national curriculum levels will no longer be used for statutory assessments.
The rationale for the removal of levels
Despite being intended only for use in statutory national assessments, too frequently levels also came to be used for in-school assessment between key stages in order to monitor whether pupils were on track to achieve expected levels at the end of key stages. This distorted the purpose of in-school assessment, particularly day-to-day formative assessment.
Too often levels became viewed as thresholds and teaching became focused on getting pupils across the next threshold instead of ensuring they were secure in the knowledge and understanding defined in the programmes of study. Depth and breadth of understanding were sometimes sacrificed in favour of pace. Levels also used a ‘best fit’ model, which meant that a pupil could have serious gaps in their knowledge and understanding, but still be placed within the level. This meant it wasn’t always clear exactly which areas of the curriculum the child was secure in and where the gaps were.
The purposes and principles of assessment
The overriding principle of good assessment is that it should be clearly tied to its intended purpose. There are three main forms of assessment: in-school formative assessment, which is used by teachers to evaluate pupils’ knowledge and understanding on a day-today basis and to tailor teaching accordingly; in-school summative assessment, which enables schools to evaluate how much a pupil has learned at the end of a teaching period; and nationally standardised summative assessment, which is used by the Government to hold schools to account. Good formative assessment ranges from the probing question put to a pupil as they think something through; quick recap questions at the opening of a lesson; scrutiny of the natural work of pupils; right through to formal tests.
To use each form of assessment to best effect, it is important that teachers and school leaders understand their various purposes. Schools must be clear why pupils are being assessed, what the assessment is intended to achieve and how the assessment information will be used.
Here at Rainford HIgh we have adopted an approach where are assessment has clear aims and how they can be achieved by each and every pupil.
Commission on Assessment without Levels (2015).