Thursday, 16 April 2015

Assessment Without Levels: Catholic RE AWOL

What do you do when your school is moving over to a whole new system of assessing Key Stage 3 students but the directive from the Bishops of England and Wales is that Levels need to stay, certainly for the time being? 
  1. Tell your school leaders that the Bishop's directive supersedes that of the school and keep with Levels in RE despite being the only subject to be doing so?
  2. Find a way that can keep both the school and the Bishop's happy (possibly!)?
Option one is problematic. Many parents still struggle to fully understand Levels, at many parent's evenings a number just ask, "But how are they getting on? Are they about right for Y8?". I usually then give them an estimate of where students should be and usually they are happy. There is already a lot written about Levels, their wrong implementation and use as a tool of assessment and progression. Imagine if you were the one subject left using Levels? Any new system will hopefully be clearer and easier for students and parents to understand, would RE be then left behind? The subject that is the 'core of the core' in a Catholic school would, potentially, be facing a difficult struggle.

We went for option two, or are in the process of trying to. This feels problematic as I feel like I am trying to "please two Masters"; the school (including the students and the parents) and the Bishops. This is not a criticism of the Bishops, as a lot of time and effort was put into the The Religious Education Curriculum Directory (3-19) for Catholic Schools and Colleges. This is designed to provide guidance for the RE classroom curriculum in Catholic schools (see <here>). It is also a key benchmark for any Section 48 inspection.

My school are going for a Required Standard model. Each subject will devise it's own standards and students will then be measured as being Working Towards, Working At or Working Above. Again this is still very much a work in progress and there are still some things to be worked out with this system (Has anyone worked out how a student who spends the whole of Key Stage 3 'Working Towards' is demonstrating progress? Is it enough to say standards are going up so they must be making progress?

I wasn't keen to 'mix and match' statements from the Curriculum Directory, so the tough decision was where to pitch the Required Standards. I decided upon:
  • Y7 - Level 5 criteria
  • Y8 - Level 6 criteria
  • Y9 - Level 7 criteria
Initial feedback from some colleagues was this was too high, but I felt only expecting students to get to L6 by the end of Key Stage 3, particularly when 51% of students got L7 or L8 in RE in 2014 [53% in 2013 and 58% in 2012], was not a high enough expectation. 

This is what the Y7 Required Standards looks like (click to enlarge). We use The,Way, the Truth and The Life syllabus (see <here>) and this is what the units/key words refer to:

This uses the three strands from the Curriculum Directory (although the third is not assessed), and in order that of future Section 48 inspectors can see that we are still referring to the Levels, we have used their criteria word for word. Until there comes a point when this is reviewed or changed, it does seem to make sense to continue to use these. If nothing else, at least it aims for some consistency between Catholic schools.

Our current assessments will need adaptation (see an example of our current assessments <here>) so that there is a clearer example of what these Standards will look like. Also we have been trying to improve consistency across the department over the last few years and this will be important to maintain; this is one reason our percentage of L7 and L8 students have gone down slightly over the last 3 years.

This is most definitely a 'gained time' project for when Y11 and Y13 leave and I full realise there is much work to do in ensuring the best possible system in place for September 2015. Equally, I think there needs to be a realisation that it will take a few years to tweak and perfect. 

Any constructive criticism that can be provided, or things I haven't thought out, would be much appreciated. 

Download our draft document for Key Stage 3 <here>

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