Assessment Point follow-up

Last night, via Twitter, I read Tom Sherrington‘s post about the formative use of summative assessment and that jolted me into thinking more carefully about how I was going to use the results from the Assessment Point tests. The Y12 tests did a pretty good job at splitting the pack – scores ranged from 8/30 to 27/30 – but it seems a bit daft to have that knowledge in a spreadsheet but do nothing with it. After all, why find out if someone’s underperforming if you’re not going to do anything about it?

I am fairly ambivalent about the use of re-tests, but I get the impression that several of our underperformers did little to no revision, and I want to get the message across that this is unacceptable – in the linear world we need students to be building a solid foundation, and that means that they need to be consolidating their knowledge properly right from the beginning. This time, the ‘pass’ mark was 15, a mere 50% (which is a D in the current BUSS3 paper) so everyone getting 15 or lower will be coming back at break time next week for a “chat” and a re-test.

Longer term, I think I’ll put the “pass mark” up a bit each time: that should encourage everyone to raise their game. There’s a danger that our weakest students will spend their lives in a cycle of test-and-re-test hell, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with high expectations, provided we’re giving them support rather than leaving them to flounder. At least regular tests will help to keep the content fresh!

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Assessment point 1

When I was planning the Scheme of Work for the new A-level Business course, I decided to introduce cumulative assessment points (APs) every few weeks – not only assessing the most recent work, but also checking everything covered in the course to date. I wrote a bit more about that here.

Time has ticked round, and it’s the first AP has arrived. Here is the paper for Assessment Point 1, testing all of Section 1, plus 5.1d and 5.2f (types of profit and profitability). Early results show that it’s been quite a reasonable differentiator.

My plan is to identify which questions were particularly troublesome and use those again (albeit with slightly different wording) in the next Assessment Point. The results are going onto the shared tracking spreadsheet, so everyone can compare results – I think we’ll have a look at those in our next department meeting and work out support strategies for those with the lowest marks.

Assessment points

One of the things I was very keen to introduce as HOD was a series of assessments that were common for every class. I couldn’t think of anything other than “Assessment Point” to call them, so that’s what they are (much as one of my Y13 tries to persuade me to call them pop quizzes!) For the Sixth Form, APs happen about every four weeks; this ties in with our school reporting timetable, so in theory it makes coherent sense.

In reality, what happened is that I forgot about the APs until the time when they were scheduled to happen, so everything has slipped a little – our first internal reports are due in a couple of days’ time, and Y12 have still to sit their first AP – but you can’t have everything all of the time. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself!

I was particularly keen to get the APs in place to help with consolidation – each AP tests all of the topics covered in the course to date, and this will mean that students are going back over their notes and revision materials on at least a monthly basis. This will be important for the linear course, but also for our Y13 students, some of whom are sitting on pretty uninspiring AS grades and need a structured reason to go back over their AS notes alongside the A2 stuff. Hopefully this spacing will help improve their recall, as well as helping to break down the compartmentalisation of knowledge; after all, A2 modules are synoptic.

The format of these APs is something that I’m less certain about, and it will be interesting to see how they develop over the next year or so. This time round it’s been short answers (and some multi-choice for the Y12), which is fine for subject content and great for marking(!), but I think that we need to move to longer answers as the pupils’ knowledge gets more robust. This can happen fairly quickly with Y13, but I’m less certain about when to move Y12 on to much longer answers in tests. We’ve already started writing explanations (and one class have had a go at an essay already), thinking about quality of written communication, but I’d rather spend a bit more time getting the written foundations in place before pushing them in an exam. Another thing to discuss at department meeting…!

A-level essays

I wrote my first 25-mark essay this evening, all about mission statements. I’ve made my pupils do it; it only seemed fair that I could provide them with my attempt as a model.

I worked on 1 minute per mark, and it was really, really tough to get through the points I’d wanted in the depth I thought was necessary. The essays appear in Paper 1, alongside 15 multi-choice questions and 35 marks of short-answer questions – it’s 100 marks in 120 minutes. Given that they will need time for choosing and planning their essays, 25 minutes writing struck me as being about the right allocation of time. I’m now reassessing this in the light of this evening’s efforts. The only solution is that they’re going to have to whizz through the multi-choice really quickly to free up time for the essays; this is going to make deep learning all the more important, so that recall is instantaneous.

I’m also struggling with knowing the depth that the examiners will expect – there’s a big difference between the existing BUSS4 40 marks and the new Paper 1 25 marks, but will this be reflected in the marking? Without exemplar material, I’m finding it really hard to know what standard is an A, and what is a B. This uncertainty makes me worried about predicting grades for school purposes, let alone for UCAS – I know we’re still a long way off that point, but there will be a time when we have to allocate a letter to each of our pupils. We’re hoping to get an examiner in to run departmental INSET focused on marking (I’m really happy to open this out for other local centres, if people would find this useful), and I’m sure there will be courses over the next few months, but until them I’m stabbing in the dark.

Excelling

When I first started teaching, back when the year began with a one not a two, I could only get the internet at home by using my mobile as a dial-up modem. I think the speed was 5kbps. Unsurprisingly, I therefore spent a lot of time in the IT room at school, which was the only reason why I got picked by the Head to teach GCSE IT in my second year. Playing on the internet can in no way be compared to using spreadsheets and databases and, suffice to say, the learning curve was awfully steep. Leaving the school at the end of that year was bittersweet – for all that I was going to miss my colleagues and pupils, there was no way I was going to miss Excel.

Until this week.

I’ve finally got round to the faffy spreadsheet jobs that seem to be part of the HOD job description these days, and boy am I wishing I could remember more of the stuff I had to teach! It’s taken a lot of trial’n’error, not to mention swearing under my breath, but I’ve finally managed to get a spreadsheet for each year group that we can use to track progress. It’s set up so that teachers can enter the results of the assessment point activities (which will be the same test for every class in each year) by class but the results will automatically transfer into an overall spreadsheet, so we can look at the year as a whole. That’s my plan anyway. I suspect that the mis-remembered formulae will let me down at some point, and I’ll have to go crying to the Excel wizards on the staff, but I’m going to pretend that it’s working.

My next job is to work out how to colour-code things. Then there will be no stopping me…

Coursework

The holidays are over (for me, at least!) and the first job on my To Do list is attack the department office. Although the room is used on a daily basis in term time – it’s where the kettle and fridge live! – there are lots of shelves full of debris accumulated over the years. First on my hit list is the mountain of GCSE coursework and controlled assessments. Some of them date back to 2006, back when coursework was actually coursework. These projects represent hours of work, for both the pupils and for us teachers who had to mark them. Although it pains me to throw out all that effort, it’s been a nice trip down memory lane: reminders of pupils who have long-since left and, in many cases, graduated or moved successfully into the world of work.

The new GCSE Business in 2017 is likely to be fully examined, rather than having a project component to the assessment. While this prospect gives me a massive feeling of relief (think of all the hours we’ll all save!) it does mean that pupils lose the chance to develop a set of business skills that can’t be assessed in an examination. The process of drafting, trialling, and then redrafting a market research questionnaire is hard to replicate in the exam hall. The opportunity to work with reasonably big sets of data is difficult in timed conditions. Would pre-released data overcome this, with questions asked in exam conditions? Possibly, although it still means that teachers will be under pressure to teach exactly to the test, so that little Jonny will be able to regurgitate the mean, median and mode of the data without any understanding of what this tells him.

The other thing I like about Controlled Assessment is that it consists of big, open-ended tasks – the 6 and 8 mark questions on the exam papers are nowhere near as demanding as producing a piece of extended writing for several hours. Could this type of task be replicated in an exam? It’s hard to see how, given the time constraints.

Ofqual are doing a consultation on the new GCSE course, so I guess I’d better add that to my To Do list. If you fancy it too, the document is here, with a deadline of September 24th.

The Lower Sixth exam

Martin Robinson (@SurrealAnarchy) wrote an interesting blog on linear A-levels this week (here). He comments unfavourably on the use of AS exams as a ‘mock’ halfway through the course, at the point when “the students should still be pondering and wondering not deciding and revising”. I am planning to use bits of AS papers for the L6th end-of-year exam, and I initially bridled, outraged, at Martin’s views. On re-reading, I think he is talking about making pupils sit the actual AS exam as part of a linear course, and I am in complete agreement. Luckily – for reasons more to do with fear of UCAS rather than any deep teaching philosophy – the school’s policy is that pupils taking linear subjects should not do AS exams. This does not move us away from the fact that, for the next academic year at least, we have a curriculum where Y12 pupils are starting with a mix of four linear and legacy courses and most will therefore have to make a choice about which subject to drop; for right or wrong, their result in our internal L6th exam is going to be an important influence on their decision-making.

Is it in our and their interests to give them a “little test” to keep the bureaucrats happy, as Martin suggests, or a more rigorous end-of-year exam? For all the philosophical debate, we have to make predictions for UCAS forms, and need some solid evidence upon which to base this.This is particularly important as the Business course is changing so radically that our intuitive assessments of expected grades are likely to be off: the recalibration of expectations will take a few years to happen, I suspect. We also have a duty of care to our pupils not to string them along – if they’re not going to do well in a Business exam, then they deserve to know this so they can make choices appropriately. All things considered, I shall stick with the plan of using bits of the AS papers for our end-of-year exam. Does this make me a bureaucrat, as Martin suggests? I don’t think so.

In general, though, I completely agree with Martin’s comments about the slow rthythms of a linear course. I am lucky in that I took linear A-levels, as did everyone else in the department; most of us have taught linear courses too. Between us, we’ve got a pretty good understanding of the way that knowledge needs to build slowly, and I hope that we will have the confidence to wait for that ‘penny drop’ moment, which often happens in Y13 rather than forcing everything together prematurely before an AS exam in Y12. The Lower Sixth should be a year for discovery, for investigation, for spending hours on the cricket pitch or tennis courts rather than swotting in a library. I’m looking forward to it.

Legacy exams in a linear world

I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to sort out my classroom – it’s a slow work in progress! – but I’ve felt a bit odd filing things back into my Y12 teaching folder. After all, the course is radically different next year: how will my folder of resources, built up over several years, be of use next year?

While the topic headings are pretty much the same between legacy and linear specifications, the approach is going to be very different: I suspect that a lot of the things I’ve developed so far are eventually destined for the big recycling bin in the sky. One thing that should transfer between specs are the past exam papers for BUSS2 and BUSS3: although the question style is different next year, there’s a wealth of data just waiting to be mined. In the linear course, most of ratio analysis appears in the second year, but it should be possible to use the BUSS3 papers with only minimal tweaking, particularly for the 34-mark questions which give a nice test of the interrelations between functional areas. The BUSS2 papers are a bit more tricky, but there is certainly enough data within them to meet the “10% quantitative” rule, and I envisage using the same case-studies but writing different questions that reflect the more theoretical nature of the new spec. BUSS1 papers are predominantly going to be used for quantitative questions – we might even sack the stories and just use the numbers!

We’ve decided that we’re going to use the 2016 AS paper(s) for our end-of-year internal exam (although school policy is that no-one does AS exams) as most of the questions will be of a similar style to those on the A-level paper. This means that we can use all of our legacy papers during the course without having to retain any for mock exams. I want to avoid using the AQA specimen papers for internal exams at any point during the first year of the course, so that they’re available for mocks in the run-up to the real thing. Besides, they’re all on the internet already, and I suspect that some pupils might perceive this as a revision short-cut!

To AS or not to AS? That is the question…

…that was asked on the TES resources page where I uploaded the Programme of Study. The school decision is to go purely linear, so no AS exams offered in any (new spec) subject, at least for the first couple of years. One of the major factors influencing this was the fact that the AS is a stand-alone qualification, so would have to be certificated and declared on UCAS forms when pupils were in Y13. Many of our pupils make significant improvements between AS and A2 exams at the moment, and therefore (at present) a weak performance at AS is not necessarily a true reflection of their final grade. In addition, one benefit of a linear course is that Y12 can become more of a year for wider learning, with opportunity to do lots of time-consuming extra-curricular activities without worrying about the impact on exam performance. Introducing an AS certainly loses that flexibility.

In terms of UCAS predictions, we’re going to have to use a rigorously marked internal exam at the end of summer term (timing to be decided by the powers that be!). It won’t be as reliable an indicator as a proper external exam, but at least it won’t be a blot on someone’s UCAS form. It may be that we can use the actual AS paper for the internal exam, but this will depend on timings and availability of the paper: I’ve yet to explore e-AQA in depth, so I have no idea how quickly papers become available: that’s another job added to the To Do list!

Skills

I’ve been looking over the specimen papers for the new Business course and I think we need to do more explicit teaching of quantitative skills, in particular to do with interpreting graphs as well as data in tables. I’m in two minds about how to approach this: should it be a ‘skill of the week’ approach, or just slotted in as and when it’s appropriate? The former means that it’s less likely to be overlooked, especially as there will be five of us teaching the new course. On the other hand, the latter might help to put the skills in context – using them in the way that pupils might find them in an exam paper. Either way, I think there needs to be a lot of practice of looking at data (A LOT!), possibly as part of each fortnightly ‘nothing new’ lesson. I must remember to add this in to the Scheme of Work.