Give me a decent ladder to climb…

After listening to Tim Oates tell us all about why levels are out, I think I’m looking forward  now to assessing without them, and I feel a lot less apprehensive.

Already there’s a change in the air – people are talking a lot more about specific steps in learning rather than who’s a level 3 or who’s only a 2!  It’s no wonder we got too into the numbers though, everyone around us did, and quite honestly it’s very hard for teachers not to fixate on learning in a narrow way when everyone who’s judging them is fiercely and mercilessly holding a telescopic sight on the numbers too.

The problem was the preoccupation with ‘levels over learning;’ no one meant to do it, it just crept up on us, didn’t it? Although I don’t agree with everything Tim Oates has said, I do agree that pressure for ‘getting through the levels’ rather than  mastering and describing progress  has meant many children have been pushed through levels without learning some aspects of learning properly. SLT wanted ‘the levels,’ parents wanted ‘the levels,’ and teachers (desperately) wanted ‘the levels,’ and pupils had to get ‘the levels,’ and often even became the levels:  ‘How many levels 3s in your class?’ This isn’t wrong in itself, but is it if that’s all you hear, and all the time.

Part of the reason this happened is the top down assessment system that kept flinging assessment tools at teachers who then jumped on them to get …. you’ve guessed it, ‘levels’ rather than describing progress, which means nothing more than talking about learning in detail– which levels didn’t do, or stopped doing in a positive way that directly affected class teaching.

An instance of this, that I’m sure will be held up as an example of the ills of micro-managing schools, assessment and teachers, was APP (or as I call it, ‘absurdly, pain-staking paperwork’). For me, APP is an assessment system hell bent on describing the minutia of steps in learning to such lengths that much of it no one really understands. All those strange sections, often repeated with different synonyms for different levels (to show progression?) and that terrible feeling of ticking things that you thought might be what you found evidence for, but what the hell tick it anyway because you’ve just got to move through that level, right?  You say this to teachers, and all of sudden you get this broad smile of shared relief because we all thought it was ‘just me’ who felt like this, and that everyone else understood each of those ATs that seemed to have been written on the planet ‘Verbosia,’ in a distance galaxy called ‘Impractica’.

Anyway, as I’ve said before, the new assessment learning ladders better be the antithesis of the APP ladders. Pupils better be able to read them and know what they mean, parents and, yes teachers too! They should also be simple and focus on assessing what’s essential learning rather than trying to assess every detail. As Michael Tidd pointed out, if your learning ladders have things like, ‘Can chose the right equipment for writing,’ alarm bells should start ringing. His ‘things to ask of any new assessment system’ is spot on and worth looking at on his blog

Let’s hope ‘LearningLadders’ will save us the time and produce something coherent and simple for pupils, parents and teachers to use to learn, assess, teach and plan with– instead of all that bureaucratic, managerial ticking!  If not, I suggest schools agree what a pupil in each year group should achieve in reading, writing and maths in no more than ten bullets point for each and create your own ladders. However, it would be better to do it all together though and build a coherent system with which we can communicate on learning. Here’s looking at you Learning Ladders!

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