Science Assessment Ladders

Key Stage One Individual Pupil Science Assessment Record with pupil assessment (1)

Lower Key Stage 2 Individual Pupil Science Assessment Record with pupil assessment

Upper Key Stage 2 Individual Pupil Science Assessment Record

These are phase group science learning ladders for the primary science curriculum. As a precursor to using them, I assume hopefully that teachers are using the pupil’s prior science learning as a basis for planning what to teach rather than grabbing plans from books or on-line and just teaching, this is very old hat transmission teaching and kills science! Even better, I hope teachers are allowing children to get excited by a topic, encouraging them to ask questions about the topic and then using those questions to form the basis of the children’s science investigations.


I recommend then using these science learning ladders in the following ways:


  • To baseline assess science knowledge before a topic by for example having a ‘what do you know’ session, or a little quiz type assessment.
  • To assess science skills and knowledge as children learn – the best way to assess!
  • To summarise learning at intervals if needed (like termly or at the end of the year for reporting to parents).
  • To ensure/monitor phase group coverage and thus allow for a more fluid, child led learning cycle.
  • To ensure progression from one year to the next and avoid repetition of learning. Copies should be handed on to the next teacher each year too.
  • For gaps analysis in knowledge so you and the children know where they need to go next. Although, I would say, if you’re providing/allowing a rich child-led enquiry basis for science learning you will find that these relatively simple knowledge objectives are easily learnt. Also please avoid telling the children ‘what they will learn today’ in science as this destroys the ‘finding out’ aspect that is at the core of science learning. Leave sharing the knowledge learning intention until the end – a grand finale! Or better, let them tell you what they learnt and then let them tick it off on the ladder! Magic!
  • For gaps analysis in science skills learning. This will indicate which types of enquiry the children need to do in order to practice specific skills. Then you can choose the children’s questions that fit these enquires. Remember there are five types of enquiry the children need to try in order to hone the necessary scientific skills within working scientifically: Observing over time 2) Identifying and Classifying 3) Pattern seeking 4) Fair testing 5) Research.  The type of enquiry depends on the type of question raised. It is important teachers and children understand this and do not always resort to ‘a fair test’ whenever they do an investigation. A fair test is only one type of investigation and only answers questions which seek to compare variables. Like this, a fair test is one of five different ways to investigate a science question and teachers need to ensure all five ways are used to answer class questions. More can be read about this by reading ‘It’s not Fair,’ by Jane Turner, Brenda Keogh and Stuart Naylor . I also have a powerpoint on it too which I will post. Importantly, children don’t just learn skills through osmosis, they need them modelling and then they need to practice at them so they develop and become more systematic. So don’t forget to model them well; show them what it’s like being scientific!
  • Previously, I have posted science assessment ladders that have three columns of assessment such as working towards, achieving and exceeding. However, as I have thought about this it doesn’t make sense to try to assess each skill or knowledge criteria like this. For example, ‘to know how the rotation of the earth results in day and night’; you either know this or you don’t so it makes no sense to say working towards knowing this, achieving knowing this or exceeding knowing this. It’s a case of OSD ‘obsessive sub-dividing disorder’ if you start doing that for criteria that are either yes or no!
  • The terms ‘working towards’, ‘achieving’ or ‘exceeding’ should apply to the assessment of the child’s whole learning journey through the phase group learning ladder. However, I would err on the side of caution with ‘exceeding’ as this is a mastery science curriculum and we should think of children going wider rather than further. This means rather than ticking off the learning ladder and then dipping into the next phase group’s learning, teachers should provide rich opportunities for more able children to be challenged in their scientific thinking and to investigate their own questions at a deeper level (think Blooms taxonomy).
  • Importantly, these ladders should also form the basis of frequent phase group moderation in school, and even better still, between schools. Questions at the heart of this should be those such as, ‘what does it look like if a child is working within Year 3 for science?’  ‘Or what does it look like if a child is working towards Year 3?’ Bring your science books and folders let’s share. However, on the table should also be questions such as: ‘what does ‘to understand that light is reflected from surfaces’ look like? or ‘what do we mean ‘ask relevant questions and use different types of scientific enquiries to answer them?’ etc. This means schools are building up a repertoire of exemplary understanding on science assessment; they’re making success criteria for what good science skills and knowledge are themselves rather than ticking a box and hoping they’re right! Or worse taking a test and finding out what the children didn’t know when it’s too late. This ‘deep moderation’ approach should also avoid talking judgementally rather than descriptively about learning, as so often happened with levels. Remember those times someone brought ‘their level 3’ and you brought ‘your level 3’ and they were worlds apart? Well deep moderation on really sharing ‘what makes good’ will avoid this. It might take more time, but if this approach is stuck to teachers will build their science assessment skills over time. Schools must put the time into this. Cancel those staff meetings about stuff you don’t need and make time for moderating…and please not just English and Maths.
  • Finally, a nice data tracker can be made to go with these ladders by putting all the class names on one side and then use the year group and the ‘working towards’, ‘achieving’.. and I suppose ‘exceeding’…but I think I’m going to call it ‘deepening’!  The data entry on the sheet for a child might look like ACH 3 for achieving Year 3, or WW 3, if their working towards and DPN 3 if they’re a high flyer. At some point I’ll make one of these sheets perhaps. I expect you could also start to talk about expected progress too so that if a child starts Year 3 as ACH 2,  they should end Year 3 as ACH 3. But perhaps that should be left to English and Maths and we shouldn’t let that spoil science! We’ll see. The point is that the ladders show attainment and achievement ..or should I say they record it…the children will show it!
  • Have I forgotten anything….? Probably. I might add more to this blog another time!


Any questions or suggestions about these ladders, or my approach greatly appreciated and welcome.


I like to be optimistic…

Just a few optimistic thoughts about the new assessment reforms:

  •    “make detailed performance descriptors available to inform teacher assessment at the end of key stage 1 and key stage 2. These will be directly linked to the content of the new curriculum”

This counters the APP system where there were attainment targets (ATs) which ‘related to’ the national curriculum programmes of study (PoS). The problem was that the ‘related to’ aspect only confused stressed out teachers even more because in effect they had to correlate an assessment system with a teaching programme. Now the ATs are the same as the PoS which should enable a direct route from teaching to assessment rather than having to assess against criteria relating to teaching.  For me, this is directly linking cause and effect rather than trying to match them. 

  •   “improve the moderation regime to ensure that teacher assessments are more consistent.”

I’m not sure the reforms will cause improvement by themselves, but they at least put moderation on the table again.  At this point it would be good for educators to ask what effective moderation is and importantly, what is it for? Is it to check up on teacher’s ability to assess or it is to enable teachers to improve their understanding of learning outcomes? There is a subtle yet very serious point here. We have a chance now to move from a ‘defensive moderation regime,’ where teachers are implicitly defending their own or attacking others assessments, and move to a ‘constructive moderation regime,’ where teachers generate a shared understanding of learning outcomes. We know that co-constructive learning  works in our classrooms, it raises achievement and attainment, so it is time we stood by those principles throughout and, to quote Chris Watkins, treat knowledge as a ‘collaborative product,’  rather than a prize by which only certain people can triumph.

 In the past, moderation for too many schools became a kind of performance task where teachers were set against each other on how well they could ‘talk levels’ and expound ‘levelness’ in their assessments. What I hope now is that  moderating becomes the source of really effective professional dialogue about what children are doing and where they should be going, with all the focus on the detail. It should be an opportunity now for teachers to agree on practical descriptions of the PoS themselves rather than deliberating what makes a certain level, or even score. It’s important here to emphasis the ‘agree’ part because teachers need to grab this chance and take ownership of the system in a collaborative way without setting themselves against each other.  For example, take one aspect of the English PoS for Composition and take it to pieces. ‘This is what it looks like if a child is using simple organisational devices in  non-narrative material,‘ which is different from waving a writing sample and saying ‘this is a level 3c’  (or perhaps even ‘this is a Year 4 writer with the expected score.’)  We need the kind of dialogue that will make the difference to teachers, and in turn, children’s learning. I hope we haven’t come all this way with the likes of Shirley Clarke and Dylan Wiliam to narrowly evaluate learning first and foremost and leave description and elucidation a poor second?   We need to avoid being experts on ‘levelness’ and ‘scores,’ but rather become experts on the actual learning first. That’s the right way around! Horse, cart…

This a chance to develop our sense of exemplification (which in turn has the potential to strengthen classroom modelling…progress across the ZPD and all that).  So, for example, instead of just ticking a box that says, ‘can organise paragraphs around a theme,‘ we sit down and agree on what emergent paragraphing is, make our own success criteria for it if you like, involve ourselves in dialogic moderation!  This will also strengthen teacher subject knowledge, because as generalists primary teachers really need this! That’s another elephant in the room for primaries – regular subject knowledge revision is virtually non existent. (The other day I heard of a child being taught that a paragraph meant leaving a space every six lines, uh? Not at my own school I hasn’t to add!)

It is my hope that this is a chance to really use assessment FOR learning (everyone’s learning) rather than assessment OF learning, a chance to describe more than just evaluate.   This means teachers and pupils are dead clear on everything because it’s exemplified and defined. No mysteries! No teacher’s secret. No ‘them up there’ secrets either.  If we know what we’re looking for, ten to one the children will too! 

Or am I just being naively optimistic?  I hope not.