Sunday, 1 April 2012

Assessing students up to age 14 - A better future. Part 4 - Being allowed to test what is testable.

Reflection and Context:

It's been our habit in the past to try and create a single method for assessing academic progress in mathematics and this has tended to swing between testing everything and getting the teachers to observe everything the student does.

As a head of mathematics I wanted to be able to efficiently and effectively test those aspects of mathematical progress which are easily testable so that my teaching of core techniques could be efficient and needs based, leaving as much time as possible for the nurturing of those skills students need to develop which cannot be easily tested. 

When we focus on teaching methods which allow students to connect maths and work out which mathematical techniques they need, a great deal of learning of mathematical techniques and vocabulary takes place but this progress is difficult to track.  Having a system which takes care of that tracking process for teachers empowers this type of learning.

In an article in MT210 (as Rebecca Teasdale), I described how I used MyMaths tracking to achieve this shift in teaching in a school where I was head of Maths.  We rapidly positively transformed results at this school to surpass all targets and re-engaged disaffected students. 

MyMaths had, at that time, interactive lessons and assessments on all national curriculum topics.  By requiring students to complete them I could ensure they studied all these topics at their own pace and that I had detailed information regarding gaps which needed to be filled.  But far more importantly, we could focus on creating lessons which properly engaged all students by subordinating teaching to learning, teaching with rich and applied tasks and teaching core vocabulary and techniques only when it was clear they were needed.

Key Recommendation:

That to accompany an electronic system which defines the skills students should be acquiring, automatic testing systems should be created which test and automatically accredit those skills which can be easily tested online.  

Subsidiary Points:

- It should be possible for teachers to manually accredit these skills should they wish to do so with alternative evidence.
- Students could be tested in a 'low stakes' way approximately once a term.  Tests should be created which are responsive to students' progress - seeking to test gaps which clearly need to be filled but adjusting during the test to ensure that students do not have overly negative experiences where they fail to answer any questions.  
- Teachers could select core or optional modules of work which would be in each students' test in a class to ensure that focused student preparation brings rewards.

Something a little more challenging:

I think most testable techniques and vocabulary could be accredited on four levels:
A: Some evidence that the student has mastered this skill
B: Sustained evidence that the student has mastered this skill
(both A&B could be tested online with B only being accredited after a student has demonstrated their ability to achieve that target in several tests).
C: Skill used fluently by the student in wider contexts.
D: Student understands the axiomatic or structural roots of the skill (this is not appropriate for arbitrary vocabulary).

And what about the skills which cannot be tested online?

While testing is suitable for most of the 'range and content' component of the National Curriculum, most aspects of Key Concepts, Key Processes, and Curriculum Opportunities cannot be easily tested.  It is my suggestion that these should not be accredited as pass/fail progress but that a process by which students sit down and select or create phrases which reflect how they perceive they are progressing with these aspects of the curriculum be embedded into classroom practice and this self assessment is then discussed with teachers, parents and other stakeholders.  

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