While the use of Key Stage Three levels nationally seems to be retreating into the dim past, and I’m not sorry about this, my school has made the decision to retain them for reporting purposes. I’m not sure how for long this position is sustainable, but that’s not the point of this post.
I have just completed the marathon of assessing twelve lower school classes of all abilities using the testing technique previously mentioned – that’s over three hundred A3 sheets.
The need was clearly there for something that allowed rapid but meaningful marking, and the levels provided it. The irony is this: freed from the overtones of spurious accountability and national reporting, these levels are not unhelpful. In my subject, I have reduced them to a simple series of statements that makes it straightforward to identify the general cognitive level that a pupil is at with given subject matter. Broadly speaking, it goes as follows:
- Level 3: isolated statements of simple, unelaborated fact.
- Level 4: more sustained or developed statement of fact, beginning to be linked into more complex statements
- Level 5: Fully sustained factual knowledge, beginning to turn into simple explanation
- Level 6: Developed explanation and sustained linkages of information
- Level 7: Starting to reach considered conclusions.
This assumes that the subject information is sufficiently correct as to have merit in the first place, but taken as is, this taxonomy is simple enough that even my overworked brain can retain it. This is in stark contrast to the nightmare of how levels looked when they were first introduced, and is arguably what was needed in the first place. There are inherent ‘grey’ areas when one is deliberating, for example over the point when detailed statement of knowledge actually starts becoming an explanation, but this need not matter unduly when the framework is being used in a low-stakes situation between the teacher and the pupil. One soon gets a feel for it, and this is surely what professional judgement is all about.
As I mentioned a short while ago, my sometimes severe scepticism should not be read as an outright rejection of everything The System throws at us; I think that a universal framework for expressing cognitive development is potentially both useful and workable, so long as the tail does not start wagging the dog again. What it did not need to be was the huge and inflexible exercise in bureaucracy that we actually got.
I see the latest growing buzz idea is SOLO Taxonomy, to which we were formally introduced yesterday; to my eyes, this looks remarkably similar to the scheme I have outlined above, and I don’t have any particular attachment to one set of labels over another. The important thing is that it works and is manageable.
The sad irony, as I see it, is that many of the ideas put forward by the educational bandwagon are not necessarily unhelpful: they can become useful elements of a teacher’s repertoire. The problem comes when they are used in overdrawn ways, required by diktat be universally applied, to hold people to account or to offer scientifically precise representations of learning, at which point they rapidly lose any sense or helpfulness.