Why ‘best fit’ summative assessment doesn’t work


By Susan Cowell

From Balance user stories and fellow bloggers

Joke: What does a child who has ‘understood’ 34% of curriculum objectives have in common with a child who has ‘grasped’ 66% of the curriculum?

Punchline: They are both ‘developing’.

Haha! Right?! …

Ok, rubbish joke… actually, this is an unfortunate reality and no joke. A pupil who has grasped 67% of the curriculum and is classed as ‘securing’ surely has more in common with a ‘developing’ pupil at 66%.

Picture Credit to James Pembroke, Learning First Conference 2017 Slides

Alan Brown, headteacher at Oldfield Primary School summarises the issues that developed through a levels-based system perfectly here:

We had always been concerned with the differences between children with the same level. The best fit model of summative assessment within and at the end of each Key Stage did not identify the individual learning needs and strengths of a child. The expectation to sub-level children at the end of each term was not appropriate, with some levels needing a whole academic year before attainment and progress could really be measured.

How many of you could honestly say that the systems you are using now do not present similar issues?

The door of the cage was opened. We were excited and took a step outside, until we realised that we had no alternative. So we got back into our cage, but left the door open. (Paraphrased from a James Pembroke speech)

Too often we pigeon hole our pupils into ability groups, which are counter-productive to progress. As Mary Myatt said at Learning First Chester, “who are we to say a child is able?.” The knock-on effect of this is that pupils self-limit and are unable to adapt their ‘growth mindset’, which is so important for their development. It is human nature to develop bias to our thinking, but we do not need banding or prior attainment groups to entrench this thinking further.

Ofsted’s Sean Harford recently stated that predicted results are a “mug’s game”, which many achieve through grouping children in their assessment systems and predicting what they might achieve in statutory tests. This is echoed by NAHT’s Redressing the Balance report.
James Pembroke takes this a step further by challenging leaders to address the nonsensical ‘emerging’, ‘expected’ and ‘exceeding’ progress banding, claiming that “there is no such thing as expected progress.”

All of these thought-leaders are promoting flexible, reactive teaching which flows with the learning journey of each child.

How do we then change our practice to ensure that we have evidence for accountability, whilst ensuring that our main focus is still our pupils?

This is where the sales pitch comes in…

The ability to make regular formative judgements rather than termly summative ones, Balance allows us to focus on learning and what the children do and do not know. Balance is a tool for planning, recording, reporting but most importantly for learning.

This is a quote from Alan Brown again, since following his frustration with the ‘best fit’ models that other pupil tracking systems, he and his staff have been using Balance for the last 2 years.

Balance uses a learning wheel of 1–9 and then secure against use of key assessment criteria, which have been developed by First4Maths and The Literacy Company (foundation subjects are coming soon). This means that your teachers record their assessment of the depth of learning they see in the classroom, and are not necessarily influenced by prior attainment groups or even by cohorts.

Your assessment policy determines what a 1, 2, 3…9 or secure is

PAGs and cohorts are filterable through your analysis (your evidence for accountability), but Balance prevents these from becoming a deciding factor in your assessment of learning.

Balance Progress Trend Analysis is shows that learning is not always linear!

If you, like Alan Brown and so many other colleagues, are frustrated with your existing system of ‘best fit’ and have felt like there is no alternative out there, I am here to show you that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Please email balance@angelsolutions.co.uk and we can book in a time to run-through this with you.