Assessment at Calderstones
The school receives a number of different queries relating to the complicated topic of Assessment here at Calderstones. So we have attempted to collate some of these questions into an FAQ below. Just tap or click on a question to find out more:
How does the Calderstones grading structure relate to old GCSE grades and old national curriculum levels?
This image below will help you understand the new level system versus the old grading system:
Why is my child being assessed as performing so differently in different subjects?
This comes up a lot. It’s always been a question that parents have asked, particularly in Year 7. With some children, this will naturally happen just because of their relative strengths and weaknesses in some subjects. Some children are just better at Maths than English. In these cases, this probably won’t be too much of a surprise to most parents.
However, there can be significant differences between levels of attainment across some subjects. Often, this is because of a student’s exposure to that subject at primary school. Most students have been absorbed in English and Maths for much of Year 6 but may not have studied any French or Spanish at primary school at all. As such, they’ll clearly be behind in terms of assessment in those subjects.
The same is often the case for subjects such as Design Technology and Music for example. Even in subjects such as Geography, History and Science, students can find themselves being assessed at very different levels of attainment early on in their time at the school, often because of their varying experiences of these subjects at primary school. This settles over time. In fact, in many of these subjects what is usually noticeable is that the students’ rates of progress is quite rapid – many of them often catch up with their attainment in other subjects quite quickly.
Why has my child’s level of attainment gone down since the last reporting point?
This is not an uncommon issue, regardless of the new assessment system that we’re introducing. Quite often this depends on the structure of a course of study. Over time, you would expect to see your child improve on their assessment grades as they develop skills knowledge and understanding. However, between assessment points (from one half term to the next term for example), this may not be entirely clear and in some cases it may look as though your child has gone backwards.
This is easiest to explain in a subject such as PE for instance. If a student has studied football and basketball in the first term and they’re highly accomplished at these sports then their level of attainment will be relatively high. If they then study cricket and swimming in term two and they struggle with these units, then their level of attainment will be much lower. This will be the case whether the grade reported is just reporting on cricket and swimming or whether it’s taking the average of all four sports into account. It will appear that your child has gone backwards. Over time, you would expect this to flatten itself out; that in total, your child’s overall ability in PE is being reported on once the staff have gauged their competence across a range of units.
The same is the case for a number of other subjects. DT, Art and Music are similar, albeit not quite as extreme as PE, examples.
Even in subjects such as Maths, English and Science, progress isn’t always linear. Some students find some topics more difficult than others and some methods of assessment more challenging and this will show in their assessment grades. Over time though, we would anticipate that these ‘creases’ would even out and over the course of a student’s time at the school, you would see progress occurring.
Why has my child not made any progress between assessment points?
Some parents have contacted us with concerns that their child doesn’t appear to be making any progress. In a sense, the answer to the question above covers this: that over time, we would expect to see progress but that between assessment points, this might be less clear in the short term.
In addition, we do anticipate that under this current assessment system (introduced in the 2016-17 academic year), students will spend longer within a ‘grade boundary’ than they perhaps may have done under the previous assessment system. For example, a student working at a grade 3 might need to spend a whole academic year mastering the skills, knowledge and understanding at that grade. This will then provide them with a really solid foundation from which to tackle grade 4. Again, over time, we would expect progress to be evidenced.
How is my child’s ‘baseline’ arrived at? What does this mean?
In the first set of Year 7 reports to go out this year, under the new assessment system (2016-17 onwards), we included a ‘baseline’ grade. With hindsight, this was misleading. The baseline grade takes into account a student’s attainment at Key Stage 2 in their English and Maths SATs and equates that attainment to a grade in the new assessment system.
In general, this is fine in English and Maths but it has caused some confusion in other subjects where the relationship between KS2 attainment in these core subjects and for example, a baseline in Music, PE or French, is limited. It was prompting understandable queries such as: “The baseline in French for my child is a 3E but she’s apparently only working at a 1D – how is this possible?” As such, we will remove the baseline grade from reports, particularly for subjects other than English and Maths, to avoid such confusion.
How is my child’s target arrived at?
In short, each child’s target for each academic subject is based on their attainment scores from Key Stage 2 SATs. We take these scores and ‘project forward’. We basically look at what happens nationally for the vast majority of students who have historically achieved that same Key Stage 2 score, i.e. what GCSE grade would those students usually get in those subjects. We then base the target on this. In some cases, we add some aspiration to these targets.
Throughout their time in the school, a student’s target in any particular subject can be raised by a teacher if that teacher feels that the student is already meeting or exceeding the target or if they feel that the target is not challenging enough. For this reason, you may find that your child’s target increases during their time at the school. It should only ever increase; it should never be lowered.
How are these assessment scores and grades arrived at?
This can differ widely across subjects. The form of assessment can include: written examinations; assessment of student work in books over time; oral contributions; practical applications; project based learning; etc. Some subjects employ a whole range of assessment strategies to help arrive at the most meaningful assessment grade.
Furthermore, in some subjects, different ‘weightings’ can apply to different assessments. So for example, in Geography, a unit of study and an assessment at the middle of the year might carry more weight than one towards the end of the year because of the nature of each unit and the content studied.
Whilst being mindful of the fact that students can express their ability in lots of different ways and so assessment should reflect this, the school also needs to ensure that students are being prepared for a GCSE system that (unfortunately) is almost entirely dominated by written examinations. As such, during the course of their time at the school we need to gradually introduce students to timed examinations of longer duration and with greater density in terms of how often they take place. By the time they reach the end of Year 11, students will need to be accustomed to sitting four or five 2 to 3 hour exams each week.
Understandably, some students find the move towards this form of assessment very challenging and this is another factor in explaining why the progress of some students may slow or stall at times. Of course, our job as a school is to help these students overcome these hurdles and to prepare them as best as we can for the challenges of the system.
You keep referring to this ‘new assessment system’. What do you mean?
For children who are new to the school, this won’t be a new assessment system! But for those who have had children at Calderstones in the past, or who currently have children here and who have been assessed under the ‘old’ system, or who have some understanding of previous system, this will be entirely new.
A couple of years ago, the Department for Education announced that they were abolishing National Curriculum Levels at Key Stages 1, 2 and 3. This meant that the old system of students being assessed from National Curriculum Level 1 through to Level 8 from primary school right through to the end of Year 9 was being phased out. The Department for Education told schools that they were now free to ‘invent’ their own systems of assessment.
Around the same time, it was announced the A* to G system of GCSE grading was being phased out. This was to be replaced by a new GCSE grading system with 9 as the highest and 1 as the lowest grade. The links between the old and the new system of grading were not direct, i.e. a grade 9 didn’t necessarily equate to a grade A*.
At Calderstones, we made the decision that we wanted one simple assessment system to apply to students from their arrival in Year 7 right through to the end of Year 11. If students were being assessed eventually on this new 9-1 GCSE assessment system, it made sense to us that we used this from the earliest point in their school career to track their progress. We didn’t see the sense in having one assessment system in Years 7 to 9 and then something entirely different in Years 10 and 11. In September 2016 we shifted the entire school across to this new assessment system. Many schools are doing what we are doing with this.
However, because the new 9-1 GCSE grading system is so new (most subjects have only just started their courses in Year 10 in Sept 2016 and there haven’t yet been exams or final grades in any subjects), we’re having to be creative with the criteria used to assess at the 9-1 grades. The examination boards have not published clear criteria for each of the new grades for each subject; this will only become clear once examinations are complete. As such, we (along with many other schools) are having to be creative with the criteria that applies to each grade on the new system. Over time, this will become clearer but at the moment it is a shifting and evolving system.
We would ask you to be patient with this new system as it takes shape and evolves. It isn’t perfect, it’s new to all of us and we’re watching it carefully, responding to queries and suggestions and reshaping it accordingly. Over time, we expect it to become more settled and transparent.