Sunday, 7 April 2013

How do we know we're doing things right? (Part 2)

How can we make such a bold claim, then, for our students and how do we know that we can do it?

There is another, potentially more important, measure of how well a school is doing and this is called Progress. As you will know, I have taught in a wide variety of different schools, including highly selective ones. In these schools, they will always achieve significantly closer to 100% on the EBacc measure, and will always achieve 100% on the 5+ A* - C measure, but that is not surprising because they are starting with a very bright group of students.

The absolute minimum progress that Ofsted look for, from every student, is called three levels of progress in five years. I order to understand this, I will give a very brief overview of the (current) national curriculum:

As soon as students start school, in Primary school, they are following the National Curriculum. The idea is that knowledge is hierarchical, so a student can learn something at a certain level, but develop their understanding of that topic at a higher level later on. The National Curriculum states that every topic taught can be accessed at one of 8 levels. So, students move from Primary to Secondary School having shown that they can understand and explain what they have been taught at a certain level. For most students ending Primary School, this will be around level 3, 4 or 5.

One of the problems is that there is no direct link between national curriculum levels and GCSE grades; the National Curriculum levels were only ever designed to measure attainment up to the end of Key Stage 3 (or Year 9). However, a level 8 is often considered to be approximately a grade B at GCSE.

Then there is the problem of monitoring progress over a single school year - 3 levels in 5 years means that students will not always progress a whole level in any given year. So the concept of sub-levels was created. Each full level can be broken down into three sub-levels. So, for example, a level 4c would indicate that a student is only just accessing the material at a level 4, a 4b would indicate a stronger understanding and a level 4a would indicate the strongest level of understanding at level 4. If a student, then, progresses at a rate of 2 sub-levels per year, they will more than progress the minimum required 3 levels in their 5 years.

Every Secondary School gets the Key Stage 2 results from the Primary Schools and so can develop this to monitor student progress. The problem is that these come to schools as whole levels - if we get a student who has, say, a level 4 in English, there is no knowledge as to how secure that knowledge is & the student could have just passed at that level, or only just missed out on the next. This is why most schools then do some form of further testing on entry.

At Sandymoor, we use an internationally acknowledged test, developed by the University of Durham, called MidYIS, to do our further testing. The benefit of this is that, apart from it being recognised as one of the best of its kind of test, it is also a well regarded measure of natural 'potential'. Combining this with the Key Stage 2 data, we build a very strong picture of every individual student's ability to succeed academically. Alongside this, we also screen every student on entry for a wide range of potential learning difficulties.

We then measure progress using a set of national test questions (for those who want to know, this is called 'testbase') which enables us to ensure our judgement of a student's progress is accurate and valid.

On this measure, we have virtually all of our students making 2 sub-levels of progress in just two terms, meaning that our students are on track to significantly exceed the minimum progress requirements!


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