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Assessment in the 1990s

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were some problems with the sudden introduction of such a detailed model of progression in history, and other subjects. Robert Phillips' research on teacher perceptions of assessment arrangements found that many history teachers had profoundly negative views of the system (Phillips, R. 1993, The first year's implementation of KS3 in the N/C for history in England, Research papers in Education, Vol 8, No. 3, pp. 329-353). There was very little research evidence to support the model. Pupils sometimes ruined the whole thing by getting level 7 but not being able to get level 4; much depended on the context of the exercise set, sometimes pupils would 'get' a level, and sometimes they wouldn't- or sometimes they 'got' a level but lost it the week after. Some things appeared to have been left out- for example you could get to level 10 in all the attainment targets but not know what century you were living in, or what A.D. or B.C. meant. And what about pupils' understanding of substantive concepts? The system appeared to take no account of these. There were also many from 'the old school' who argued that pupils should be assessed on their knowledge of particular subject content areas.

As well as conceptual flaws in the model, there was the fact that it was a nightmare to administer. Teachers argued that the assessment model made the delivery of the National Curriculum unmanageable, and threatened to take action. A review of the National Curriculum was instigated. Interestingly, rather than turning to 'the educational establishment' (professionals involved in education and a term of abuse at this time) they asked a man from the Post Office to sort it all out. After the Dearing Review of the National Curriculum, assessment arrangements were revamped- and simplified, in N/C Mark 2, and there was a move away from breaking it all down into bits, and towards a more holistic approach of 'best fit' level descriptors. Also, there was to be just one profile component, 'History' (easy to remember).


It doesn't matter that you can't read this; you should be familiar with the levels system if you are training to be a history teacher. The details can be found at the back of History: The National Curriculum for England (http://www.nc.uk.net)

There were some amendments to this model with the introduction of Curriculum 2000 (in effect National Curriculum Mark 3). The 5 Key Elements were rechristened as the 5 areas of Knowledge, skills and understanding, there were minor changes in wording, but the most striking feature of N/C Mark 3 was continuity with N/C Mark 2.

There were some significant changes to the general aims and values stipulated in N/C Mark 3, and in terms of the status and nature of education for citizenship, thinking skills, financial capability and sustainable development, and in terms of the specification of the 'General Teaching Requirements' (pp. 26-36).

Compare the following pupil's end of year report (and the world of CATS, YELLIS, ALIS etc), with the example of a report from the 1960s and it is easy to see that assessment had come a long way since the 1960s, but the revolution in assessment and accountability was not cost free in terms of the amount of teacher and pupil time devoted to assessment.

A High School

Subject : Science

Name: A pupil

 Effort grade: A

Attainment grade: A

Set: 6 (out of 8)

Key stage 3 Teacher Assessment: Level 7

Key stage 3 NC SAT Assessment: Level 5

Teacher Comment: Anthony has achieved an average of 87% in the class Science tests this year; the class average is 72%. He is a bright boy who has steadily improved and worked hard. His written work is consistently good but homeworks could be more thorough, methodical and neat. He could also ask and answer more questions in class. At the moment, Physics is his weakest area; he must make sure that he puts extra effort in here so that it does not develop into a long-term weakness. His performance in the Standard Assessment Tests did not reflect his term performance. This is perhaps because he did not revise thoroughly, or with method and organisation. If he continuse to work hard, he is capable of a good performance at GCSE.

It should be stressed that level descriptors are supposed to be end of key stage instruments- there is more to assessment than assigning a level to pupils' work. QCA have set up a web site with examples of pupils work in history- see http://www.ncaction.org.uk (See also Scott Harrison's article in Teaching History No. 94)

There is currently a debate about whether changes in assessment, and the development of banks of assessment data are helping to drive up standards in education, or whether the emphasis on accountability and comparison is deflecting attention away from the formative, developmental aspects of assessment (see for instance, Assessment for learning: beyond the Black Box, The Assessment Reform Group, a short pamphlet available from University of Cambridge, School of Education, Shaftesbury Rd., Cambridge, CB2 2 BX.

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