How do we report and measure attainment in Maths? And Why?

An interesting discussion in the Maths office this week has led to some musings.  When the English education system moved away from Levels, my school took the new GCSE (9-1) grades and “translated” the old Teacher Assessed Levels (TALs) into new Teacher Assessed Numbers (TANs) as shown here on the school website:

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As I teacher I am required to provide a TAN on each student I teach at various points in the year. As I was doing this earlier this week I started thinking about what these are used for.  Here I am not talking about the actual process of assessment. I am just thinking about why we collect that information and what we do with it. It seems to me that there are 3 key recipients of this information each with their own agenda.

1, The Students.  This is a form of feedback, albeit a very blunt, summative piece of feedback that basically tells the student how good they are at Maths (in my case) summed up in a single score. The student may be aware of their previous score(s) so they may also get a measure of their progress.  They may also discuss it with their peers so get a sense of their relative position in their year group.  But mainly, it is a single measure that tells them where they are at today.  Students used to have a good understanding of what Level 4, 5, 6, etc. meant.  In fact I still hear of Year 8s and even 7s asking what level they are. It wasn’t that long ago.  Inevitably they will take time to get used to a new scoring system. In our case it is linked to 9-1 GCSE grades. But the key difference of course is that these TANs are their teacher’s opinion (based on summative end of unit assessments) on how they are doing, rather than the external impersonal authority of the exam board.

Due to the simplicity of the summative score this feedback doesn’t actually tell the student how to improve other than “work more” or maybe even “work less” depending on that student’s disposition and level of ambition towards that subject.

2, The Parents.  All parents want to know how their child is doing at school. Through parents’ evenings and other contacts, we can provide much more nuanced information on this progress.  But I believe most parents like the clarity of some sort of score. The score needs to be understood in context, e.g. in our case it looks like a GCSE grade but it is not any sort of prediction, well not until KS4 anyway.  The question for me is what do parents then do with this information? Obviously a full range of responses exist here from nothing at all, to deciding to get a tutor in and putting additional pressure on the student to work harder in whatever way they see fit. Even though the parents may do nothing, the mere fact that the TAN is shared with the parents is likely to have some impact on the students’ engagement with school, positive or negative.

3, The school leadership. By having a regular school-wide, “score” for each student per subject the school can do all sorts of analysis of the attainment and progress of their student base.  What the school then do with this information is myriad: e.g. decide on classes/sets, plan intervention including deployment of support staff, provide support to teachers, evaluate teachers as well as track overall school improvement.  The data may be shared with Ofsted although my understanding is that this is not statutory.  These are pretty wide-ranging but basically boil down to helping the school focus their efforts and resources in the right place.

It strikes me that these are 3 quite different and potentially conflicting sets of objectives. For example the school may wish to collect data that is useful for analysing whole school performance but is not relevant or motivating to individual students. (A Twitter conversation here with @LaSalleEd highlights how their MathsAge system shares specific content objectives with the student, but calculates an overall score solely for school use)

The dynamic between students and parents varies as children get older.  I believe there is a case for parents of primary children having information that their children don’t see, but as pupils approach GCSE they need a realistic view of what they are aiming for which can prove an incentive to work hard.

Lots of questions, not many answers, I’m afraid. I would like to understand more about what other schools do. I understand many have adapted the old levels system by basically changing the scale but didn’t see a need to make a broader change to reporting.

Please leave comments below or get in touch on Twitter, @mhorley.  Thanks!

 

Blogs, Websites and Twitter

There is so much out there, it is sometimes hard to know where to start.  I have compiled a personal Top 10 Maths Teaching Resources page.  Following blogs is great as it gives you a drip feed of ideas.  It may not feed directly into the next lesson you are about to teach but plants a seed for later. Again, here is my personal Top 10 Maths Blogs.  And finally Twitter, which I am very much a novice at (I am @mhorley), so I refer you to Michael Fenton’s post on tips for how to get set up. Also, this post by ICTEvangelist.

With all of these things, there is the risk that you feel deluged with new information.   Remember, it’s not like responding to e-mail from your boss! You don’t have to look at anything if you don’t have time.  And you really don’t have to spend more than a few minutes a day looking at any of it for it to be really valuable. After a while you develop a sense of want you want to read and what you can skim over.  It does take a bit of investment up front to get things like Twitter set up (maybe 30mins – 1hour), but it is really worth it, believe me!

Making marking maths books meaningful (and manageable)

I’m lucky to work in a maths department with many wonderfully collaborative and creative teachers. But something that we have all acknowledged we need to get better at is marking students’ books.

School policy is that we are supposed to mark books every 2 weeks. This is meant to take the form of a marking “dialogue” where we pose questions and set challenges, extension questions, etc. Some staff manage this, but most (including me) don’t. When I do, I feel a faint warm glow that I have done it, but actually on reflection, the students get little benefit from the 2-3 hours it takes me to mark a class set of books. I think about what I could achieve by researching and planning better lessons in that time and I’m convinced this would have a lot more impact on learning.

However, student feedback and formative evaluation is critically important – it’s right at the top of Hattie’s list of effects (here, here and here)

We had a great department meeting today where we discussed some ideas. I will share those here once they are more fully developed (I promise!), but in the meantime, can you share good practice you have seen? Or do you know of any good articles with ideas.  In particular, I’m thinking:

What’s the focus of your book marking? Asking questions? setting targets? Providing feedback – what sort of feedback?

Any particular templates that are good? e.g. stickers / slips to stick in books.

What policies work? i.e. they are realistic and are stuck to consistently by teachers.

Please comment below or tweet me @mhorley or e-mail me mark.horley@gmail.com