Category Archives: Assessment

Be Careful What You Measure

Not my legs

You’re making the biggest mistake possible with this, Mike.

So says James, my personal trainer, and he should know: I’ve trusted him with my physical fitness and injury recovery programmes since 2014. Inspired (or egged on) by younger family members, I’ve decided to be able to row 2000m in less than 8 minutes. They can do it in 6 but they’ve a 30 year advantage on me and have much longer legs. James thinks my approach to the challenge is wrong and he’s right.

I’ve been chipping away at my 2k time over the the last few months: 10:10, 10:02, 9:53 (breakthrough, hurrah), 9:30 (encouragement from younger family members), …., and recently 8:51. Then 8:58. Then 9:05. I’ve hit a limit of some kind.

So how are you training for this? asks James. I tell him I’m not, I’m just trying to get faster each time I row 2000m.

You’re not doing anything in between to make yourself a better rower?

I’m not. Mistake. Rookie mistake – which someone whose business is learning should not have made.

It’s so obvious. I’ve been measuring myself against my target and not doing anything to improve. Early gains were me getting used to the test – learning to row – not improving my rowing

James quickly designs a program of interval, cardio and mixed Fartlek training and sends me on my way. He’s good like that. I promise only to measure the 2k weekly.

Of course, driving home I realise the connection to schools. We focus on the test, measuring the outcome, not on measuring the actions that will lead to the outcome.

Lag and Lead Measures
Sean Covey’s 4DX philosophy is an operational-strategic approach to team and organisational success. He says we focus too much on the lag measures – endpoints – things we can’t do anything about once they’ve happened. Like an exam score.

On the other hand there are lead measures. These are different, better and more frequent. Lead scores measure factors that contribute to the goal, before the goal gets measured. Like counting revision sessions and grading them for effectiveness. Or self-monitoring your lessons, grading yourself daily, then using THAT data to spot patterns and improve – instead of obsessing with final pupil scores.

They say you can’t weigh a pig with a ruler. Let me take that further and say if you’re going to try, at least use the ruler to measure how much food it’s eating and how happy it is each day.

And back in school. Don’t obsess about the end point data. Yes it’s important. But more important are the data measuring actions leading up to the goal.

Time for a row. I mean, time to get better at rowing.

Something to think about
What could you measure – quickly, privately and regularly – that would help you improve your performance – and ultimately reach a target?

If you could measure one thing that you currently don’t or can’t what would that be?

What’s the best way to measure a pig?

Resources, training, coaching:
http://www.thinkingclassroom.co.uk
mike@thinkingclassroom.co.uk

A Better Accountability for Schools

The Window

Wednesday. 12:01pm. A collective sigh of relief from headteachers across the land. Ofsted won’t be coming this week. If you’re currently in ‘the window’ you’ll know all about this weekly crescendo and crash. It’s a bit like a very slow, ominous wave, creeping up the shore (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday), breaking all over you (Wednesday) – cold and full of seaweed – then sliding back down the beach (rest of Wednesday-Sunday), ready for another go. Ridiculous. Pointless. Inefficient.

Here’s a proposal for a better system for the national accountability of schools. It has three parts:

  1. An MOT
  2. Jury Service
  3. Economics

 

1. MOT

CARThe MOT is an annual assessment of vehicle safety and road-worthiness. Introduced in 1960 by Minister for transport Ernest Marples, it checks 21 features including tyres, brakes and the ever useful horn. If you own a car, you know the test is coming, you know you’ll pass or fail it and you know exactly what to do to prepare (make sure your washer fluid is topped up, for example).

I propose a school MOT, once a year, to check that the basics are in place. It costs around £58 and is administered by a friendly, if untalkative, team of eduneers (educational engineers) who drive about in a van stopping off wherever an MOT has been booked. (This model is preferred over taking your school to the test center).

Features tested would be inspired by the actual MOT but relate directly to the quality of educational provision, for example, steering, (i.e. leadership),

2.1.1. Steering gear condition
To check the condition of the steering gear:

Turn the steering from lock to lock and observe the operation of the steering gear.

becomes,

2.1.1. Leadership gear condition
To check the condition of the leadership gear:

Ask senior leaders how they successfully direct the school and accept 2 pieces of illustrative evidence.

2. Jury Service

GavelPeople between 18 and 70 years of age have a civic duty to serve on a jury if called to do so. Roughly 35% of citizens are invited to take part, so there’s a 1 in 3 chance you’ll get asked. Jury members (usually 12) check facts impartially. They are not experts in law – that’s the judge’s role – but they do provide a commonplace view of a legal scenario. They bring reality to bear on an abstract system, they pursue truth based on their life experience and in doing so make our legal system practical and authentic instead of abstract and out of touch.

You know where I’m going with this don’t you. Teachers inspecting teachers (like Challenge Partners already do).

I propose that part of progress to UPS includes an increasing requirement on experienced teachers to inspect, advise and hold to account their colleagues. I’d much prefer tough empathy than uninformed punitive condemnation. Teachers know what it’s like to struggle with pupil behaviour, to wrestle with competing demands and to shoulder target-driven workloads. At UPS, a teacher-inspector wouldn’t accept excuses but they would fully understand reasons.

3. Economics

HandIn 1776, Scottish Enlightenment thinker, Adam Smith published An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. In this definitive work he introduced The Invisible Hand, an economic concept suggesting that a free market will organise itself without the intervention of government.

He argued that individuals pursuing self interest, in a market where they are free to produce and consume, will cause a natural flow of prices and trade. The market moves as if directed by an invisible hand – which is actually the emergent behaviour of millions of individual decisions about what to buy or sell and millions of judgements about what has value.

I propose that schools should be left alone (apart from an annual MOT and UPS jury service inspections) to get on with the business of teaching and learning. The invisible educational hand will soon get to work. It’ll emerge from the children, their parents, the local community, the media and even the teachers in school and in nearby ones. If a school is failing its pupils, it’ll loose value and pupils will go. If a school is succeeding, it’ll gain value and pupils will arrive. And (heavens above) if we actually attached funding to number of pupils, the invisible hand could really get to work.

You might say this last idea is in play now. That educational capitalism is a travesty which undermines authentic learning and values-driven teaching. Maybe so. But to really see what cards the invisible educational hand will play, we must first remove the very visible and unnatural foot of Ofsted. Mr Gove unleashed market forces into education, but they are not yet free to become fully efficient.

There you have it. My proposal for a better way to hold schools to account for their pupils’ futures (remember, most children in school today will be alive in the 22nd century):

  • An annual basics check (MOT)
  • An expert self-inspection (Jury Service)
  • Market forces (the educational invisible hand)

After all, does anyone loose sleep over an MOT; worry unduly about someone who knows their profession, helping them out; or complain excessively when the price of apples goes up a bit?

Something to Think About

Is there actually any research to show that inspection systems like Ofsted’s help raise progress and achievement? (I’ve not found any yet)

How would you best hold schools and teachers to account?

What is the most effective way to help a teacher become even more effective?

mike@thinkingclassroom.co.uk

www.thinkingclassroom.co.uk

New Ofsted in 10 Bullet Points

sec cameraDo you remember at school when you were getting on with group work and the teacher was roaming around the classroom, having a look, giving a nudge here and there? (we call it assessment in the moment now).

And do you remember that when she came within earshot of your table, you and your friends would seamlessly switch your conversation on to what it was supposed to be about. It was a psychic, unspoken and effortlessly coordinated move between you all which sadly involved raising your voices a little too much; speaking a bit too clearly (so she could hear you) and sadly, James looking right at her as the final giveaway that you hadn’t really been on task.

But never mind, your teacher had done exactly the same thing when she was at school.  And you still do it now in hands-on, experiential training sessions.

It’s one of the great complicities of education (and quantum physics): the observer affects the system (like those cameras in the picture). We all know it but we don’t talk about it. It’s like Ofsted. We are the tables chatting about the whole child; they are the teacher, expecting us to be discussing data. When they enter our orbit, we shift our focus. At least we did. At least they did. Hopefully, from September, we’ll all be on the same page.

I’ve read the final, sorry, proposed new inspection framework and it makes good sense. Not too sure about paragraph 227 but all in all, if those using it genuinely understand its intent, I’m sure their implementation of an inspection will have huge positive impact on teacher well-being and children’s future success.

Disclaimer: I am not Ofsted trained. I just pick up the pieces after they leave or help schools enact their recommendations or support the interpretations of their findings.

However, for what it’s worth, here is a 10-point summary of what you need to do when they roam your way:

1.      Know your subjects

2.      Have and articulate a whole-school ‘shared why’

3.      Stay legal

4.      Be able to justify choices and rationale

5.      Know your curriculum end points

6.      Sequence learning well

7.      Be flexible and design for pupil need and context

8.      Ensure the basics are really, really embedded

9.      Emphasise authentic long-term memory

10.   Show impact

I genuinely would like to hear from any inspectors using the new framework to see if and how they might adapt this.

Oh, and on another note:

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Bake Offsted

Wagon Wheel

My grown up children made this. In fact they made twenty of them. They are wagon wheel biscuits inspired by last week’s Great British Bake Off. They let me eat one and I thoroughly enjoyed it. And not just because of its taste and texture. My wagon wheel makes a point about assessment and inspection.

Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith would slate this biscuit (and fair dues my 19 and 22 year old would slate them back). This biscuit would not stop any shows or elevate any star bakers. It would fail. It would bomb. It would not meet the success criteria:

  • It’s blackberry and apple jam not strawberry.
  • Chocolate is missing from the sides.
  • The marshmallow filling is bought fluff.

But let’s see this in a different way. My adult children lead separate lives at different universities. They were home together for once and chose to collaborate. They used homemade jam; fruit from our nearby field. They saved time buying fluff. They reduced calories by skipping the chocolate sides. They compromised looks for taste. They created a complex biscuit after several fails. They had fun, they connected, they became kids in the kitchen again. It was lovely to watch.

Non of this would count in GBBO but it has great value to me. And there’s the rub with school assessment and inspection. What do you value? What counts? What REALLY matters for the children we’re launching into the world. Does Ofsted see or just look?

Public accountability for public money: a necessary safeguard. But it’s not sufficient for authentic future-focussed education. Ofsted is expanding its focus: looking wider; moving on from simple, absolute measures. But what will the new criteria be? How well will official aims match personal and global needs?

Future thinkers list many skills and qualities likely needed for 21st Century employability: a handful – maths, empathy, data literacy, negotiation, collaboration, cognitive flexibility. These and more should be the central focus of inspection. I worry that we do an exceptional job inspecting the 1980s instead of using formative comment to shape the future. Consider this; most of the children you teach this week will be alive in the the 22nd century.

Every biscuit is a success, it just depends which criteria you value. Every child is a success, it just depends how you see them and if you’ve done more that take a cursory look.