The recent NAHT report and KS3 music assessment

I am still worrying about what I have called forced linear progression for pupils in assessments. I worry about this in particular for music teachers as it seems to me that the things I describe in my 2012 paper Assessment issues within national curriculum music in the lower secondary school in England (bit.ly/1fzRFgp) are still taking place, and have, in some cases, worsened. So I was interested to read in the recent NAHT report (bit.ly/1mGdmfc ) that these problems are not confined to music:

If too much weight is attached to any form of assessment it is likely to lead to … perverse incentives – not only teaching to the test, for example, but also inflated teacher assessment because of performance management issues, or deflated assessment to enhance the measurement of later progress. Although assessment is frequently used as the basis of accountability, the very nature of accountability influences the results of assessment, which in turn constrains what forms of assessment may be used. (ibid, p14)

This chimes with what I have been finding for years; that music teachers are required to change their assessment results at KS3, and that consequences can be severe for teachers whose pupils do not fit the linear model of progression that SLTs have become wedded to.

The NAHT also felt they had to point out that there are:

…adverse effects of levels caused by the labelling of pupils and the oversimplification of numerical measures (ibid, p14)

This is all well and good, and something to be celebrated. But let us not forget that NAHT member are headteachers, and these are the very people whose SLTs so significantly misunderstand levelling and progression in music, and require teachers to undertake the sorts of nonsense I have written about in this blog and elsewhere.

But let us give heads the benefit of doubt for the moment, hope that they read the report their own organisation has produced, and more, importantly do something about it! After all, as senior leaders, they promote intervention strategies for pupils who are off-target, here the NAHT (and Ofsted music reports consistently) have said that assessment practice in music at KS3 (and elsewhere) is not appropriate. It would be remiss of those heads who lead what they proudly refer to as ‘learning organisations’ in their mission statements not to do some learning themselves, and do something about this!

Reading on in the NAHT report, the authors also point out an issue which we have known about for ages in secondary school music:

…with the lack of trust exhibited by the profession itself – junior schools often report that infant schools’ assessments of their pupils are over-inflated, secondary schools argue that they need to test pupils on arrival because primary assessments, including national tests, cannot be relied upon. In part, this lack of trust is due to a lack of consistency and in part to the perverse incentives resulting from a high stakes accountability model. (Ibid, p16)

What this means is that:

…secondary schools were likely to test pupils as they came into year 7 rather than trust the KS2 assessments. This was generally seen as a problem caused by the nature of the accountability system rather than any underlying lack of ability within the profession. (Ibid, p16)

Indeed, baseline assessment is a topic which some weeks fills my email inbox, and is one to which I intend to return in future blog-posts. But this is a message of which NAHT members should again take heed. Many of the baseline assessment emails I receive bemoan the fact that pupils arrive with stratospheric levels in music, whereas the reality is more likely to be subterranean! This is not pointing a finger at our primary colleagues – remember they are under the same pressures to demonstrate ridiculous improvement in a subject which a number of them feel ill-equipped to teach. So, again, SLT’s, please read and act on the advice from your own professional organisation!

All this confusion results in:

…the unintended consequences of a high stakes assessment system, for example the pressures exerted by the publication of performance tables which have created a perverse incentive to inflate assessments (ibid, p31)

Yet another topic we have frequently encountered in music! Pupils who don’t know which way up to place a xylophone (sorry!) are awarded outstanding NC levels, as otherwise, as one music teacher in a piece of research I conducted, nicely wrote in a survey answer “I get b*ll*cked!”.

So, I find the NAHT report to have some very helpful comments and observations contained therein. It is my hope that as it is by their own professional organisation that SLTs will be minded to take heed of it, and do something about it. They could start by listening to what their music teachers have to say about KS3 assessment!

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4 Responses to The recent NAHT report and KS3 music assessment

  1. RobShill says:

    Hi Martin

    I really enjoy your blog and recent posts on assessment. I attended a debate with SLT today to discuss the future of assessment at KS3 in our school. I am glad to report that we have middle leaders and SLT members who share my beliefs (and yours!) and we are looking to see what we can do to take assessment and learning forward. Just for now focussing on summative assessment, I am currently using a tool based on work by Jane Werry that utilises a colour coding system based on APP. At the moment, it follows the NC level framework and the idea is that for each topic/genre of music, I can track how students progress through the levels and then support my judgments with audio/visual evidence. Each topic/genre of music has its own colour and progress is tracked holistically over the year. And quite simply, at the end of the year, where there is most colour, that is where a student sits in the NC level framework. This is a tool that I currently use on my iPad in every day-to-day teaching and not in those “dreaded assessment lessons” at the end of a term. However, I started working on this 2 years ago when even though I had my beliefs and doubts about the NC levels, I tried to make them work for both myself and my students. Now that we are thankfully in an era where we have a chance to move away, I am wondering whether it could be the start of a new system. The above system has its faults as quite simply, even though I can track student attainment/progress through the NC level framework, devising feedback and workable targets using this system and the level descriptors is a puzzle in itself! Could we apply this colour coded system to specific criteria for each specific topic/genre of music (similar to an early posting you made about a “spooky topic”). Then using these specific criteria and through tracking student progress, we could provide realistic and workable feedback based on the work that the student is currently working on, instead of a generic vague target. Could I send it you for your opinion/advice on how we could maybe take it forward, or whether you think it honestly just needs to go in the bin!

    I really want to seize this opportunity. I know there is still a long way to go and my system, even though it now works for me, it could go out of the window when we make progress in the future.

    Many thanks

    Rob

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