Wednesday, 5 June 2013

I-level grades

Given the current obsessions with the use of i-words (iPod, iPad, iPlayer, iPhone) and (in Pirate movies) iPatch, –  not to mention the irritating overuse of the word i-conic, the meaning of which has been diminished to 'quite well-known' – it was inevitable that the proposed new examinations to replace GCSEs should be labelled i-levels. To be fair to Michael Gove, this is not a term that he has coined or, apparently, proposes to use. But sometimes these first labels stick. The end-of-key stage national tests were called SATs only for the first year of their introduction, after which this name was dropped because the Americans had already coined the term 'Standard Assessment Test'. But nearly everyone still calls them SATs. And some schools still call their staff development days Baker Days!

It's interesting that the proposal is for a range of 8 grades in the assessment of achievement in these new exams. Generally, an assessment tool with 5 or fewer possible grades feels as though it does not discriminate sufficiently between those being assessed - and there's too much random unfairness for those close to the borderline between one level and the next. On the other hand, using more than 10 grades usually feels like an assumption that the assessment tool is capable of discriminating more finely than it really is. So, well done in going for 8 levels in the i-level exams.

The problem though in using such an assessment system to assess the whole population of Year 11 students is that if everyone sits the same examination the lower grades will indicate only what the student cannot do or does not know or understand. The student getting grade 1 or 2 will have failed in most of the the assessment components. That's a depressing and dispiriting experience for anyone. So you finish up requiring different assessment components for those expected to achieve grades within particular ranges. But then, to make these effective assessment tools you need 6 to 10 grades for each of these, and some reliable and valid way of matching achievement within one assessment band with that within another. Good luck, Mr Gove.

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