Measuring Progress in Education

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At the 10th Annual Festival of Education, held at the beautiful Wellington College, CEM hosted a panel on “Measuring progress in education: The good, the bad and the future.”

The good

We brought together a distinguished panel of experts: Richard Selfridge, primary school teacher and author of Databusting for Schools; James Pembroke, data analyst, blogger and TES columnist; Becky Allen, Chief Analyst and co-founder of Teacher Tapp; and Stuart Kime (chair), Director of Evidence Based Education.

The bad

The panel voiced a shared frustration with the way “progress” is commonly monitored and understood in schools, with growing pressures on teachers to demonstrate the efficacy of their teaching and a seemingly endless array of measures by which they might do so.

Measuring progress has become synonymous with Ofsted’s high-stakes accountability inspections and has contributed to the workload crisis with some schools requiring six-weekly data drops. Naturally, there was a healthy scepticism towards data sourced from crudely implemented, or too zealously conducted testing that does not tell teachers what they really need to know.

Throughout the discussion, the panellists also warned of the danger of over-investing in numerical reflections of progress, as Becky Allen put it: the quality of education cannot be reduced to a single metric.

The future

So what’s to be done about measuring progress in education?

While this is bound to be an ongoing discussion, for now, this panel's recommendation was for schools to adopt an intelligent monitoring system that would deliver the right data at the right time to effectively inform a wider picture of children's learning and development needs.

The panel set out recommendations for best practice:

What is progress?

Becky Allen: It’s complicated. Schools are not measuring attainment in a single knowledge domain – this shifts over time. They need to think hard about how they are comparing scores across different domains.

James Pembroke: I don’t know if you can define it, or truly measure it. We need to ask, expected progress in terms of what? It’s so multidimensional, and children are all different. Perhaps progress can only be described as the condition of knowing more things over time.

Richard Selfridge: In recent years we’ve revisited how we measure progress in schools. Things have changed a lot with the modifications to Key Stage 2, and we have had to reconsider what we mean by progress in the new curriculum. To me, progress is most simply “getting better.” It means that some children with lower prior attainment will need more support to get to the expected level. The question we have to ask is whether children have developed over time.

Can we disaggregate learning and development when we talk about progress?

Richard Selfridge: The Key Stages are useful to demarcate major shifts in children’s development. We probably wouldn’t want to apply numbers to assessing development.

Becky Allen: “Development” is just learning in the same domain repeatedly. It can be tracked alongside knowledge-based progress.

James Pembroke: There can be no neat approximation of these things. When we assess, we need to ask repeatedly what the reason for the assessment is.

What should we do now?

Becky Allen: We need to clearly define what it is children need to get better at. We should track knowledge in single domains – for instance, handwriting or spelling.

James Pembroke: There’s a need for schools to have really honest conversations with staff about which data is actually useful. The assessment policy needs to be streamlined and uncomplicated – we need to ensure that teacher observation is backed up by standardised assessment at key junctures.

Richard Selfridge: In my view, schools should conduct standardised assessments once a year to broadly establish which children have made more, less, or expected progress. This should be monitored over time.

Find out more about measuring progress:

Measuring Progress in Education – The good, the bad and the future By Richard Selfridge

Progress measures are the root of all evil By James Pembroke