There is a tide in the affairs of men, or so opined Brutus in Julius Caesar.
Likewise, there is something like a tide in the edu-blogosphere, or at least a prevailing wind. And the prevailing wind right now seems to blowing against the idea of National Curriculum levels (try Joe, Daisy or Keven for their wiser, more coherent thoughts on this issue.)
But here’s the thing: I’ve always quite liked the idea of levels.
There. I’ve said it. Now I feel like Captain Rum in Blackadder:
Edmund: Look, there’s no need to panic. Someone in the crew will know how to steer this thing.
Rum: The crew, milord?
Edmund: Yes, the crew.
Rum: What crew?
Edmund: I was under the impression that it was common maritime practice for a ship to have a crew.
Rum: Opinion is divided on the subject.
Edmund: Oh, really?
Rum: Yahs. All the other captains say it is; I say it isn’t.
Blackadder II, Episode 3: Potato
Now this is not to say that some schools did some mighty strange things with levels and sub-levels. Like insisting that Key Stage 3 students should progress by two sub-levels per year. And woe betide any teacher that did not achieve this minimal standard of progression, or — horror of horrors! — reported that a student had made negative progress. How dare one cause even the minutest blip on our glorious straight lines on our graphs (drawn in Excel! with colour coding!) of student progression!
And so, for a quiet life, some rascally teachers may have looked at last year’s level, added two sub-levels to it, and entered that.
And, lo, it came to pass that everybody was happy: “Yea, we have numbers, and numbers are scientific. Gosh, some of us even use numbers and letters, which is beyond scientific: I mean, it’s more like advanced cognitive calculus of your learning soul, right? And Ofsted want to see progress over time. Which is shown by our graphs. In Excel. With colour coding. A glorious and undeviating straight line. For every single student. God, we are so good, aren’t we? Outstanding, even.”
That said, I am still in favour of keeping a form of assessment level. No, not the hyperformal “Oh-they’ve-got-to-sit-both-SATS-papers-in-order-to-get-a-reliable-level-and-sublevel” type of level.
What I have got in mind is an approach that was introduced to me many, many moons ago. It was called the CONTROL WORD approach to levels (ring any bells for anyone else yet?)
Level 3: DESCRIBES cause and effect using everyday language (e.g. “The wind blew the door shut”)
Level 4: Uses scientific TERMINOLOGY (e.g. “A force is a push or a pull.”)
Level 5: EXPLAINS cause and effect using scientific terminology (e.g. “The boat slowed because of the drag force of the water.”)
Level 6: Explain cause and effect using an ABSTRACT concept (e.g. “The bulb became dimmer because the resistance of the circuit increased.”)
Level 7: Uses a scientific MODEL to explain a phenomenon (e.g. “The wire has resistance because the freely moving electrons collide with the atoms of the wire and lose energy.”)
Level 8: Links PHENOMENA using a sophisticated model [or models] (e.g. “The atoms vibrate with greater amplitude at higher temperatures. This means that the freely moving electrons will collide more frequently with them. Thus the resistance of the wire increases with temperature.”)
The sublevels were allocated as follows:
(c) can do this with coaching or with highly structured prompts
(b) can usually do this with some prompting or coaching
(a) can do this relied on to do this independently
I’ve always secretly applied this assessment schema when asked for NC levels, and my rule-of-thumb-pulled-out-of-thin-air level has usually been at least comparable with “two-sodding-SATS-papers-to-bloody-well-mark-just-to-generate-one-number-and-one-stupid-letter approach”, or the T.S.S.P.T.B.W.M.J.T.G.O.N.A.O.S.L Approach, as an educational consultant might call it.
Anyhow, now my secret is out. Please feel free to pile on and criticise.
I shall sign off with what I think is an appropriate quotation from Wittgenstein:
My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)
He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 6.54