The Balls of Finite Outcomes

As a former secondary school English teacher and Head of Department I had to suffer the annual assumed assessment and judgement of ‘stagnant’ – or worse – student progress from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3.

I was and always will be on the defensive about this. One of my more considered rejections [above and beyond a simple disregard for the miserable nonsense of KS 2 and 3 external testing in English] was the nature of KS3 English testing, when it existed, which did suddenly require students to read and write quite differently to the discrete kinds of testing at KS2, though this too suffered the ludicrous narrowing of prescriptive expectations for student responses.

As reported in today’s Schools Week, a new organisation No More Marking has reported forty-two per cent of year 7 pupils either stood still or “regressed” in English, based on their assessment software [no comment on this methodology, yet…].

It is too soon to simply reject, yet again, such an ‘assessment’ organisation and its assertions, but also too soon to warm entirely to the company’s director of education Daisy Christodoulou who is reported to have stated the following:

Year 7 may also have “particular issues” around transition, she said.

“They’re suddenly studying a lot more subjects, they’ve got lots of new teachers, new peers – there’s a lot more going on there.”

No More Marking tested more than 28,000 year 7 pupils using “open-ended” questions in English and maths, which could not be revised for and required a creative grasp of concepts…

This is sensible about the personal and social phenomena of the transition for most students, but I do also wonder especially at the seemingly poignant reference to students needing a creative grasp of concepts to respond to their open ended questioning.

At KS2 testing in English, and therefore the explicit teaching to this, there is absolutely nothing that encourages being creative or independent or anything other than robotic in dealing with the discrete and closed nature of, in particular, Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling testing.

Suddenly at KS3 in English, students will be reading and writing much more widely – like they used to at KS2 lest colleagues there think I am denigrating their curriculum. I’m not. The target culture that judges so clinically at KS2 would seem to have narrowed the curriculum to the robotics of test preparation, as reported so thoroughly – from schools, not the DfE – over recent years.

Obviously as I write I do not know what the exact nature of the No More Marking assessment is. That said, I have to conclude on a note of worry and concern when I quote the following guiding principle from the No More Marking organisation:

Marking does not work when it involves any degree of human judgement. This is due to a simple principle.

“There is no absolute judgment. All judgments are comparisons of one thing with another”. (Human Judgment: The Eye of the Beholder by Donald Laming, p.9).

Laming has shown that at best our judgments are ordinal. We can place things in an order, but scarcely more than this. Ask two people to apply a mark scheme and you will most likely get different marks. Ask people to place two scripts in order, and you will get more consistency.

Having just come through the process of examining GCSE with regular standardisation through seeding, I am not a novice when it comes to questioning personal judgements [and haven’t been before the online seeding process]. That said, I can’t imagine assessing English properly without it – unless, of course, we think English teaching and learning is only concerned with finite outcomes,

excusing the complete bollocks of the last two words in the above paragraph.


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