Rocking in a Levels-free World: Tim Oates on Assessment Best Practice

If I could vote for him, I would.
If I could vote for him, I would.

If you watch one Youtube video this weekend, make it this one, in which Tim Oates (Group Director of Assessment Research and Development at Cambridge Assessments) speaks with quiet eloquence about the Brave New World of assessment without levels.

He quickly and politely evaluates recent UK education history with refreshing diplomacy and candour. The National Curriculum of 1988 is described as too content-heavy, forcing teachers into a nightmare of coverage and pushing students too quickly whilst teaching too thinly. The system of levelling is described as “a model of innate ability” (by implication giving rise to a fixed mindset). When describing success and failure in learning opportunities, he contrasts our tendency to explain away student failure (by making reference to  the students’ operational levels), with Singaporean teachers who would focus on how well they felt they had planned a unit.

His descriptions of best practice in Singapore, Finland and Wroxham are designed to allay fears that a life without levels will be one of uncertain standards and confusion. If we focus on “deep understanding”, giving greater time to production and meaningful practice, we will find that our students acquire skills and knowledge to a deeper level, and are able to transfer their learning to a wider range of complex tasks.

Whilst watching, a lot of what he says links to my recent reading of Understanding By Design (Wiggins and McTighe). We are currently implementing this planning technique in our school. One of the challenges is to define the “key understandings” in each subject area. But once defined, and if we get them right, we are in a much stronger position to move our students through a richer and more authentic learning experience.

So, please do watch the video and, if you like the sentiments, spread the word. Tim Oates is rocking in a levels-free world.


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