What if measuring progress is nonsense? That’s the question asked by James Pembroke
, data analyst with expertise in drilling school data.
Progress, he says, is not uniform. It depends on the child. Progress is uneven. One pupil may struggle to grasp the basics but will surge ahead when they are secure; another may absorb the basics quickly but then plateau. Progress isn’t an unwavering, forever upward gradient. And it can’t be broken down into ‘uniform blocks of equal difficulty’.
The progress measure is ‘based on an arbitrary scale between two ill-define, best fit and somewhat spurious end points’.
What teachers can do, James says, is ‘teach the curriculum’, judge whether pupils have achieved curriculum objectives and then ‘make a broad assessment’ of where they stand in relation to what could be expected at their age – ‘below, at or above’ at that point in time.
But teachers have ‘lost the plot’ if they develop data merely to satisfy senior leaders, governors, local authorities, academy chain head office, Ofsted and the Department for Education data crunching machine. All that’s needed is a single report which shows where pupils stand in relation to age-related expectations and which can be used to highlight gaps in learning. Formative assessment, in other words, used for the benefit of pupils, not summative assessment produced to placate the demand for data by people who forget children are individuals but who view them as widgets to be measured using a standardized ruler. As Russell Hobby, NAHT general secretary, says, ‘…perhaps the time has come to slay the sacred cow of progress.’