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Ltlre curriculum and Assessment Papers Barbara Wintersgill 2015

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LTLRE Curriculum and Assessment Papers © Barbara Wintersgill 2015
The new guidance on assessment from the DfE is based on recommendations from Tim Oates. Oates' work in turn draws on Bloom's theory of Mastery Learning.
Origins and purpose

  1. The Mastery Learning concept was introduced in American schools in the 1920s but revived and made popular in the 1950s, predominantly by Benjamin Bloom.

  2. Mastery Learning was developed in opposition to the traditional teaching/assessment model, known to us, where:

    1. pupils study a unit of work after which testing reveals that some have learnt the work well while others have learnt less or very little. Regardless of test outcomes, all pupils in the class move on to the next piece of work together. This is a well known approach to content heavy curricula, as in the UK. The visible outcome is the slower pupil's exercise book full of incomplete work.

    2. pupils learn for a test but forget the work soon afterwards; (shallow, quick learning).

  3. ML is predicated on the belief that nearly all students can master a subject

  4. The key to ML is recognition that people learn at different speeds. Rather than move on when the fastest - or the majority - have completed a piece of work, the class only moves on to new work when all students have demonstrated 'mastery'.

We have two particular reservations about Bloom's theory:

  1. The name. 'Mastery' suggests acquisition of aptitudes to a very high level e.g. we think of Yo-Yo Ma as a 'master' of the cello or of Rembrandt as one of the 'old masters'. In reality if 'mastery' is the level to be achieved by nearly all pupils it has to be a more modest standard than is suggested by the term 'mastery'.

  2. Bloom's claim that all pupils can achieve mastery rests on his belief that there are no differences between children in ability, only in the speed at which they work. Experience suggests that this is not the case. To define 'mastery' at a standard that is accessible to all pupils in a class, including those identified as having learning difficulties (unless in a selective school or ability set) would be to set the bar very low indeed. This would have the opposite effect to our aim of raising standards.

LTLRE revision of Mastery Learning
Taking Mastery Learning as a starting point, our principles for revising the curriculum and assessment are as follows:

  1. Replace the term 'mastery' with 'expected standard (ES)', a more neutral term that does not make unrealistic claims for what the majority of pupils can do.

  2. Define ES as the standard that can be realistically expected from all pupils in the class with the exception of those identified as having learning difficulties.

This is in keeping with the latest guidance from Standards and Testing Agency1 on testing at KS1. Other pupils are said to be 'working towards the expected standard' and 'working at greater depth within the expected standard'. This wording may look familiar but the final description is significant. It does not say, as we might expect, 'working above the expected standard' but 'working at greater depth'. This reflects Bloom's principle exactly; that pupils who achieve what we are calling 'competence' earlier than others move on to work in the same area at greater depth NOT at a higher level.

  1. The most important function of assessment is to find out whether pupils have learnt what they have been taught.

  2. There is no difference between homework or task/exercise completed in class and an assessment; there is no difference between 'marking' and 'formative assessment'.

  3. At every stage of curriculum planning (KS, year, unit of work, lesson) teachers will define 'the expected standard' i.e. what they expect nearly all pupils to achieve: in the case of the Key Stage this will be the end of Key Stage statement. (LTLRE working with teachers will produce a recommended ES for each KS).

  4. For every unit of work and lesson teachers will create learning objectives and associated deep learning tasks for pupils who reach ES quicker than others.

  5. Pupils who do not succeed with the ES task will be given extra help in relation to the specific area of the work which they did not grasp. The teacher uses a different method and resources from those used the first time round and sets a different task, only on the parts of the work that were not completed successfully at first.

  6. Once nearly all pupils have reached ES, the class moves on to new content.


Interim teacher assessment frameworks at the end of key stage 1

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