Grainne Hallahan, former teacher, senior writer for Tes, and self-confessed ‘assessment geek’, shares her views exclusively in this blogpost for ESS
One thing we can take from TAGs is that the processes we use to standardise and moderate in our assessment process can be improved by centralisation.
Schools aren’t set up to be chief examiner, marker, and Ofqual awarder all rolled into one. And they shouldn’t be. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take some of the more useful practices that have come out of the TAGs process.
Moderation is a process everyone plays a part in
Moderation is the academic equivalent of every teacher creating their own rulers, and then coming together to check their lines match up. When you make a judgement about something produced by a student- be that an essay, dance performance or exam paper- what we’re doing is placing it upon an invisible scale which we hold in our minds.
But it only works if we’re all using the same scale.
We know the most important part of the process of moderation is checking everyone knows where those boundaries are. There has to be a shared consensus on where things sit on the line, and why those lines are drawn where they are, otherwise all of the judgements would be meaningless.
The TAGs process has highlighted the need to moderate and find an agreement on what ‘consistently’ and ‘considerably’ looks like in a piece of work.
For too long schools have run moderation in a detached way; moderation is done to a teacher, not with your teachers. Exam scripts arrive in the teacher’s tray to mark, then they pick out the scripts they suspect will be top, middle, and bottom and mark them before putting these scripts in the head of department’s tray. Later that week those three essays appear back in the teacher’s tray. These scripts now have ticks next to the marks, or a correction, suggesting the marking was too stingy (bad) or too generous (worse).
What have TAGs shown us about getting assessments right?
- Make it easy to compare
Comparing essays where the question varies in difficulty, or the conditions in which the assessment was sat haven’t been controlled, makes moderation an impossible task.
How many marks do you allow for the class who saw the question beforehand? Or when one class was given a quotation bank and the other one open book?
If adjustments need to be made to take into account unevenness of learning, or an unwell grandparent, or a late night trip to A&E- it’s far better to keep an equal control over the conditions in which the assessment is sat, and then tweaking the marks for extenuating circumstances afterwards.
- Identifying staff who need more training in exam marking
During the moderation process it can quickly become apparent you have staff who haven’t seen enough of a range to accurately mark students’ work.
That doesn’t mean these teachers are lacking in the classroom. They’re probably very good at making formative marking decisions- after all, it is much more important for a teacher to know how to push a student on and develop- but looking at a piece of work and coming to a decision about its overall mark requires a lot of training. TAGs would have alerted which members of staff need a bit more help.
- Collating exemplars
Model answers are really valuable- and now, we’ve got more than we could have ever dreamed of. One small positive from marking every single piece of work year eleven produced in the Spring term has to be the hefty bank of model answers you now have to draw upon.
It would be really helpful to now pick the best examples to create a bank of standardised scripts. These scripts can be used for future training, particularly with novice teachers, when awarding grades and making decisions about grade boundaries.
Grainne Hallahan is the recruitment editor and senior content writer at Tes. She tweets at @heymrshallahan