9 Approaches to assessing Computing and ICT–#4: A Mastery Approach

We now have the ability to assess students’ progress accurately, identifying their successes and, crucially, pinpointing areas of misunderstanding.
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We now have the ability to assess students’ progress accurately, identifying their successes and, crucially, pinpointing areas of misunderstanding.


The DfE recently announced the winners of its Assessment Innovation Fund: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/schools-win-funds-to-develop-and-share-new-ways-of-assessing-pupils

The purpose of the fund was as follows:

By collecting and promoting examples of innovative approaches to assessment, we want to give schools ideas and options as they upgrade their systems in response to the removal of levels.

We are therefore asking schools and organisations to present their approaches to the Department: where needed, we can allocate funding (of up to £10,000 per unique application) to help create a simple, easy-to-use package for others schools to transfer and use in their own setting.

Each package will then be made freely available for other schools to access, download and use.

(See https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/268361/Assessment_Innovation_Fund_launch_doc.pdf )

Over the next week or so I will report on the winners and the descriptions of their approach. These descriptions are more like thumbnail sketches at the moment. I have used them to suggest ways in which they might be adapted for use in assessing ICT and Computing. I hope you find these suggestions useful, or at least a good starting point for your own further work.

In each case I have kept the text of the DfE’s announcement, and then added my thoughts under the heading “Applying this to Computing and ICT”.

Today: A Mastery approach.

Trinity Academy Halifax, Yorkshire (secondary)

The new national curriculum is broken down into units (categorising difficulty as foundation, elementary, intermediate or advanced) which translate to planned teaching programmes of study for lessons and subsequent category tests. The content of the units has been devised with substantial expertise from the maths and English teaching communities and based on leading curriculum models (eg Shanghai and Singapore).

Students complete a test to ascertain their degree of mastery. Their level of success places them at a particular point within a category:

  • “no progress”
  • “expected progress”
  • “exceptional progress”

Students must master particular unit content before being in a position to master the next stage. This means that students who plateau at a given level can be given focused support to unlock understanding and progress further.

Judges thought this was a very strong application that placed good consideration on progress from key stage 1 to key stage 3, particularly bearing in mind that it is a secondary school.

Vice Principal Rob Marsh said:

The opportunity for us to take control of assessment and develop a system based on the needs of our students has been transformational. It has been developed with the expertise of many teachers and leaders with passion and enthusiasm. The result is that we now have the ability to assess students’ progress accurately, identifying their successes and, crucially, pinpointing areas of misunderstanding. This leads to effectively targeted support and ultimately successful intervention at an early stage.

Applying this to Computing and ICT

The concept of “mastery” is a well-established one. I like the idea that if pupils reach a plateau they will be given focused support to help them move up.

I think this could be applied to the Computing curriculum. However, I think it is worth pointing out that it has often been the case that “Mastery” approaches have been interpreted as competency-based. What that can translate to is a very “atomistic” approach whereby skills are broken down into smaller and smaller sub-skills.

In the context of Computing you could end up with a situation in which a pupil achieves mastery in, say, Scratch programming, but be completely unable to transfer the learning to a different program or even not be able to solve a different sort of problem, even using Scratch.

Nevertheless, the Mastery approach has much to commend it. And, of course, how you define “Mastery” and how you assess whether it has been achieved can in themselves be innovative. You might, for example, enlist the help of local organisations or students at a nearby college or university to help in the final assessment of each skill area.

Information from the DfE and Ofsted has been used in accordance with the terms of the Open Government Licence http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/2/

To read the first post in this series, please go to 9 Approaches to assessing Computing and ICT–#1: Skills Passport. To gain access to the whole series in one document, just sign up for Digital Education.

cross-posted at www.ictineducation.org

Terry Freedman is an independent educational ICT consultant with over 35 years of experience in education. He publishes the ICT in Education website and the newsletter “Digital Education."