Published on: 20 Apr 2017

In these uncertain times, CAT, Doddle and PiXL have all provided a raft for us to hold onto. And dry land is just about in sight!

Assessments that keep us afloat in cold, choppy waters

By Lee Walker, Vice Principal of Hinchingbrooke School in Cambridgeshire until April 2017, when he becomes the Headteacher of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds

A common theme among school leaders at the moment is uncertainty. How will results look in the summer? What constitutes a grade 5, 7 or 9? Can we predict whether the Higher or Foundation tier is right for this or that student? How best to interpret results in the new style Key Stage 2 tests?

And amidst all of this uncertainty, how can we ensure that our staff continue to teach with confidence, clarity and creativity?

In uncertain times we all find it useful to hold fast to what we know. A raft which keeps us afloat in cold, choppy waters. Personally, this might be a favourite piece of music, poem or novel. In our world of education, when policy change arrives all too frequently, we like to rely on tried and tested systems. Ways of doing things which we know will work, and work well. At Hinchingbrooke, CAT testing has been a mainstay of our assessment practice for some years now - continually refined and sharpened, but always reliable.

Target setting is one area where results from CAT have proved invaluable. Last summer, with the arrival of the scaled score, we found ourselves hastily revising our policy on target setting and tracking in Key Stage 3. However, baseline testing with CAT 4, undertaken when our students came to us for their taster days, provided clear, relevant and above all, familiar detail. We compared CAT results with Year 6 results and information from feeder primary schools, and had confidence that individual student targets were SMART and well understood by staff.

What is more, we have used Doddle's assessment system, founded on student progress in the development of skills, to check with precision on how our Year 7 cohort are faring. We can compare this progress, using 9-1 grading, with CAT results. It is comforting to see how closely achievement in CAT matches with progress in Year 7 in different subjects. Two different systems working with great synergy. What we expected, based on the CAT test taken in July, has actually been borne out by Doddle assessment so far in Year 7. Most importantly of all, both systems allow us to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses in each child, and respond to this in our teaching.

We are pleased also to have been part of the PiXL Curve exams for current Year 11. Not only have these enabled very close targeting of teaching methods and materials for individuals and groups, once results are known, but comparison with CAT tests done in Year 10 have again shown how reliable student results on Curve exams actually are. 

Like all colleagues nationally, we are still far from certain about what a grade 5 actually looks like. However, the use of these two systems together (CAT and Curve) has enabled us to have a much clearer idea.

Nothing can replace the years of experience and knowledge we had all built up with the 'legacy' specifications, which our non-core colleagues are using for the last time this summer. However, in these uncertain times, CAT, Doddle and PiXL have all provided a raft for us to hold onto. And dry land is just about in sight!

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