Thursday, 18 October 2018

Trust

Here's a thing. In conversations with senior leaders both online and in the real world, I often get asked about restricting access to data for teaching staff or even locking down tracking systems entirely. This seems to take two broad themes:

1) Limiting a teacher's access to data that relates only to those pupils for whom they are responsible.

2) Locking down the system after the 'data drop' or 'assessment window'

Let's have a think about this for a minute. Why are some senior leaders' wanting to do this? What are their concerns? Essentially it boils down to mistrust of teachers and fear that data will be manipulated. But what sort of culture exists in a school where such levels mistrusts have taken root? How did they get to this point? It's possible that such concerns are well founded, that manipulation of data has occurred; and I have certainly heard some horror stories, one of which came to light during inspection. That didn't end well, believe me. But often it's just suspicion, suspicion that teachers will change the data of another class to make their class look better, or will alter the end of previous year assessments for their current class to make the baseline lower, or will tweak data to ensure it fits the desired school narrative, or most commonly to ensure it matches their target.

Suspicion and mistrust. How desperately sad is that?

Golden Rule #1: separate teacher assessment from performance management. But how common is it for teachers to be set targets that are reviewed in the light of assessment data that the teacher is responsible for generating? I regularly hear of teachers being told that 'all pupils must make 3.5 points' progress per year' or that '85% must be at age-related expectations by the end of the year' and the final judgement is based on the data that teachers enter onto the system; on how many learning objectives they've ticked. It is a fallacy to think you can achieve high quality, accurate data under such a regime.

Teacher assessment should be focused on supporting children's learning, not on monitoring teacher performance. You cannot hope to have insightful data if teachers have one eye over their shoulder when assessing pupils, and are tempted to change data in order to make things look better than they really are. Perverse incentives are counterproductive and a risk to system integrity. They will cause data to be skewed to such an extent that it ceases to have any meaning or value, thus rendering it useless. Senior leaders need a warts and all picture of learning, not some rose-tinted, target-biased view that gets exposed when the SATs results turn up. Teachers need to be able to assess without fear, and that evidently requires a big culture shift in many schools.

The desire to lock down systems and restrict teacher access is indicative of how assessment data is viewed in many schools: as an instrument of accountability, rather than a tool for teaching and learning. If teachers are manipulating data, or are suspected of doing so, then senior leaders should take a long hard look at the regime and culture in their school rather than resorting to such drastic measures.

It is symptomatic of a much wider problem.

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