Science APP (Assessing Pupil Progress) at KS3 with pupils who have special needs.

I’ve been grappling with APP for a while now and thought I’d post, thinking that I might perhaps save someone some time.  Better still perhaps someone will have better ideas than mine – if that’s you please leave a comment below.

I’ve heard many science teachers complaining about APP.  True it is yet another new initiative and true its effectiveness has yet to be determined, but it does have the potential to improve Science assessment across our schools.

Why APP?

  • Provide a clear assessment system linked to the new framework/KS3 curriculum
  • Students should know where they are and where they are going (Assessment for Learning)
  • Teachers can plan for progression and know how a student is doing
  • Schools can confidently track attainment of groups of pupils
  • APP is not about assessing pupils and doing nothing with the data.  APP is not intended to be a summative assessment tool.

Remember APP is not statutory.  You can’t do it wrong – whatever works for you is fine.

I used to use the PIVATS assessment criteria for assessing the How Science Works strand, but had increasingly found it a poor match for the new science framework.  This meant that I had to give APP a good try.

How I implemented APP with my students
I took the APP threads which had been created by Eastwood School and I added some level 1 & 2 statements from the draft copy of the Primary Science APP.  (Eastwood school broke the APP strands into sub-strands or threads which make it easier to see the progression between levels)

I decided to create discrete APP activities to use in class.  This seemed a much easier way to collect data than flicking through pupils’ books with an APP chart next to me.  It also provided a meaningful way for pupils to see the progression between levels.  I follow (loosely) the ASE’s Wikid scheme of work which has a strong how science works theme (since it was written to reflect the release version of the Science framework).  Wikid science is full of opportunities to create APP activities (I’ve uploaded some of my APP activities – follow the teaching resources link at the top of the page).

My students (as special school pupils) tend to have lower than average literacy/numeracy levels and so activities need to provide a way for students to express their science skills without being held back.

Pitfalls of the APP system (compared to what we had before).
APP does not measure sub-levels.  Statements within a level are not intended to be hierarchical but not all the statements within a level are of equal challenge.  I score pupils as a weak, straight or strong level which gives three sub-levels, averaging these scores gives a wider range of sub-levels.

I also created a level ladder (replacing PIVATS statements with APP criteria of comparable difficulty) to use when marking books, and to display on the wall.  I intended this to support our school policy of target setting for pupil IEPs.  I’m not sure how useful this is yet, but I’ve uploaded it to my resources site.

Assessment at KS4. The expectation is that students are assessed using examination criteria at KS4. How well this works depends on the course you are running.   Modular science courses (we’ve run Entry Level, BTEC Introductory and GCSE) provide feedback to students as end of unit marks, but it’s easy to lose track of progression, especially for pupils who make small steps of progress.

Any science APP only records progress against a narrow range of criteria. How do you record a pupil who suddenly answers questions in class, or a student who might independently have started collecting their own equipment.  Special schools tend to focus on life skills and social skills within all curriculum areas.

What about the other three attainment targets for Science?  We currently have no idea of how we will be expected to report in 2011, and what the weightings for the attainment targets will be.  I would expect there to be a significant weighting to the how science works skills giving the investment in APP, but there is still likely to be variation in quality of assessment of the range and content.  Current advice is to continue assessing range and content in the same way you have always done since you will be expected to report back on these at the end of the key stage.

Where next?
I came up with the idea of developing a feel for each level, characterised by the key words and phrases from each level.  To create this idea of ‘levelness’ I used the Wordle Site and entered APP criteria to create a Wordle for each national curriculum level.  If nothing else they look good displayed on the wall!

Summary of current assessment practice @ KS3

  • APP task for each  topic (with a need to improve the quality of tasks for pupils performing below level 3)
  • Level ladder to be used to set targets for students’ IEPs in line with whole school policy.
  • PIVATS document used alongside for target setting and tracking purposes for range and content.  Some end of unit tests (from Testbase) and level assessed tasks used to support teacher assessment.
  • Optional SATs for Y9 pupils to verify teacher assessment

How does this compare to your school?  Feel free to leave a comment below.

Click on the APP tag to the right to read my other posts about APP


Published by Rob Butler

Ex-science teacher, ex-school leader and full-time geek.

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