Why not assess loving kindness and compassion?

It was inevitable. Given the buzz around character education, mindfulness, mindset and metacognitive strategies etc it was only a matter of time before teachers started trying to assess these sorts of attributes. I came across this sincere attempt to chart progress in areas such as mindfulness and also loving kindness and compassion.

I have reproduced the blog’s suggested progression in ‘loving kindness and compassion’ below:

Their Journey so far Loving kindness and compassion
6 Regularly enjoys giving and receiving acts of loving kindness. Is regularly compassionate towards others and looks to help people in distress. Looks after the vulnerable in the school and looks to help them by talking and playing with them.
5 Is beginning to see how acts of kindness are beneficial to the giver and receiver.Beginning to understand the concept that we all suffer and that we shouldn’t look to add to people’s suffering.
4 Is beginning to see how acts of kindness can be beneficial to others.
3 Can be kind to themselves but not always show compassion or kindness towards others.
2 Finds it both hard to give and receive acts of kindness.
1 Find it hard to be positive about themselves or others.

Quite aside from whether it is the role of schools to prioritise the psychological manipulation of their pupils over academic goals, so many obvious questions appear ignored in the construction of this chart.

  • Do we really think kindness is a skill that can be taught?
  • If we really do can it be assessed effectively? How do we know?
  • Do people make any form of linear progress in behaviours?
  • Who decides what ‘better’ means and why?
  • Can a mark scheme actually show progression in kindness?
  • Is it not more than a little problematic that on this mark scheme the same person could sometimes be level 1 and at other times level 6?

Surely it is demonstrably foolish to set about assessing a desirable attribute without properly considering these questions? Isn’t it obvious that you can’t just pluck a series of statements out of the air that seem to you to show progression and claim they do and that you can use them to assess? How could the writer ever have thought this was anything other than nonsense?

Ah… Hold on a moment…

I didn’t include the above table to pillory this blogger in his sincere efforts to spread loving kindness. Why should he think there is any problem with his approach given the assessment levels he has been using as a teacher?

Here we have the old National Curriculum science levels. I have taken excerpts from the levels for energy forces and space:

Level 1 Pupils communicate observations of changes in light, sound or movement that result from actions
Level 2 Pupils know about a range of physical phenomena and recognise and describe similarities and differences associated with them.
Level 3 Pupils use their knowledge and understanding of physical phenomena to link cause and effect in simple explanations
Level 4 Pupils describe some processes and phenomena related to energy, forces and space, drawing on scientific knowledge and understanding and using appropriate terminology… They recognise that evidence can support or refute scientific ideas… They recognise some applications and implications of science
Level 5 Pupils describe processes and phenomena… drawing on abstract ideas and using appropriate terminology… They explain processes and phenomena, in more than one step or using a model… They apply and use knowledge and understanding in familiar contexts…. They recognise that both evidence and creative thinking contribute to the development of scientific ideas… They describe applications and implications of science

 

  • Do we really think things such as ‘recognising similarity and difference’ are generic skills, readily transferable to whatever material is being learnt?
  • If we really do can it be assessed effectively? How do we know?
  • Do people make any form of linear progress in recognising similarity and difference?
  • Who decides what ‘better’ means and why? Can a mark scheme actually show progression in recognising similarity and difference?
  • Is it not more than a little problematic that on this mark scheme, depending on the material taught,  the same person could sometimes be level 1 and at other times level 6?

Apparently you are ‘able to recognise similarity and difference’ from level 2. Level 4 is when you get the skill of ‘recognising some applications and implications of science’ and by level 5 you can explain these. My six year old’s science school report suggests he needs:

‘…to use his observations to make a simple conclusion’.

Ah yes, that ‘using observations to make a simple conclusion skill’. Isn’t that the skill he used as a new-born baby when he decided he wanted to be with mummy because she had the milk? What level did that make him?

Surely it is demonstrably foolish to set about assessing a desirable attribute without properly considering these questions? Isn’t it obvious that you can’t just pluck a series of statements out of the air that seem to you to show progression and claim they do and that you can use them to assess? How could the writer ever have thought this was anything other than nonsense?

Why am I going over old ground? Levels are gone (at least gone from some schools) and new better forms of assessment, endorsed by the Department of Education, are being substituted. Let’s look at one of these winners of ‘Assessment Innovation Fund’ money from the DfE…

Concept: Causation in history Learning for Progress: Key Stage 4 History
CreatingStudents organise and represent information in a new / different way.Action words: Plan, invent, design, develop, construct, compose Demonstrate their understanding of the past through developed, reasoned and well substantiated explanations of relevant causes, consequences and changes
EvaluatingStudents judge the quality / usefulness of information sources, making decisions based upon agreed criteria.Action words: Assess, justify, prioritise, judge, decide / choose, recommend Demonstrate their understanding of the past through reasoned and well-justified explanations of relevant causes, consequences and changes
AnalysingStudents break down information sources into key parts, finding a range of differing evidence.Action words: Compare / contrast, examine, investigate, categorise, classify, sort Demonstrate their understanding of the past through developed and reasoned explanations of relevant causes, consequences and changes
ApplyingStudents begin to solve problems / answer questions by using learned information in different situations.Action words: Use, complete, examine, illustrate, solve, apply Their descriptions are accurate and their explanations show understanding of relevant causes, consequences and changes
UnderstandingStudents begin to solve problems / answer questions by using learned information in different situations.Action words: Use, complete, examine, illustrate, solve, apply Demonstrate their understanding of the past through description of reasons, results and changes in relation to the events, people and issues studied
RememberingStudents begin to solve problems / answer questions by using learned information in different situations.Action words: Use, complete, examine, illustrate, solve, apply Demonstrate their understanding of the past through description of reasons, results and changes in relation to the events, people and issues studied

This is better than the old NC levels because there is an emphasis on the idea that the degree of skill will depend on the events people and issues studied. But then again…

  • On what grounds do we assume that analysing is a lower level skill than creating? This not a minor niggle. If we can’t actually show this (and we can’t) it undermines the whole premise of the assessment structure.
  • The structure implies that during KS4 a student will go higher up the assessment ladder as they do more topics. Will they? How do we know?
  • Historians spend quite some time simply writing descriptions. Are they operating at a lower level than a KS3 student who has reached the top ‘creating’ level on the ladder or can writing a description actually be quite hard?

The demands of comparative accountability require state schools to use progress’ measures but they will always be flawed because:

Surely it is demonstrably foolish to set about assessing a desirable attribute without properly considering these questions above? Isn’t it obvious that you can’t just pluck a series of statements out of the air that seem to you to show progression and claim they do and that you can use them to assess? How could the writer ever have thought this was anything other than nonsense?

How can I really check my year 9 history students have made ‘progress’ over time in some generic sense, that doesn’t actually hinge on whether they have learnt the latest stuff they have been taught? That apparent ‘progress’ will evaporate if students make less effort on the next topic (or my teaching is poor). The following links are to blogs that all explore the reasons levels are problematic and suggest alternative ways forward, see here, here  and here.  Using the idea that a child is making ‘progress’ rather than simply learning more stuff can work better in subjects where the content is more hierarchical such as maths and early reading although even then it can lead to short termism in approaches and can be problematic because models of progress are often inevitably flawed.

While the education establishment continues to show distaste for the idea that education is about learning a body of knowledge we will not have decent assessment. The idea of actually comparing schools by checking how many students in a year group can explain Hooke’s Law or a myriad of other facts, seems almost absurd in the current climate (although it is what GCSEs do). However, what is more absurd is the alternative.

Meaningful assessment involves checking how well students have learnt the specific stuff you have taught them and difficulty of the task will be dependent on how difficult the students find the specific material being learnt.

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “Why not assess loving kindness and compassion?

  1. Would you say that a simple conclusion from all of this is that attempts to measure *progress* in subjects based on discretely organised knowledge (basically History, Geography and Science) are in vain?

    Thanks for the effort you put into putting this blog post together – my kind of post!

    1. Your thanks is really appreciated. Perhaps those of us that keep picking away at levels and notions of progress are a select band! Yes, I think I would say that, although there is some interesting stuff in history about the idea of planning progression in understanding of second order concepts that I can’t quite make my mind up over.
      Levels should work in languages but I seem to remember, when I looked, that the old levels deliberately avoided the obvious hierarchy of knowledge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s