How to subvert target grades

Target grades are good aren’t they? They must be otherwise why would Ofsted be so damn keen on them. Consider this: how would Monsieur d’Ofsted respond when asking an unsuspecting student in your class whether they’re achieving their target grade only to be told that their teacher didn’t let them know what their target grade was? Doesn’t bode well, does it?

Here’s a somewhat contentious piece of information: if you grade (or level) students’ work you are actively preventing that piece of work being used formatively. That’s not right, you may be thinking, I can provide formative feedback on a piece of work which helps students make progress whilst also giving them a grade as a useful signpost to measure their progress against, can’t I?

I’m afraid to tell you that you can’t. Grading work (extrinsic pressure) is often used in an attempt to improve results. But it doesn’t work. Dylan Wiliam says, ‘when students get marks and comments, they first look at their own mark and then at their neighbour’s. They hardly ever read the comments’.

Even worse, ‘target’ grades are nothing of the sort. They are a fiction which we collude in. hat we ponce about blithely referring to as tagets are in fact statistical likelihoods. They are not predictions and using them, baldly, as tagets is a nonsensical fiction.

But what about Ofsted? Well, if we accept that giving grades undermines student progress should we give a monkeys what Ofsted think?

Grades can also have a pernicious effect on mindsets. It seems clear that formative assessment encourages growth mindset whereas grades (especially target grades) encourage students to have fixed view of their intelligence and potential.

One tip is to hassle your school’s data manager to provide you with the statistical underpinning of the students’ target grades suppled by FFT and provide each student with something which looks like this:

G

F

E

D

C

B

A

A*

1.%

1.%

1.%

6.6%

31.7%

39.2%

18.2%

3.5%

This shows the statistical likelihood of the student achieving a particular GCSE result based on their achievement at Key Stage 2. The point is that this is, or can be, highly motivating. Take the time and trouble to alert the observer to the fact that you have supplied all the students in the class with this information by saying something along the lines of, “Now children, turn to the inside front cover of your thoroughly marked exercise books and refresh your memories of the statistical likelihood of achieving a grade higher than your target grade. [In the case of the student above this is the number highlighted in red] Remember that the biggest difference between the students who achieved an A instead of a B is that they worked harder and wanted it more. You too can be one of the 3 and a half people in every hundred who achieved an A*. The only thing that’s holding you back is you!” The students will then luck up in awestruck wonder and work their metaphorical socks off.

Unless they have something like this stuck in their books:

G

F

E

D

C

B

A

A*

7.8%

19.6%

34.5%

29.4%

8.4%

1.%

1.%

1.%

Knowing you’ve only got a 10% chance of getting a C or above can, unsurprisingly, be demotivating for some students. So, what to do? I’ll let you into a little secret: I make it up! In the case above (and this is real data from a real student) I simply changed it so that it appeared thus:

G

F

E

D

C

B

A

A*

4%

7.8%

19.6%

30.5%

29.4%

8.4%

1.%

1.%

Is this ethical? I’m not sure. But I do know that for this particular student, his chances of beating his E grade target have dramatically increased. He now has something to work towards and believe in. He may or may not be one of the 8.4% of children who, despite the low prior attainment end up with a C grade but I’m absolutely convinced that if we really must damage students by sharing their target grades with them we can at least use them in a motivational way.

Related posts

If you grade it, it’s not formative assessment

Is there a case for summative assessment?

Controlled assessment and why I hate it

 

25 Responses to How to subvert target grades

  1. Dave Rees says:

    Thanks for this very thoughtful piece!

  2. Lisa Ashes says:

    I tell lies to motivate my pupils too! If you say you can you’re right; if you say you can’t you’re right – why not instill a little belief in our pupils instead of destroying their souls with “your predicted grade is an F”. Love the percentages idea too…

  3. Shanti Lall says:

    Well put. I’d like to show this to my HoD and Head of Sixth Form if I may. The latter observed me and marked me down because the students (to whom I give very detailed feedback on each essay they write, as he acknowledged) didn’t know what grade they were working at…because I didn’t want them to. It was only a few weeks into Year 12. As you say, I especially don’t want the girl in my class whose Target Minimum Grade is E, to be thinking in terms of grades rather than how she can develop and improve her work.

    • learningspy says:

      Well Shanti, that tells us everything that’s wrong with the way lesson observations are conducted. Shame on your observer whoever they are. This is just the kind of box ticking, clip board wielding nonsense that gets in the way of teachers being professionals. You have my sympathies as well as my permission to use this information in any way you find useful.

  4. Rosy (RBlteach) says:

    Thanks for another interesting post LearningSpy!
    I like to create a dialogue when marking and give students time in class to respond to my comments.Often something very precise that will help them access their targeted level or grade.
    I agree motivation is key!

    • learningspy says:

      Thanks Rosy, I like to do that too.

      I’m trying to discipline myself to write questions instead of comments do that students have to work out for themselves how to improve.

  5. Stuart Lock says:

    That made up one wouldn’t work in my Maths class since due to my excellent teaching and their incredible learning, they would question it, check it, and point out it goes way over 100% to an extent that rounding can’t account for it! ;)

    Good piece David.

  6. Mark says:

    Is it ethical? No… Is it the right thing to do? Probably. Using data in this way can be such a motivating tool but as you say, what is the point of using data to start a motivational conversation if that data is demotivational? Just watch out for the Maths geeks in your classroom David, that reflective Maths guy will be all over you!

  7. Vicky says:

    Sharing Target grades is fine for the top percentile, however,not so great for the D to G students. I always get that awful knot in my tummy and question how to tell them. I have a horrible-memory from NQT year of seeing their disappointed faces when target grades are shared. Since then I have my own way of sharing targets, a motivational White lie never hurts, especially when you move the targeted E grades to GCSE B grades. My ethos is to realistically challenge data and not write off student outcome before they start. I am familiar with FFT and the percentage split, some schools use this to set targets and then add some. I think this is ok for use to motivate students, so long as we are not judged on the aspirational and SOME on top of original target grades!

  8. David, there is a real issue with the ‘ceiling,’ effect of target grades for sure. I have in the past massaged grades and then adopted the (pre Porto) Jose Mourinho stance. ‘Or Crazy Gang’ mentality, the Bumblebee can’t fly, the ‘Coach Carter – what is your deepest fear,’ mentality.

    It is us against them, against the stats men and women, the exam board and everyone who said you could not.

    The statistics apply to everyone but us, ‘cos they don’t know us. They do not know who ‘WE’ are. We are more than a number of their spreadsheet…. and so it goes.

  9. learningspy says:

    How about we all act as if they’re going to get As? They won’t but then we just roll up our sleeves and try again next year.

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  11. Lindsay says:

    I met with 50 or so Y10 students at the start of this year and got them to choose 3 subjects they were going to aim for an A/A* when their predicted grade was a B. It resulted in some very happy, motivated students who felt their opinion and efforts were valued.

  12. learningspy says:

    Lindsay that sounds excellent – be interesting to find out how they all do.

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  14. [...] How to subvert target grades Recently, I overheard a colleague say that they had never attended an INSET ( <b>IN </b> <b>SE </b>rvice <b>T </b>raining) day that <i>wasn’t </i> a complete waste of time. I have to admit that I felt rather startled by this as, with some notable exceptions, I generally enjoy these days. You get to natter to people you don’t see everyday, you get a break from the kids and often there’s a free lunch! But how often do I learn anything? Well, that all depends on the type of INSET day it is. [...]

  15. Lizzie says:

    When this was implemented in my school, as HOD I took all the data and put it in to Excel and created a bar chart for every student (a long and tedious process) showing them their percentage chances of getting each grade. We then had a discussion about what these figures all meant. & I then got them to underline the highest % grade. I then also told them that if they didn’t like that grade they could alter it upwards (very specific they couldn’t go downwards).

    The first class I did this with were a middle set most of whom were on the C/D borderline. Nearly every one of them chose to increase their target grade by at least one grade . As one boy said, “If I aim for this higher grade and fail – at least I’ll still have got my ‘target’.”

    This approach led to some really interesting discussions about ambitions and insecurities about HOW they were going to do as well as they could & exceed their targets. What was supposed to be a short activity at the start of a lesson ended up being a really interesting whole class discussion.

    It is also worth noting that kids who have very high targets also really feel the pressure about reaching them and often need reassurance that they can do it too!

  16. drregan_abi says:

    What do people feel about pupils setting personal targets?

    I’ve gone with this system with my GCSE classes. They set a target grade and then I say that I will, as a coach, help them achieve that goal. The dialogue changes: Homeworks are no longer done because I set them and they will be in detention otherwise; but they are done to try to develop their learning. Not having a pen or exercise book in lessons is rephrased as “you need to be more prepared if you want a grade XYZ”. It fits more with the notion of “intrinsic motivation”, if that’s an appropriate buzz word. I’ve had pupils ask me if they can do another mock exam because they didn’t meet their target. Desire to achieve comes from them, not me.

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  21. Greg Cotier says:

    I’ve long wondered about the usefulness of mock exams to the student. Maybe useful for the teacher, but not the student.

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