A.P.P.July 15, 2009
A spectre is haunting education — the spectre of APP. All the powers of the educational bureaucracy have entered into a holy alliance to impose this spectre: the DCSF, OFSTED, senior managers and Local Authority consultants.
APP is “Assessing Pupil Progress”. Or possibly it is “Assessing Pupils’ Progress”.
It all depends who you ask. The idea has never been consistent or clear. There are only two things anyone seems to be sure of.
1) APP involves using the National Curriculum to identify objectives known as “assessment focuses” (or is it “curricular targets”?) and then ticking students off on a grid when they reach them.
2) This ball-achingly, pointless piece of paperwork is the responsibility of classroom teachers who will have to be trained, patronised and scrutinised.
God help us all.
Of course, there are a number of reasons why a long list of objectives is never a good way to assess students.:
- There is too much paperwork, particularly for secondary teachers who may teach hundreds of students. It takes too long to do and when done often creates more data than can ever be used productively.
- It is seeking to measure something which is largely a matter of opinion, i.e. whether a student’s grasp of a particular skill or piece of knowledge is firm.
- It is measuring something that is complex and constantly changing. Children will learn new skills and forget old ones faster than the paperwork can be updated.
- It encourages vast bureaucracies which spend time creating objectives to be met.
- Because of the sheer quantity of knowledge and skills that might usefully be taught in schools, attempting to list them will result in either woolly objectives that cover many different things, or content will have to be reduced in order to fit a limited number of objectives.
- Because it is time-consuming, useless and subjective teachers will just fake it anyway, and spend the time doing something that will actually benefit the kids instead.
You might think I am being negative for the sake of it. You might think I am resisting an idea simply because it is new.
But if so you have forgotten one of the wisest aphorisms in teaching: There is no such thing as a new idea.
Of course, this crap has been tried before:
1) It was used briefly back in the late 1980s when the National Curriculum was first introduced, but soon abandoned as a waste of time.
2) This was the approach used for assessment for NVQs. These were one of the biggest of the many disasters in vocational educational. Despite a fortune in government money and attempts to convince employers that they were valuable qualifications, most NVQs turned out to be pointless exercises in box-ticking that nobody wanted to do. Hundreds of NVQ qualifications were created at great expense that nobody at all ever did.
3) This approach has been tried in the US where the objectives were known as “standards”. This resulted in reduced rigour and eventually the political tide moved in favour of more conventional pen and paper testing.
So when we look at APP we are talking about an idea that has repeatedly failed in the past, for which there is every reason to believe it can never be effective, and for which every utterance from the authorities has been contradictory and confused.
Good schools are ignoring it, or playing with it half-heartedly, confident that it will either fall apart, change into something less ridiculous or that somebody will come up with an effort-free way to fake it. Bad schools are declaring that OFSTED will require it to be “embedded” and have wasted time, money and good will trying to impose it on their teaching staff before anybody even knew what it was. Worse, there is a real danger that it is resulting in more reliable forms of assessment (including genuine formative assessment) being squeezed out.
The former title is the one I first heard, and it is still used by some Local Authorites (e.g. http://tlfe.org.uk/ict/assessingict/ and http://www.sgfl.org.uk/mathematics/primary/LearningandTeaching/assessment/app ) and others (e.g. http://www.gl-assessment.co.uk/education/resources/pupil_progress/app.asp ) still use it, however, http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/primary/assessment/assessingpupilsprogressapp and most up to date sources use the latter title.
 http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/20396 has a video which clearly describes it as “formative assessment”. http://www.sec-ed.co.uk/downloads/assessing_pupils.pdf includes a series of quotations from experts advocating formative assessment as if it was about APP. http://publications.teachernet.gov.uk/eOrderingDownload/DCSF-00341-2008.pdf makes it clear that APP is part of an AfL strategy and funded by money intended for promoting AfL (Assessment For Learning, i.e. formative assessment).
 http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/20396 says it is to be used on all children in a class.
 This is what a number of primary teachers in my Local Authority have told me. Other authorities are also telling teachers this, eg. http://www.kirklees-ednet.org.uk/subjects/assessment/documents/primary/smb-08-11-23-app-for-asses-cos.ppt
Evidence that teachers have been told this elsewhere can also be found here: http://community.tes.co.uk/forums/t/211488.aspx?PageIndex=1
 For instance this stuff: http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/187513?uc=force_deep
 http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/20718?uc=force_uj says “It does not require special assessment activities but involves recognising significant evidence from the opportunities generated by planned teaching and learning. It reduces the need to use tests and specific assessment tasks to make assessment judgements by taking into account a far wider range of evidence.”
 http://www.gl-assessment.co.uk/emails/documents/Thebiggesttest.pdf talks of using “a balanced combination of assessment and regular methods” and says teachers “can also make use of the standardised and diagnostic tests that are available.” More importantly this is the approach recommended by “The Expert Group on Assessment”, whose report, http://publications.dcsf.gov.uk/eOrderingDownload/Expert-Group-Report.pdf, was intended to decide what would replace Key Stage 3 SATs.
 http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/20718?uc=force_uj describes various forms of testing as “Practice before APP” and contrasts it with “Practice after APP” which doesn’t mention testing. http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/160703 says it is “is not a ‘bolt-on’ to existing arrangements. APP is all you need” and advises against continuing with other forms of assessment.
 http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/primary/assessment/assessingpupilsprogressapp talks of “structured periodic assessment”.
 http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/46863?uc=force_uj features a teacher who says it involves “get[ting] to know how the children are performing on a day-today basis”;http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/98224 mentions “gather[ing] assessment evidence during the course of teaching” and http://curriculum.qca.org.uk/key-stages-3-and-4/assessment/Assessing-pupils-progress/How-does-APP-work/index.aspx?return=/key-stages-3-and-4/assessment/Assessing-pupils-progress/index.aspx%3Freturn%3D/key-stages-3-and-4/assessment/index.aspx mention collecting evidence from “day-to-day interactions”.
 http://www.qca.org.uk/libraryAssets/media/12707_Assessing_Pupils_Progress_leaflet_-_web.pdf describes it as “central” to thee vision of the QCA (the people who decide how students are assessed).
 http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/20576 describes files full of evidence.
 http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/18037?uc=force_uj describes “extensive” research and http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/20718?uc=force_uj describes benefits of APP from the pilots, as if the pilots were a reliable guide.
 Both http://www.qca.org.uk/qca_23863.aspx says the pilot “required participating teachers to submit termly data from a small sample of pupils in their classes” and http://www.qca.org.uk/qca_23864.aspx concluded by admitting that the pilot “required participating teachers to submit termly data from a sample of between 6 and 12 pupils in their classes”. There is no report for using APP at Key Stage 3.
 http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/20396 . It would be too much to hope they might be called Assessment Foci.
 The full story of the NVQ disaster is told in “Does Education Matter?” by Alison Wolf (Penguin 2002)
 A good description can be found in “Dumbing Down Our Kids” by Charles J. Sykes (St. Martin’s Press, 1995)