A temperature check

Traffic Light

I’ve been beating the drum for why I think certainty-based assessment is a tool every teacher should use as an enhancement to testing. Today, I thought I’d try and come at this from another angle – rather than exploring these assessments as an alternative to tests, to consider them as an alternative to RAG (red-amber-green) rating and other ‘temperature-check’ exercises.

The popularity of RAG rating shows that teachers recognise the relevance of assessing pupil confidence with the taught material. It’s a quick and instant way of gauging where a class are at and knowing what needs more explanation or rehearsal. It also gets pupils reflecting on their learning.

But, for assessment purposes, RAG rating doesn’t give accurate data:

  • It is not linked to any actual performance so ‘Green’ could easily be masking serious misconceptions
  • There is nothing at stake so it is likely to be confounded by the general confidence of the respondent
  • It’s confounded by the Dunning-Kruger effect (or regression to the mean, if you don’t completely buy into the Dunning-Kruger effect)

The first problem is not as serious as it sounds. No teacher is likely to use RAG-rating in isolation. However, the evidence that will identify the problem – test data or classwork – is, too often, reviewed after the event.

The second might be statistically addressed by using relative/ranking scales. Although this seems rather contrived, I could see a teacher using this as a way to decide which topics to cover in revision sessions.

The final issue cannot be resolved without bringing in some element of challenge.

So, whilst I’m not against RAG rating, I do see it as an opportunity missed. If you are going to the trouble of gathering feedback from your class, why not get accurate feedback? Naturally, you know my solution. By pairing a confidence scale with a question you can

  • Differentiate between certainty and misconception
  • Motivate pupils to reflect on the depth of their understanding
  • Build a rich picture of the development happening in your classroom


Image credit: FreeImages.com/Leanne Rook


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