Published on: 09 Feb 2015

The needs of the pupil (rather than the needs of Ofsted or anyone else) should be the central focus when creating your programme of assessment

Assessment considerations for the new academic year

At the start of the new year, what should be top of the list when it comes to assessment?

With the removal of levels, teachers can now create a system for measuring progress that they feel is most relevant to them and their schools.

But, understandably, there is an element of confusion. Will I choose a system that will be easy to understand? Will it offer a true indication of how much progress our pupils have made and will it meet the needs of all of our stakeholders?

The current debates and disagreements are, however, exactly what’s needed to allow teachers to work out which is the best system for their school.

While schools navigate through the transition, here are four guiding principles that I think should be on the list for all teachers this year. 

1) Place pupils at the forefront of all decisions

At the forefront of any assessment decision should be the pupil; ultimately all these changes are about helping pupils progress. The needs of the pupil (rather than the needs of Ofsted or anyone else) should be the central focus when creating your programme of assessment.

Planning is vital and schools should, however difficult it may be, free up time for subject heads or senior leaders to develop their view of what progress should look like for their subject.

One Cambridgeshire school, Hinchingbrooke, invited subject teachers to think about what makes a good historian, mathematician or linguist, and then to come up with a maximum of five assessment objectives for each subject.

The outcome was a simple, one-page summary for students of their assessment goals and how they performed against them. The summaries then doubled up as a road map for the year ahead, making it easier for both pupil and teacher to understand their next steps.

2) Assess the right thing

When testing a child’s progress in maths, you need to ask whether the results are differentiating between those pupils who are struggling with a particular topic and those that have an underlying issue.

A wider approach to assessment has been taken by the Newark cluster of schools which has been looking at pupils’ attitudes to learning as well as more standard progress measures. They discovered that lack of self-confidence was holding some pupils back and creating a barrier to learning. With this new insight, teachers could work on developing a child’s confidence as well as subject knowledge to help them progress.

3) Don’t assess for assessment’s sake

With the removal of levels one response could be to over assess to avoid misjudging a pupil’s attainment. We must resist this temptation as we may be overwhelmed by data and lose the ability to judge overall progress. You will not win the Great British Bake Off by opening the oven door every two minutes. 

Teachers’ observations should be taken into account when making judgments about progress. Where teachers lack confidence in their abilities then CPD, rather than more assessment, will fill the gap. Perhaps a national programme of CPD is needed around assessment and data analysis, backed by an organisation such as the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors or the new Royal College.

4)  Use data well

My mantra is to assess once and use the data often. The North Liverpool Academy has a significant proportion of students with a lower than average reading ability, so all students’ reading is assessed as soon as they start at the school. The English department then shares this data with all subject teachers. Literacy is addressed as a priority across all lessons – not just in English – as the academy recognises that progress across the board will be impacted by a child’s literacy level.

As we move into the new academic year, these four assessment anchors should help schools work their way through the ‘life after levels’ debate more quickly to create an assessment system that meets the individual needs of each school.

Follow Greg on Twitter @Greg_GL_Assess

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