Published on: 02 Sep 2015

The demands of accountability rule out many high quality methods of assessment in favour of cruder measures that can withstand the pressure

Assessment - Let this year be the one that we stop trying to patch it together

From September, teachers face a storm of issues around assessment: from new key stage two tests to be implemented this year without performance descriptors available, to a planned resit of SATs in year seven, potentially holding secondary leaders to account for a curriculum they don't deliver, through to further changes to GCSEs and their performance tables.

Problems are caused partly by too much change, delivered too rapidly without thorough modelling of effects. More worryingly, however, they are also driven by the unhealthy interaction of accountability and assessment. The demands of accountability rule out many high quality methods of assessment in favour of cruder measures that can withstand the pressure. The demands of accountability also narrow assessment so that it is increasingly used with reference to accountability rather than the needs of the teachers and students. This rather gives assessment - particularly test based assessment - a bad reputation, when it is really at the centre of a teacher's craft.

The end of levels, for example, could have been a wonderful opportunity to build intelligent systems of assessment to guide learning. This is within the skillset of every teacher and, left to their own devices, they could do a better job than any government agency. The trouble is, they are not left to their own devices. Every teacher and school leader knows that they will be called on, many times, to produce quantifiable data on progress and to predict performance in future statutory tests and exams. They have to conduct assessment with at least one eye to this or they will eventually lose the opportunity to conduct assessment altogether. This results in assessments that try to do too many jobs and once and which are conducted defensively rather than creatively.

The assessment vehicle was rickety to begin with; it is now being driven too fast over ground it was not designed for. We should not be surprised if it breaks down completely soon. Let this year be the one that we stop trying to patch it together with masking tape and take it in for a thorough service. We could start by distinguishing its different functions and designing approaches that work for each.

Follow Russell on Twitter @russellhobby

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