Since moving school and role in September 2018, assessment has been a significant part of my role, and contribution to our whole school Curriculum, Teaching, Learning and Assessment strategy.
In a time when schools across the country are undergoing significant changes I think it is important for us to reconsider the purpose and effectiveness of assessment in our schools.
What do we mean by assessment?
I think Mary Myatt sums this up really well in her book:
If the purpose of robust curriculum planning is to ensure that pupils are taught the demanding aspects of a topic, then checking whether they have got it needs to be done through assessment. … Whatever information is gathered and whatever feedback is given to pupils, the important thing is that they act on it.The Curriculum: Gallimaufry to Coherence, Mary Myatt
(If you haven’t already read Mary’s work in this area, I’d strongly recommend it!)
The vast majority of assessment we do in schools must be about providing information on the learning that has taken place, the gaps that exist and the next steps in order to fill those gaps. This, as described by Mary, is what we see is formative assessment. This has to lead to the next stages in learning. Summative assessment then is when we are assessing (hopefully celebrating) the learning that a student has completed at a point in time. We talk about completing summative assessments all of the time but in reality, the only truly summative assessments are external examinations which result in a grade being obtained by students. Even when we are completing summative assessments in class, we tend to use them in a formative manner afterwards, altering the next stages of teaching. At our school, the key difference between summative and formative assessment is that the summative assessment leads to a parental report.
Daisy Christodoulou describes the differences between formative and summative assessment really well. She talks about the assessment of learning (summative) measuring the final outcome, but the assessment for learning (formative) measuring the skills that build towards the final outcome.
I’ve also seen it described as the difference between a driving test and driving lessons. In each driving lesson, the instructor is assessing (formatively) the skills that a learner driver will need to master in order to pass their test. The instructor will then provide feedback, hints, tips and perhaps re-teach and re-model the skill. This might happen several times until the learner has perfected that skill. In the driving test (summative) the examiner will observe the learner’s skills and ultimately issue a pass or fail decision. The examiner’s role is not to provide feedback, solely assess the learning that has taken place.
When reviewing our assessment processes over the course of this year, we have gone back to the basics first, agreeing our principles of assessment. I think they speak for themselves, and act as a reference point in everything we do; if we implement a system that does not meet these criteria, then we’ve made a mistake somewhere.
- Manageable: The demands they make do not overburden the staff or students in compiling them or the parents in interpreting them.
- Understandable: The meanings of the levels/grades, marks or comments are clear to staff, students, parents and others.
- Informative: The progress made by the students and the developments that need to take place are clearly shown to staff, students, parents and others, in line with the statutory requirements.
- Accurate: The data that is entered by staff should be accurate, as opposed to under or over cautious, allowing data to be meaningful and useful for all.
I’m going to use part 2 and part 3 of this series of blogposts to write more specifically about our approaches to formative and summative assessment respectively, and the rest of this post to introduce the flavour of our assessment, reporting and recording processes. The title of this post is deliberately Making assessment work (for us, in our context): Part 1, and I think the most important part is the (for us, in our context). It is what we’re doing, at this moment in time, on our journey to meeting our principles 100%; it might work in your setting, it might not, but hopefully at the very least it prompts conversation.
Our approach to assessment, recording and reporting
- We have standardised our approach to formative assessment at KS3 (more to follow in part 2 of this series) with following visits to Tudor Grange School in Solihull before my arrival.
- Department feedback policies focus on providing valuable feedback to students in a way that suits them. For some, this has been regular low-stakes quizzing, for others weekly exam questions. Whatever the strategy, it has to work in the subject area and for their students.
- We’ve scaled right back to only 3 data collection points per year, entering only attitude to learning and a teacher or summative assessment. In fact, the first collection point at KS3 only records attitude to learning because we feel that setting good working habits is the primary focus at the start of the year.
- From September 2019, we’re removing the need for subject written reports across the school. In our view completing them involved high effort for relatively low impact. We’re replacing them next year with a much shorter (one paragraph) annual tutor comment following the second data collection point, where the tutor will summarise the data and the student’s pastoral achievements.
- We’re using the time saved from writing written reports and adding an additional parents evening for Year 11 and Year 13 (combined on the same night) to provide further subject specific advice for our students, along with stands focussing on revision strategies, wellbeing and career aspiration. (We’ll save that for another blogpost!).
Look out for the next two blog posts in this series, coming soon:
- Making assessment work (for us, in our context): Part 2, focusing on formative assessment.
- Making assessment work (for us, in our context): Part 3, focusing on summative assessment.