Most assessment most of the time should be for one purpose only – to help pupils learn by identifying their strengths and weaknesses, tracking their progress or uncovering barriers, then turning that into information that teachers can act on and pupils and parents can understand
“Often when we debate assessment, we are really debating accountability,” said Russell Hobby, the General Secretary of the NAHT, at GL Assessment’s second National Assessment Conference earlier this month. Held in the week that Nicky Morgan MP gave her ‘One Nation Education’ speech, which heralded a review of statutory assessment at Key Stage 1, it was a hot topic for discussion.
The conference was designed to be a day where senior leaders from schools, academies and academy trusts gathered to ask what ‘assessment used well’ looks like. Throughout the day, two themes rang out loud and clear: linked to Russell’s point above, we need to be clear what we’re using assessment for; and for life after levels to work, pretty much everyone in the system has to get more skilful in assessment.
What does good assessment look like?
Assessment has many uses, of course. But most assessment most of the time should be for one purpose only – to help pupils learn by identifying their strengths and weaknesses, tracking their progress or uncovering barriers, then turning that into information that teachers can act on and pupils and parents can understand.
Brian Lightman, the General Secretary of ASCL, was very positive about senior leaders using assessment in this way and seizing back the professional agenda. “Over a number of years, the profession has been extensively deskilled in the whole business of formative assessment,” he said. “What we need to do now is rediscover the vast body of knowledge and evidence about assessment, and ensure rich, formative assessment techniques are used as an integral part of teaching.”
CPD in assessment is vital
Teachers need to be given the tools to be able to do this and, in my view, one of the great positives of the Life after Levels Commission Report is the promise of better CPD in assessment. After all, assessment is a skill that needs to be learned, and assessment is only ever as useful as the action taken based on the information it generates.
David Weston, the Chief Executive of the Teacher Development Trust, offered some great advice here. Why not start with appointing an assessment champion and making a three year plan to gradually improve knowledge about – and quality of – assessment? His overarching message was clear, though: knowledge in formative assessment will need to become a central part of all CPD.
Life after levels
When we held our first National Assessment Conference in March, schools were still in a state of flux about life after levels, particularly as we didn’t know whether a new Government would reverse the policy. Since then, things have moved on considerably.
Schools are still in different places, but they are now actively wrestling with the assessment challenge. A number of delegates commented that they were looking for reassurance that they’re doing the right things.
It’s a big job, though, and not one for short term fixes. Don’t just reinvent levels and don’t use trackers, said Daisy Christodoulou, Research and Development Manager at ARK Schools. Running a tracking system is not the same thing as doing assessment. Instead, use quizzes and standardised tests, and improve training and development in assessment. That theme again.
How are academy trusts approaching assessment?
It’s clear that academy trusts are getting more actively involved in assessment strategy – conducting their own research, sharing good practice, and using benchmarked assessment data to analyse and compare trends across their schools.
As Lisa Crausby, Principal Improvement Director at Academy Transformation Trust, explained during her session, “We see standardised assessments playing a huge part in terms of our core infrastructure. In order to ensure support from The Trust is proportionate to need, we have introduced assessment points every half term across all of our academies. These are looked at centrally, so we can monitor how much ground is being covered.”
The Trust believes benchmarking by external assessment is important as early on, Lisa discovered different colleagues and different academies had very different understanding of key assessment terminology.
“Under the new regime of life without levels, we needed a system that would avoid any data being too loose or open to interpretation,” she said. “We’re now in a position to ask the right questions – perhaps why academy A is showing a big discrepancy between teacher assessment and what the progress tests are telling us – and act on the answers.
“To have a marker that everyone across the family of academies is doing enables us to have a real understanding, and allows us to spot any anomalies from previous data drops. It has added a layer of rigour to tracking student progress across the group, and gives us vital information on where there are gaps. In turn, this makes us sharper in terms of intervention strategies.”
The assessment debate shows every sign of continuing – and I hope it will lead to some healthy discussions. The DfE’s Marking Policy and Data Management review groups will report back soon, and we are also expecting recommendations from the review into assessment of pupils with lower attainment.
We will be hosting our 3rd National Assessment Conference in London in May 2016, when all of these issues will be discussed and debated, and best practice shared. Follow @GL_Assessment to find out more.
This article was published by Academy Today on 1 December 2015 – www.academytoday.co.uk
Thanks to our speakers, Daisy Christodoulou (ARK Schools) and David Weston (Teacher Development Trust), for these recommendations:
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