Remember the basics: part one of an assessment plan for back-to-school 2020

By Chris Jarosh

This is the first in a series of blogs outlining an assessment plan for back-to-school 2020 after the coronavirus pandemic has forced schools to close their buildings and administer teaching remotely instead. The next blogs in this series will be released weekly and you’ll be able to view them all here.


“It’s difficult to make predictions—especially about the future.”

This line — which has been attributed to Mark Twain, Yogi Berra, and Samuel L. Goldwyn — certainly holds true today, when there is no shortage of predictions about what we can expect for back-to-school 2020. After cutting through all the noise, two key ideas stand out:

  1. That 2020-2021 cohorts will enter school behind cohorts in previous years;
  2. That learning gaps will almost certainly have widened.

Once we accept these predictions, we can think about the implications of them. How will we help students to catch up? Will we have to make up all of the lost ground during the 2020‒2021 school year? Should we begin the new year by focusing exclusively on reviewing content from the previous year group? If so, what current academic content will we cut to make time for this? Which year groups and subject areas will be impacted the most? And how can we possibly prepare for all of this?!

If you feel overwhelmed while thinking about these questions, you’re not alone. We know that emotions and stress impede cognitive functions, causing us to shut down. Now more than ever, it’s important to take a minute and take a breath.

Finding stability in uncertain times

Reminding ourselves to calm down and breathe may seem strange, but anyone experiencing stressful situations often needs to be reminded of just this. Overwhelmed by current events and the loss of control, they become cognitively overloaded and shut down, unable to do things — like breathing — that were previously automatic.

And for most of us, the coronavirus pandemic and its consequences have been overwhelming to say the least. In the short term, we struggled to create a ‘new normal’ in which teaching and learning could continue. Now, with exams like GCSEs cancelled and uncertainty over which years will be returning when, we’re wondering what lies ahead. What will autumn 2020 look like? How will it differ from the ‘normal’ back-to-school (BTS) period we’re familiar with? How will we adapt to what we find?

If we look beyond the endless worry about ‘the great unknown,’ we can find a fundamental message: as educators, we already have tools and resources to deal with any eventuality — and to help us to meet our learners where they are.

Yes, it’s likely that many students will be behind this September, but we have ways to address this. And yes, there will likely be a lot of variance in student performance, but no teacher has ever taught a class where every learner is at precisely the same level, and we have ways to address this as well.

And now for some good news…

Schools across the country have been using the assessment tools and implementing the intervention frameworks that they need to deal with any eventuality, even those that await us post-COVID-19. BTS 2020 will clearly bring new challenges, but we do not need to search out new tools and processes to address them. In fact, we need to rely even more heavily on our interim assessment tools and implement them with an even higher degree of fidelity.

Both new and long-time users of Star Assessments will find themselves well supported for BTS 2020. Star Assessments are highly reliable and valid for both screening and progress monitoring. Plus, their detailed learning progressions are developed from the English National Curriculum by the NFER to support instructional planning — whether students are performing at, above, or below year level.

Immediately after screening students, educators can see how they’re performing against national and school benchmarks, as well as towards KS2 SATs. Star users with historical data will also be able to compare their students’ performance to prior years, revealing the extent of any ‘COVID-19 slide.’ This historical data will make transferring primary data to secondary schools even more powerful.

One Renaissance colleague recently used the term ‘instructional triage’ to describe the heightened sense of urgency educators will feel once they’ve reviewed their autumn benchmark screening data. How will students perform after so much time away from school? What specific support will they need? Although we’ll have a greater sense of urgency for BTS 2020, and although we’re likely to uncover a wide range of student needs, the fundamental process remains the same.

Assessment + immediate feedback = we’ve got you covered

To fully understand the power of Star Assessments, it’s important to recognise the value of the instructional planning information that is included in the programme. Skills for Reading and Maths are pulled from the English National Curriculum and assigned to pupils based on their performance on the assessments; Star identifies the areas that are appropriate for instruction for you.

We’ve added some new features to Star over the past few years: and we know that in order to make the best use of Star to meet your students’ needs, you need to fully understand all that Star has to offer. This blog series is designed to provide you with this ongoing support, providing step-by-step guidance for using Star throughout the 2020‒2021 school year.

Topics we’ll address in future blogs include:

  • How to compare BTS 2020 screening data to previous years in order to gauge the effect of the ‘COVID-19 Slide’
  • How to identify the skills that are most critical to your students’ academic success
  • How best to track students’ mastery of these skills
  • How to monitor progress and growth throughout the new school year

As we said at the beginning, the first step in dealing with a stressful situation is to go back to the basics. The first step for BTS 2020 is no different: screen students at key points during the school year, then use the screening data to prioritise delivery of services, and then regularly monitor progress.

In the next blog in this series, we’ll take an in-depth look at the critical first step of screening your students. We’ll consider the unique dynamics that BTS 2020 may present, and we’ll discuss options for administering Star Assessments remotely — in the event that ‘back to school’ does not involve a return to the school building.


The next instalment of this blog will be published on 19th June 2020, and you’ll be able to view it here. Follow us on social media to stay up to date and share your thoughts with us.

Monthly newsletter