Guest post from Alison Rogers, responding to the Commission on Assessment without Levels’ report
By Ruth Atkinson
The Department for Education’s recently-published report following its Commission on Assessment without Levels places the emphasis on schools determining what type of assessment system will work for them. This should be seen as a good thing. The brave new world of teacher-designed assessment is an opportunity for classroom teachers to exercise their professionalism as we would expect them to, unencumbered by central diktat and control, using assessment processes that are tailored to the needs of their pupils.
The Commission on Assessment emphasized the importance of formative and in-school summative assessment. Teachers know how to teach and effective teaching involves continually assessing students, which is something they are already doing. However, there are some key questions to ask when designing assessment: What is the assessment intended to measure? What is the assessment intended to achieve? And how will the assessment information be used?
For teachers, in-school formative assessment is an integral part of teaching and learning. It allows teachers to understand pupil performance on a continuing basis, helps them to provide appropriate support as necessary and enables them to evaluate their own teaching and to plan future lessons accordingly. For students, it helps them measure their knowledge and understanding against learning objectives and wider outcomes and identify where they need to concentrate their efforts in order to improve.
Formative assessment can be oral (face-to-face) or written, but it needs to be encouraging, stretching, and it will involve checking understanding through questions and the setting of clear goals, short and long term.
In his book, Embedded Formative Assessment, Dylan Wiliam suggests five strategies which are core to successful formative assessment practice in the classroom. He identifies them as: clarifying, understanding, and sharing learning intentions; engineering effective classroom discussions, tasks and activities that elicit evidence of learning; providing feedback that moves learners forward; activating students as learning resources for one another and activating students as owners of their own learning.
On the other hand, the purpose of in-school summative assessment is to evaluate pupils’ learning and progress at the end of a period of teaching. Key questions to ask might include: What uses are the assessments intended to support? Who is it for? How will it be recorded? How much time will it take to record? How frequently is it appropriate to collect and report it?
For pupils, assessment needs to identify strengths and weaknesses and to be used to set appropriate targets. Teachers need to be clear what outcomes will show progress and ensure that data is valid and appropriate and that it feeds into teaching and goal setting.
A pivotal part of assessment is feedback. It is the final stage of the assessment cycle as well as being the first. In formative assessment it takes place during learning and in summative, after learning. The kind of feedback used will depend on the audience whether it be pupils, teachers or other key stakeholders – such as parents and governors.
In moving into a world without levels, effective CPD will support teachers in ensuring their assessment processes are fit for purpose and yield the relevant information about a child’s progress to allow teaching to be tailored, and the correct feedback given to pupils and parents.
At CIEA, we are in the process of piloting our Foundations and Principles of Assessment (F&P) programme at a number of schools, F&P is aimed at developing teachers’ knowledge and skills in implementing good practice in assessment, as well as supporting school leaders in developing effective assessment policy.
Teachers need to feel confident about how they use and interpret assessment, both within their own schools and the current national context. There is good practice and expertise out there to draw on and we encourage schools to take advantage of it and make excellent assessment happen.