I bet children will be cursing every day this month, if only about having to take exams and needing to revise for them. Exams are often seen as a necessary evil to be able to assess what children have learned throughout the year. However, exams imply marking, and for time-poor teachers of big classes, it can quickly become a nightmare. So what to do?
If you are reading this, you are no doubt privy to the expectations heaped on teachers and school leaders about the importance of feedback in driving student success. If you hear the word “feedback”, and are haunted by images of lengthy, scribed comments that go ignored, much to your distress (how many hours of your life that you won’t get back?) and to the student’s peril, you are not alone.
Over the past five years, I have had some big changes in my life: I became a dad for the first time; I left my position as a Primary school deputy headteacher; I became an SLE in formative assessment; I set up my own education company with my headteacher... These changes were all massive, but the thing that has made them manageable for me was the smaller, more marginal changes I could make, all of which which contributed to the bigger picture.
As Ofsted’s Sean Harford noted in a recent blog, “a school’s assessment system [should] support the pupils’ journeys through the curriculum.” But how to go about making this a reality?
Most schools use formative assessment throughout the year, and then have some sort of test at the end as practice for SATs. This data-handling may be done via a commercial system, a tracking system they have created in-house, or through one of the paper-based approaches that many schools are still using. It doesn’t matter which method you choose, but it does matter how the data is being used.
Proposing the idea that more testing may be the answer to improving pupil outcomes would undoubtedly result in heads in the staffroom turning in absurdity - or the cause of a full riot on social media. It is the belief of many that pupils are being over-assessed already, so why introduce more? It is felt that too much assessment is affecting the mental health of children, or squeezing the joy out of learning, and may be a direct cause of underachievement. Therefore, to introduce more would be outlandish. Each concern is valid - especially in the case of high-stakes testing - however, we should not discount the role that low-stakes testing may have in enhancing pupil learning.
The infamous saying “tax shouldn’t be taxing” is something that I feel rings true for its synonym, to assess. Assessment is a key element of teaching and learning, both in its summative and formative forms, and enables for a review of progress. Assessment is most valuable when it translates into effective feedback which supports bespoke, personalised future-learning, both empowering students to take ownership for development and equipping teachers with the ability to facilitate this. However, with full teaching timetables, a growth in the amount of assessments set within schools, and the melting pot of other duties, it has become even more pertinent to find ways to make assessment and feedback not only effective, but also efficient.
With so many different assessment measures being used throughout Primary schools, we’re often asked to clarify the difference between them. So, we’ve gone back to the drawing board to provide some quick facts about two key test outcomes: scaled scores and standardised scores (because while both show performance, they aren’t the same thing).