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February 2019 Blog

In the book ‘Leverage Leadership’, one of the core ideas is that effective teaching is not about whether we taught it, but about whether the students have learned it. Through a rigorous assessment structure, we are duty-bound to check the learning so we can analyse why certain students are struggling in topics and develop actions to respond to this. With our recent training looking at curriculum intentions and design, this should have led to us reflecting on how we assess our students and making sure the planning of our assessment map is correct. Below are some key points I want all teachers and Heads of Subject to consider when planning out the actual assessments that sit behind this assessment map.

1. Align assessments with the curriculum

In many respects, this seems obvious! I doubt many teachers deliberately set out to create and administer assessments that are not aligned with their curriculum. And yet, for a variety of different reasons, this does not seem to happen, with the result that students sit assessments that are not directly sampling the content and skills of the intended curriculum. In these cases, the results achieved, and the ability to draw any useful inferences from them, are largely redundant. If the assessment is not assessing the things that were supposed to have been taught, it is almost certainly a waste of time – not only for the students sitting the test but for the teachers marking it as well.

2. Define the purpose of an assessment first 

Depending on how you view it, there are essentially two main functions of assessment. The first, and probably most important, the purpose is as a formative tool to support teaching and learning in the classroom. Examples might include a teacher setting a diagnostic test at the beginning of a new unit to find out what students already know so their teaching can be adapted accordingly. Formative assessment, or responsive teaching, is an integral part of teaching and learning and should be used to identify potential gaps in understanding or misconceptions that can be subsequently addressed. At Crookhorn, we always stress the importance of the reteach and if our assessment doesn’t allow us to work out what and where it went wrong, then the assessment has very little value.

The second main function of assessment is summative. Whereas examination criteria certify student achievement, in the school context the functions of summative assessment might include providing inferences to support the reporting of progress home to parents, or the identification of areas of underperformance in need of further support. SLT, Heads of Subject and Heads of House use this data to develop action plans to support students, so again if the data is unreliable, then this could lead to wasted time.

3. Use the most appropriate format for the purpose of the assessment

The format of an assessment should be determined by its purpose. Typically, subjects are associated with certain formats. So, in English essay tasks are quite common, whilst in maths and science, short exercises where there are right and wrong answers are more the norm. But as Dylan Wiliam suggests, although ‘it is common for different kinds of approaches to be associated with different subjects…there is no reason why this should be so.’ Wiliam draws a useful distinction between two modes of assessment: a marks for style approach (English, history, PE, Art, etc.), where students gain marks for how well they complete a task, and a degree of difficulty approach (maths, science), where students gain marks for how well they progress in a task. However, it is entirely possible for subjects like English to employ marks for difficulty assessment tasks, such as multiple choice questions, and maths to set marks for style assessments. As departments why don’t you consider if your assessments are too one dimensional (which might just suit a certain type of student) and if they are, how can you mix it a bit?

4.  Assessments that allow all students to succeed

Apart from summative assessments such as GCSE’s, we should always look to support students as much as possible in any assessment we give them, to really make the assessment a formative experience for both the student and teacher. I absolutely do not believe that we should make students sit in silence with no help at all for all their assessments, but we should make sure students are given support where needed and that support should be consistent across the class. Assessment should be about learning, right up to the GCSE itself so my advice would be always try to make the assessment fair but never leave a student behind to just fail.

5. Identify the range of evidence required to support inferences about achievement

We must avoid assessing too much and concentrate on assessing the key concepts that we have decided is vital to student success. Sarah talked on our training day about how many of us have still found it hard to narrow down what we teach to what is manageable and most important for our students to achieve at GCSE level. We find it difficult in practice to sacrifice breadth in the interests of depth, particularly where we feel passionate that so much is important for students to learn. I know it has taken several years for our curriculum leaders to truly reconcile themselves to the need to strip out some content and focus on teaching the most important material to mastery level (reteach and repetition!)! but this is fundamental to our development as curriculum leaders. Now we must do the same with assessment, and make sure that we assess what matters, and develop our future teaching from there.

6. Moderation of assessments

The purpose of moderation is to ensure that teachers are making consistent judgments about standards. In order to do this, they have to have a shared understanding about the expectations for each standard so that a particular level of achievement (for example, giving a student a grading of secure in Year 8 if they are on track for a 4) is awarded to student responses with the same characteristics, regardless of who marks/grades them.

Moderation is an essential part of ensuring integrity in assessment tasks. It is through this process, particularly at the assessment design and point of assessment stages, that issues of assessment validity and reliability are identified and improved.

I hope you have found this blog useful when thinking about how we use assessment at Crookhorn to really develop our planning because this I believe is the most important purpose of assessment. If you have any questions about your future assessments and how they were planned, or how you should plan you're reteaching because of the results, have a discussion with your Head of Subject for advice and guidance.