What does effective assessment look like?

Written by: Sam Hunter | Published:

Headteacher Sam Hunter reports from an assessment without levels expert panel discussion featuring four primary leaders and focusing on the key question of what makes for effective assessment practice

Four school leaders came together at the Bett education technology show in January for what turned out to be a lively panel discussion about life without levels.

As headteacher of Hiltingbury Junior School in Hampshire, I played the part of chair, and I was joined by John Goodey, executive headteacher at St John Baptist Primary School in London, Karen Edwards, headteacher at The Heights Primary School in Berkshire, and Tamzin Wood, data and assessment lead at South Avenue Primary School in Kent. Below are some of the key conclusions that were reached.

Focus on the information you need in the classroom

The notion of always having 20 to 25 per cent of children that do not achieve in every class is not compatible with the new assessment landscape. Teaching now consists of small steps in slow motion, as every topic should be mastered before moving on.

Critically this means that any new assessment system a school develops should simply and quickly identify those children who at the end of a unit still haven’t quite grasped the topic so the gap can be addressed. Focus on recording information that can inform future lesson planning and ensure teachers can introduce interventions straightaway.

Put children at the centre of the process

A priority for good assessment is that the information needs to be formatted in a way that children can identify for themselves what their next steps are. For example, the child needs to know what success in their learning target looks like.

One way of demonstrating this is by showing the child a piece of work from another pupil which would show what mastering that particular topic looks like. When a child can identify their own learning gaps they can then recognise when they need support in a particular area. Ownership is one way that you can really project pupils forward in their learning journey.

Parents as partners

The panel discussed the importance of including parents in their child’s education on a regular basis.

The schools on the panel all use a curriculum and assessment system for key stage 1 and 2 which has the option of a parent portal to provide information on a child’s progress that parents can access online.

Systems that enable schools to engage with parents on a regular basis foster a rich opportunity for parental involvement. By having a greater understanding of what their child is working on in class, parents can be more confident in how and where to help at home.

Take your time and understand the challenges

For all teachers, the new curriculum and assessment landscape is a new dawn. Remember that it takes time to get to grips with any new system and, more importantly, to have confidence that at the end of each unit the pupils have reached the age-related expectation. While the adjustments are made, the panel felt it was absolutely crucial to do a lot more of two things.

First, pupil progress meetings. The conversations that teachers have in pupil progress meetings are far more qualitative than data driven. This is what is needed with new assessment systems as these meetings enable you to think about each individual child and what that child needs from you to move forward.

Also regular input from colleagues helps teachers understand more objectively how pupils are responding to the activities delivered in the classroom.

Moderation was the second area that the panel suggested needed addressing. What does moderation actually look like in the classroom when a child is reaching those national expectations at the end of the year? Encouraging teachers to archive examples of work that meets the national expectations provides clarification for them and a clear reference point of what success looks like.

The overall opinion on the panel was that there’s no quick fix or a one-size-fits-all approach to assessment. Although we can learn a great deal from each other, the right assessment system for each school is one that is tailored to the unique needs of their teachers, parents and pupils.

Some tips from the panel

  • Focus: only record information that can inform lesson planning and interventions.
  • Engage: let children lead the process, so they know what their next steps are. Involve parents.
  • Set expectations: show teachers and pupils examples of what success looks like.
  • Communicate: share with colleagues and moderate each other’s assessments.
  • Take your time: it is the only way to get the right system for your school.
  • Sam Hunter, the discussion panel chair, is head of Hiltingbury Junior School in Hampshire. She is a recognised assessment innovator for her Learning Ladders approach to managing assessment and curriculum planning. Visit www.learningladders.info

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