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Assessment Within The Ks3 English Curriculum Education Essay

Within their study of the British Education System Richard Freeman and Roger Lewis draw upon the work of Brown, et al. (1997) and define ‘assessment’ as ‘a complex process primarily concerned with the provision of guidance and feedback to learners’ (p.8). Although this definition appears to blur the boundaries between ‘assessment’ and ‘evaluation’, Freeman and Lewis argue that ‘with regard to education these are two distinct terms’ (1998, p.9). Developing upon this point, ‘assessment’ is described as ‘the process of gathering information on the learning of the students’, while ‘evaluation involves studying these results’ (Freeman and Lewis, 1998, p.9).

The Educationalists David Lambert and David Lines identify ‘two cultures of assessment’ that provide information for analysis (2000, p.5). The first is characterized by the phrase ‘Assessment of Learning’ and refers to ‘summative assessment’ that ‘identifies the progress and development of pupils at the end of a course of study’ (Lambert and Lines, 2000, p.5). The second is termed ‘Assessment for Learning (AfL)’ and refers to ‘formative assessment’ that ‘tracks the knowledge and understanding of the students during a unit of work’ (Lambert and Lines, 2000, p.5).

Although ‘both cultures of assessment maintain a secure and prominent role in schools’ (Lambert and Lines, 2000, p.5), the summative data collected through formal examinations and assignments, is believed to be of greater interest to many. Towards the latter part of their study Lambert and Lines focus on the difference in value between formative and summative assessment. They argue that the latter is ‘driven by the bureaucratic needs of the education system, which require students to be graded for a number of fundamental reasons’ (Lambert and Lines, 2000, p.191). Ultimately, summative marks are used to ‘identify the academic proficiency of pupils within a particular set, year group or school’, to ‘guide parents during the admissions process’ and to ‘assist students and teachers when setting progress targets’ (Lambert and Lines, 2000, p.191).

Within his review of ‘the learning cycle’ John Hattie also addresses the disparity between attitudes towards formative and summative assessment (2003, p.7). He states that ‘too often formative is seen as a less rigorous, or formal, mode of assessment’ (Hattie, 2003, p.7). This is highlighted as a problematic issue for Hattie, who believes that ‘pupils, parents and practitioners should ensure that a formative evaluation is based on strong empirical evidence to try and dispel these opinions’ (2003, p.6). Although Hattie argues that others should change their attitude towards formative assessment, it is important to note that he also questions ‘the validity of mid-course corrections’ (2003, p.6).

Whether or not we support Hattie’s belief that ‘formative assessment is often based on weak evidence and low attainment levels’ (2003, p.6), there are a number of publications that address methods to improve and enhance this assessment process. One such publication is the 1998 article by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam, called Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment. As the title of the study suggests, the work of Black and Wiliam is focused on ‘the identification of evidence to improve formative assessment and raise the standards of teaching and learning’ (1998, p.2). Within the context of this study Black and Wiliam ‘develop formative practice in four areas’ (1998, p.2). These are: ‘feedback, the sharing of the success criteria, self-assessment and questioning’ (Black and Wiliam, 1998, pp.6-9). Whilst reflecting on their extensive research and work with classroom teachers, Black and Wiliam reach several important conclusions. For example, they state that ‘feedback to any student should focus on the individual qualities of his or her work’ (Black and Wiliam, 1998, p.6) and that ‘the dialogue between pupils and a teacher should be thoughtful, reflective and analytical’ (Black and Wiliam, 1998, p.8).

Inside the Black Box addresses a number of interesting issues regarding formative assessment and centres on the argument that ‘this feature is at the heart of effective teaching’ (Black and Wiliam, 1998, p.1). We could argue that ‘the publication of this study generated considerable interest in the learning process in schools’ (Wren, 2008, p.2), which ultimately led to the implementation of the National Strategy for Key Stage 3, in 2001. This Strategy was ‘mounted by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES)’ and ‘aimed to raise standards by strengthening teaching, developing cross-curricular links and assisting the progress of pupils with specific educational needs’ (Ofsted, 2003, p.4). Diverting our attention away from a general study of teaching and learning, across a breadth of subjects, it is important to note that The National Strategy for Key Stage 3 is reported to have had ‘a slow, but increasingly positive impact on learning in English’ (Ofsted, 2003, p.10). In 2003, Ofsted described ‘most English departments across the country’ as ‘having made a concerted effort to raise standards’ by ‘setting challenging targets, promoting progression and continuity from Key Stage 2 to 3 and embracing training opportunities’ (p.4). Although the implementation of changes, where necessary, to planning and teaching methods resulted in lessons placing ‘greater emphasis on the learning objectives’ and having ‘a more structured format’, ‘assessment remained an area of weakness’ (Ofsted, 2003, p.9).

As previously stated, ‘assessment is a highly contested area of education’ (Hattie, 2003, p.6) and in addition to disputes regarding the validity of summative and formative assessment, there are arguments surrounding the reliability of marking in the subject of English. The effect of ‘inconsistencies in the marking of pupils’ work’ forms a significant part of the 2009 Ofsted evaluation of English in primary and secondary schools (p.43). This report is ‘based on evidence collected during the inspection of 242 schools between 2005 and 2008’, and provides a greater insight into ‘the effective and ineffective aspects of teaching and learning in English’ (Ofsted, 2009, p.4). Although the survey is reported to have found ‘some examples of outstanding practice’, ‘inspectors identified a number of weaknesses, particularly with regard to marking, in over a third of the schools visited’ (Ofsted, 2009, p.40). Based on these observations, ‘the most valuable forms of marking’ are listed as those that ‘provide clear guidance and helpful targets, in a detailed and supportive fashion’ (Ofsted, 2009, p.41). While the report shows certain English teachers adhering to these standards, it is thought that ‘the positive nature of their work is undermined by the critical or limited feedback provided by others’ (Ofsted, 2009, p.43). This difference in approach to marking is said to ‘cause confusion amongst students’ (Ofsted, 2009, p.41). They may receive conflicting feedback from teachers within the same department and ‘struggle to identify the main strengths and areas for progression within their work’ (Ofsted, 2009, p.41). Developing upon this point, it is possible that if a pupil suffers from ‘a continued lack of understanding’ with regard to their marks, that they will ‘become disengaged with learning’ (Ofsted, 2009, p.41). Focusing in detail on the role of the student, the report states that ‘the best way to ensure that all learners comprehend and are aware of their achievements and targets, is by asking them to review and respond to their own work’ (Ofsted, 2009, p.42).

The Purpose and Function of Self-Assessment

In light of Ofsted’s comments regarding ‘the importance of independent study’ (2009, p.42), I intend to explore in greater depth the purpose and function of self-assessment within the Key Stage 3 English curriculum. I believe that this form of assessment should play an integral role within the learning process as it encourages students to take an active interest in their work and to assume a level of responsibility for their academic development.

The idea that ‘self-assessment is a useful tool for engaging pupils in their learning’ is an argument developed by the Educationalist David Boud (1995, p.15). Within his study of Self and Peer Marking Boud identifies ‘two stages of self-assessment’ (1995, p.12). The first involves ‘the creation of standards and/or criteria to apply to a series of tasks, or a piece of work’, while the second is based on ‘making judgements about the extent to which this work meets the standards and criteria that are set’ (Boud, 1995, p.12). At the centre of both processes is ‘the student’, who is encouraged to ‘assess the quality, relevance and appropriateness of work, whilst identifying its strengths and areas for development’ (Hinett and Thomas, 1999, p.9). It is important to note that although self-assessment encourages independent thought, ‘this does not mean that pupils develop their ideas in isolation from the attitudes and opinions of others’ (Boud, 1995, p.15). ‘Teachers play an important role in facilitating these activities’ and must provide students with the necessary skills-set in order to enable them to assess what they have learnt (Boud, 1995, p.15).

Whilst working in schools I have noticed that secondary teachers assist pupils’ understanding of the self-assessment process by using a range of techniques. For example, teachers may question students to stimulate class discussion, to encourage pupils to reflect on their learning and to motivate individuals to evaluate their understanding of a particular topic. A teacher may also model a piece of work that links to the learning objectives for a single lesson, or a unit of study. The students will then work in partnership with the teacher to create a list of standards and/or criteria to apply to this text, before having to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the piece based on whether it has met these guidelines.

At first, I believed that modelling was a particularly useful technique as it provided pupils with a guide for producing their own work. Although in theory this statement is true, further research into the use and effect of a modelled answer has shown that ‘making judgements on one text provides students with a limited insight into the self-assessment process’ (Handley and Cox, 2007, p.12). In order for pupils to ‘truly understand what is required of their work and to make valuable judgements about a text’, they should ‘apply a set of standards and/or criteria to a selection of examples’ (Handley and Cox, 2007, p.12). This would allow students to compare their assessment of the different texts and to create targets, in light of the positive aspects and areas for development within each piece.

This strategy for developing pupils’ skills in the self-assessment of their writing is linked to a complex argument amongst teachers and theorists about the difficulty of using these assessment activities within lessons. As previously addressed, ‘although self-assessment is concerned with the involvement of learners in the assessment process, it is not about supplanting the role of teachers’ (Boud, 1995, p.17). Ultimately, the organization of self-assessment activities is the responsibility of these practitioners and requires a considerable amount of time and energy that some teachers are unable to spare. Other problems associated with self-assessment are centred on 'the wider issues of reliability and validity’ (Hinett and Thomas, 1999, p.10). Within their study of Self and Peer-Assessment Karen Hinett and Judith Thomas develop upon this point. They state that ‘although these issues are a cause for concern in all areas of assessment, the concept of reliability in a system where students not only define their own criteria, but assess their own work by these guidelines, is particularly problematic’ (1999, pp.10-11).

Professor Wynne Harlen addresses this issue in greater depth and argues that ‘reliability only poses a problem when pupils’ judgements are used in summative assessment’ (2007, p.22). He believes that ‘in formative assessment reliability is irrelevant because there are no grades or levels involved’ (Harlen, 2007, p.22). I disagree with Harlen’s claims and feel that when using self-assessment all teachers should at least strive for high reliability, regardless of whether they can ‘later change any mistakes in the judgements of their students’ (2007, p.22). I believe that ensuring pupils make valued judgements about their work during any self-assessment process can not only improve their accuracy in assigning a level or grade, but can also have a positive impact on their learning.

After the careful consideration of this issue, I have concluded that there are three ways to enhance self-assessment. The first is by offering students help and guidance, the second is by providing pupils with clear learning objectives and the third is by enabling individuals to discuss their judgements with others. It is suggested by David Nicol and Debra Macfarlane-Dick that ‘in order for a student to achieve learning goals and to self-assess their work, they must first understand what these goals are’ (2006, p.7). Teachers can assist pupils’ understanding by providing unambiguous learning objectives and detailed explanations of the requirements for an activity. This will consequently help the students to devise suitable standards and/or criteria by which to judge their skills and to produce work that is appropriate to task. Another way to avoid ‘a noticeable mismatch between the tutors’ and pupils’ conception of goals and assessment criteria’ (Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006, p.7), is by encouraging students to share their judgements with their peers. Discussions between classmates can enable pupils to ‘develop their knowledge of expectations and standards’, to ‘correct any misunderstandings’, and to ‘receive feedback on the quality of their work and nature of their judgements’ (Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006, p.11). Essentially, I believe that when helping students to ‘comment critically on their work and to identify gaps in their learning’ (Hinett and Thomas, 1999, p.9), communication is key.

Whilst working in partnership with a number of English teachers I have occasionally seen individuals support self-assessment through the use of ‘a rubric’ (Andrade, 2005, p.1). This is described by Heidi Andrade as ‘a scoring tool used to assess a task, assignment or performance’ (2005, p.1). I believe that a rubric is a practical resource as it provides students with ‘a predetermined criteria for a piece of work and articulates gradations of quality for each standard, from excellent to poor’ (Andrade, 2005, p.1). Presenting Year 7 pupils with a rubric may be a useful way of introducing these students to the self-assessment process as they do not have to concern themselves with ‘the identification of standards and/or criteria’, rather they can focus on ‘becoming more thoughtful judges of the quality of their own work’ (Andrade, 2005, p.2).

Up until this point, my research has focused on the positive impact self-assessment activities can have on a class. Although we can argue that student learning should be at the centre of all classroom activities, it is important to remember that different assessment processes can equally assist the work of teachers. One such approach to assessment that was designed to support the role and requirements of teachers is ‘Assessing Pupils’ Progress (APP)’ (Waters, 2008, p.3). ‘Developed by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), in partnership with the National Strategies’, APP is a selection of resources that are intended to ‘help teachers make judgements on pupils’ progress, develop their understanding of learners’ needs and tailor their planning and teaching accordingly’ (2008, p.3). ‘Practitioners are expected to use APP in line with their school’s assessment policy’ and should draw on the different resources ‘to periodically review evidence of the students’ work and to build a profile of pupils’ individual achievements’ (Waters, 2008, p.4). With regard to English, evidence that can be used to identify the knowledge and understanding of pupils includes their ‘annotations on texts, individual responses during whole-class discussions and participation in drama-based activities’ (Waters, 2008, p.4). Teachers should ‘review this evidence using the assessment guidelines and national curriculum levels that are provided’, before creating ‘relevant and measurable targets for improvement’ (Waters, 2008, p.5). Aside from teacher led activities, other evidence that can be used to identify ‘how and when pupils are learning’ includes students’ self-assessments (Waters, 2008, p.4). Similarly to the use of a rubric, the pupils are given assessment criteria, but have ‘to consider different focuses and judge whether their work and the criteria they have met, equates to a level 3, 4, 5, or 6’ (Waters, 2008, p.5).

‘APP is used to support AfL and provides opportunities for students to actively engage with the assessment process’ (Waters, 2008, p.6), but apart from using standards and/or criteria to explore learning in English, how else can Key Stage 3 students self-assess their own work?

Word count (excluding references) - 2,494 words.

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