A disscussion on the subject of Assessment

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How and why we assess our children has a massive impact on their life in education and consequently on how and what we plan and teach, and how children learn. The National Curriculum defines assessment as "an integral part of teaching and learning" (1999, p.17), emphasising the value of assessing the process of learning and teaching as well as the outcome. Suggestions on a range of assessment strategies and tools are included in the curriculum but to enable teachers and schools to continue the development of good assessment practice, more detailed guidance is necessary. To begin with it is perhaps necessary to define 'assessment' as any process used to inform teachers as to a pupils progress and learning. There are many different types of assessment, usually discussed as different purposes of assessment - while these assessments certainly differ in several significant aspects; they are united in their aspirations of making a positive contribution to bringing about learning.

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There are two main forms of assessment; formative and summative. I have observed both types in the classroom, recognising that the key to excellent assessment practice is to understand what each form and their methods contribute. From these observations I understand that in order to become successful in my pedagogy I need to construct my teaching to maximise the success of both formative and summative assessment in my classroom. To allow me competently use both assessment for learning and assessment of learning I must develop a range and knowledge of assessment purposes and strategies which I will now discuss.

Formative assessment can provide a snapshot moment by moment picture of the success of teaching and learning. It provides the two way dialogue between educator and child, the knowledge which enhances pedagogy allowing teaching to become relevant and timely. Assessment for Learning in particular will be a clear focus for me as I look for opportunities to strengthen my own teaching practice, having observed first hand the strong contribution AfL, which the National Strategies defines as

"a natural, integral and essential part of effective learning and teaching and is a key element of personalised learning. Teachers and children continually reflect on how learning is progressing, see where improvements can be and identify the next steps to take" (2004),

can make towards effective teaching. It makes the difference between self-assured and stimulated pupils, and disenfranchised pupils who are uncertain of the rationale behind the learning objective. The case for clearly communicating the learning outcome to the class is picked up on by Clarke (2006). In my own experience and observation, this results in making learning relevant especially when the learning intention is placed in the context of previous and future learning. It also helps to illuminate which areas of subject knowledge are required to teach at which time and how this information or teaching of skills is to be structured. Clarke also recommends that the teacher works with children to identify success criteria. These are used to supply feedback to both pupils and the teacher regarding the extent to which the learning objective has been met. Consequently, the use of formative assessment enriches the process of teaching, planning and curriculum development. It can inform not only the short term goals for the class, but also the negotiated curriculum, as children are encouraged to become active learners by reflecting on their own progress and motivation. It must be stressed that not all assessment needs to be quantitative, nor does it need to be recorded .The teachers' own reflective process is a vital part of assessment. The purpose of summative assessment is to illustrate that pupils have met their learning goals or reached a certain standard of accomplishment.

Formative assessment in basic definition is the collection and use of evidence about the learning in relation to the explicit objectives and outcomes of a lesson. This type of assessment can then be used and interpreted by the teacher to identify what the pupil has achieved, any gaps in knowledge and to decide what steps are needed to enable the pupil to reach their potential and unit outcome. I have observed formative assessment being used to inform teachers of pupil progress and to enable them to adapt their planning and teaching to their children's needs. The aim of formative assessment is to impact positively on pupil learning and effective pedagogy. There is a growing amount of evidence suggesting that formative assessment raises both progress and attainment levels

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Assessment begins in this way in the Early Years Foundation stage (EYFS), where in 2003; the Foundation Stage Profile (FSP) was introduced. The FSP consists of 13 scales relating to creative development, knowledge and understanding of the world, personal, social and emotional development, physical development, language and literacy and mathematical development. Children are assessed on each scale and their progress towards achieving early learning goals is judged. During my previous experience in my base school, I have observed how a pupil profile is built up over the EYFS, so that evidence can be used formatively and later summarised against the performance descriptions of the scales for reporting at the end of each term. Through my experience of the EYFS I have seen how teacher-based this form of assessment is, as the evidence accumulated for each child is derived from on-going learning activities. This normally takes place through the use of observation sheets and post-its. Occasionally, a more formal assessment takes place where the teacher asks the child in question if they can perform a specific task, the evidence from which is then logged and used as assessment data, however these are still situated within the normal day to day routines of the children and no cause of distress. (Q 11 12)

In comparison to the FSP, the assessment children experience in Key Stages 1 and 2 varies greatly and summative assessment plays a greater role. Summative assessment is the assessment of learning and is used to record the achievements of individuals at a particular point in their learning (usually at the end of a topic, term or year). Rather than a steady trickle of specific learning goals, it refers to a broader learning outcome which has been achieved over a longer period of time. In contrast to the singular outcomes of formative assessment, summative assessments are used in several different ways, some relating to individual pupils and some to aggregated results of groups of pupils.

At the end of both Y2 and Y6, children are expected to undertake external tasks and tests in mathematics and English (SATS). The results of Key Stage 2 SATS in particular are a cause of immense pressure for both pupils and teachers, as they are reported and used to inform national statistics. It is only at the end of each Key Stage that pupil attainment must be reported in terms of national curriculum levels; however there is also a statutory requirement to provide parents with a summative report once each year. Many schools choose to include within this the levels children have reached during the academic year - this trend has been reinforced by the use of optional SATS for years between 2 and 6. In addition to the assessment and tracking of individual pupils, test results (KS1 and KS2 SATS) are used to evaluate the effectiveness of the education provided by teachers, schools and local authorities and compared nationally. The results of these examinations have huge implications and considerable importance for teachers as the results are used to inform targets which schools must take accountability for meeting. There are established Government national targets for the percentage of children achieving a level 4 in the key stage 2 tasks which schools are required to set targets for. The consequences of not achieving these targets are severe, with schools become subject to OFSTED inspections and categories, with lack of attainment becoming the main cause of a school being placed in special measures. (Q 11 12 13)

In order to avoid such consequences, teachers are facing constant pressure to ensure children are achieving age related expectations, amid fears that they will fail to hit Government targets. Children in our primary schools are in danger of being taught a limited timetable as some schools and teachers focus on 'teaching to the test'. This is despite recommendations by OFSTED that while

"…some schools are able to prepare pupils for tests without sacrificing the wider curriculum…but an emphasis on the core subjects limits what pupils do, particularly as teachers prepare them for key stage 2 exams" (Marley 2008)

As well as placing pressure upon teachers, national testing has a huge impact on pupils. It can cause a lack of motivation for lower ability children, as well as a view of learning as product rather than process for all children. There is much attention focussed on those children who are performing just beneath age related levels, while those who are either too far above or below the target level suffering a lack of attention.

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"For my son, and for most 10-year olds in the country, the next nine months will be …a sterile, narrow and meaningless exercise in drilling and cramming. It's nothing to do with the skills of his teacher who seems outstanding. Nor do I blame the school. It's called preparing for Key Stage 2 SATS" (2006)

It is clear that the emphasis has to be placed back on teaching rather than targets and tests. How then do we ensure the progress and attainment of the children in our schools without narrowing the curriculum?

Assessing pupil progress (APP) has been accepted as recognising the differing purposes and audiences for assessment on both a day-to-day and periodic time scale. On a day-to-day capacity it provides a closer view of pupils, enabling teachers to support children's learning through use of effective classroom intervention. Periodically it reviews a broader range of pupil's work, which in turn can inform planning and enable teachers to monitor progress and attainment. The purpose of APP is to support effective planning; teaching and learning, The use of informed and consistent target setting will continue to play a crucial part in ensuring that teachers know what to teach to allow children to achieve their aims by guiding and challenging them. In my base school APP is used to support this aim, ensuring that targets are both appropriate and relevant to individuals. Similarly APP can be used to identify gaps in a pupils learning, allowing teachers to reflect upon their own teaching, especially in those cases where there are common mistakes and misconceptions on the part of the pupils. APP also reinforces Assessment for Learning (AfL) as a daily occurrence, leading to a more constructive impact on teaching and learning. In national guidance there is an increasing emphasis on the role of APP in tracking and recording performance. Whilst most schools recognise the opportunities to increase their teacher assessments consistency and reliability, it will take time for APP to become second nature to staff. However, the overarching aim of APP is clear - it aims to enable us to recognize and celebrate overall progress in an aspect of learning, rather than just assessing learning of the most recently taught and learned. (Q 12 13 26a)

As well as internal methods of assessment, schools have access to national and local data in forms of the raiseonline and national and local benchmarking data. This enables schools to pinpoint how well they are doing and any improvements they could and should make. Schools can make comparisons, not only on a national level but also against schools with similar levels of deprivation (eligibility for free school meals) or schools with similar levels of contextual value added. Supporting all schools improvement processes by providing a variety of methods to analyse their performance data as part of the self - evaluation form (SEF). It is necessary however to interpret benchmarking data with care as rather than providing schools with the answers it is more likely that it would help them identify questions and issues that may need to be investigated. Whilst comparing data between schools may give accurate portrayals of a schools performance, it does not necessarily account for it. (Q 13)

It is my opinion, after research and school based observations, that a successful assessment is an open one, where everyone involved, from staff to pupils are aware to some extent of what and how evidence is to be assessed. It is essential that we are completely transparent about the need for and purpose of assessment and why it is carried out in particular ways. Feedback to pupils is key in formative assessment, as it is only by showing pupils the steps they need to take in order to reach the next steps in their learning that we as teachers can bring about learning. While we cannot learn for the students, we can use feedback to make adjustments to our planning and teaching, enabling students to access the curriculum with all the tools they require. Even the very youngest pupils can be given some explanation of the assessment process, which in turns enables children to both self and peer assess.

Self and peer assessment includes pupil involvement in both setting the success criteria and how they will show that they have been successful, empowering them to take control of their own learning. There are huge advantages to this type of assessment, the most significant of which are that it

develops lifelong evaluation skills whilst supporting independent learning

increases pupil motivation by involving them in the assessment process

treats assessment as part of learning, so mistakes are seen as opportunities rather than a sign of failure.

reduces the amount of teacher assessment but improves the quality.

In my base school I have observed a number of self and peer assessment strategies including children marking each others work, the use of a traffic lighting system, suggesting improvements to each others work and reflecting upon their own. Of course there are possible issues surrounding the use of peer and self assessment, with many believing that it should be used only for formative assessment as it is possible that children may allow friendships to affect their objectivity. It is necessary that teachers use peer and self assessment to support their own assessment, teaching and planning rather that relying upon it completely. (Q 28)

Through my reading and observations during my time in school, it has become clear to me that there is no part of interaction which is not assessed. Though this may not seem manageable, the variation of assessment strategies that I have witnessed, I have come to the realisation that assessment does not always have to have a written outcome. Instead, it suggests to me that assessment can bring about conscious teaching and informed planning. My developing understanding of a range of assessment strategies including APP, self and peer assessment , AfL among others, will enable me to use day-to-day assessment to provide the pupils in my care with instant feedback, relevant next steps, appropriate support and individual targets, allowing me to adjust my planning in line with the needs of those in my care. (Q 26a, 12, 13, 19)

Although I believe that some form of summative assessment is necessary in schools, I believe that on many occasions' grades, marks and levels are assigned to pupils work more often than strictly necessary when it may be more appropriate to provide formative feedback. This is something I intend to avoid in my own practice, especially as I have experienced the use of excellent formative assessment in my base school. I have found that feedback given in this way to inform a target is highly effective in motivating pupils, and goes some way towards personalising learning. Furthermore it builds confidence and the long-term aim of helping children to become independent learners. It is essential then, to ensure good teaching and learning, that assessment involves a great deal more than just testing. It should be a continuing process that encompasses many activities, both formal and informal, designed to monitor and improve teaching and in turn the bringing about of learning across all areas of the curriculum.(Q22, 25a) Teaching will inevitably be focused on what s assessed. When conducted by testing this impact is bound to have a narrowing effect on what is taught because tests only sample the learning outcomes and include those outcomes more easily assessed by tests. If teachers use a much wider range of assessment methods, the result can be much more positive.