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Assessment can be defined as using various methods to understand with depth and clarity the current knowledge that a pupil possesses, ranging from a simple observation to form a teacher's subjective opinion (formative assessment), to a formal test or examination (summative assessment). The knowledge of a student is perpetually changing and as a result, teachers are able to make formative or summative judgements on pupil achievement by comparison of their work using a progressive plan of work. Assessment, formative or summative, is used to assess a pupil's grade, advancement, target group placement, teacher instruction and access to the curriculum.
Many critics believe that one form of assessment (summative or formative), may be at the expense of the other. An argument perhaps to be addressed elsewhere! For the purposes of this essay, it is diligent to assume that;
'The two forms of assessment can be mutually supportive- formative assessment supports the process of learning, summative assessment measures the result' (Kyriacou, 2007, p247).
In the following, I will explore the implication of the use of both formative and summative assessment and its place in education today, the role of assessment in my placement school and will conclude with some reflection on the benefits and pit falls of assessment in education.
The purpose of assessment
Assessment can be categorised as any technique or activity used to appraise the performance of a pupil against specific learning outcomes set out for them by their school.
"Assessment for Learning is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there."
(Assessment Reform Group, 2002)
Assessment in education has seen a huge rise in popularity since the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1988 for two reasons; firstly it is the means by which governments are able to measure the educational output of any given school against other schools locally and nationally, with the expectation of raising educational standards, and secondly, teachers have increasingly realised the value of continuous assessment for informing them of and guiding them in their teaching process.
The most frequently used purposes for assessment are as follows:-
To provide the teacher with feedback regarding pupil progress. This enables the teacher to consider the effectiveness of their teaching regarding the pupil achieving their learning outcomes. Particular misunderstandings or problems may be highlighted as a result, allowing for planning for remedial action or revised teaching methods.
To provide the pupil with instructional feedback. This enables the pupil to assess their standard of work against a given criteria or expected standard. Using detailed feedback, pupils may understand the expectations on them from any given piece of work more clearly, and use to correct and improve their work.
To motivate pupils. Positive feedback can effectively stimulate motivation.
To provide a record of progress. Regular assessment enables the teacher and the school to keep a decisive record of pupil attainment over a prolonged period of time, enabling the teacher to make specific judgements regarding the pupil's current and future educational needs. It is particularly helpful in identifying particular problems or difficulties. A pupil's record of progress will be used when communicating with colleagues and informing parents.
It may also help a teacher to reassess their pedagogic methods when teaching similar groups in the future.
To provide a statement of accurate attainment. By using specific attainment criteria, the pupil's level of attainment at any given time can be assessed.
To assess pupil's readiness for future learning. Pupils can be assessed against their readiness to access new areas of learning, whether they have any specific learning difficulties or if they have effectively covered previous learning necessary for the teacher to
continue with a specific topic. Lack of understanding in this instance would necessitate further planning for revised learning and preparation by the teacher.
To provide evidence of teacher and school effectiveness. The assessment of pupil achievement and record of their progress gives an indication of the success and effectiveness of the teacher and the school. Data is used in local and national statistics which may affect the school's popularity or funding opportunities.
(Q1, Q10, Q11, Q12, Q13)
Summative Assessment identifies the standard of attainment achieved at any given point in the school year, although usually carried out at the end of a course of work or end of the school year. Various ways of assessing learning, sometimes referred to as 'multiple response modes' can be used to gain evidence of pupil learning, for example tick sheets and portfolios, but the most well recognised example of summative testing is the high-profile Standard Attainment Tests (SATs) taken nationally at the end of Key Stage 1 and 2, and used by governments to assess the educational output of individual schools and published in League Tables. The results indicate the level (below, on target or above for their age) a child is working at, assessed against eight National
Curriculum Target Levels which enables the school (or feeder school) to make plans for the child's future learning and schools to determine if they are teaching effectively, by the comparison of their whole-school and pupils' performance against national results. (Q12, Q13)
'An assessment activity can help learning if it provides information to be used as feedback by teachers and their pupils in assessing themselves and each other, to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged. Such assessment becomes formative assessment when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching to meet learning needs'. (Black et al, 2002, p2)
Formative Assessment has gained a high profile in recent years following the introduction of the National Curriculum and the publication of the Assessment Reform Groups' (ARG, 2002) summary of research which formed the basis for the 10 principles for Assessment for Learning (AfL) (2002).
Ongoing formative assessment relies on the informal, interactive and qualitative measurement of the assessment of pupil learning during ordinary classroom activities. Teachers use a range of strategies in different contexts and for different purposes, whilst focusing on how pupils learn. This approach enables teachers to quickly identify errors and misconceptions and promote effective future learning for their pupils using regular, constructive and formative written and oral feedback with the purpose of enabling pupils to make good progress.
Personalised and differentiated learning accessed via every day Assessment for Learning (AfL), is linked inextricably with inclusive, Quality First (National Strategies, 2010) Teaching and pupil learning, 'the skilful use of assessment practices which complement and facilitate the hallmarks of effective teaching is essential' (Kyriacou, 2007, p106) and should be an integral part of every lesson. The impact of praise and positive feedback, whilst avoiding comparison with other pupils, can have far reaching effects on the learner's engagement, enthusiasm and confidence.
By clearly sharing the learning objectives (what is to be learned) and the learning outcomes or success criteria (what the children will be expected to do once they have learned it), the teacher
and pupil are then able to engage in the process of assessment, using strategies the teacher deems
'fit for purpose' in the context of the lesson. Through observation and listening to gather intelligence; questioning and whole-class dialogue; giving oral and written feedback and planning for group talk, AfL enables the learner be actively engage, to understand the quality of their work and how to improve their learning. There is also evidence that low attainers and students with specific learning needs or disabilities particularly benefit from formative assessment.
'Learners need information and guidance in order to plan next steps in their learning. Teachers should: pinpoint the learner's strengths and advise on how to
develop them; be clear and constructive about any weaknesses and how they might be addressed; provide opportunities for learners to improve upon their work. (Assessment Reform Group, 2002, p. 2)
(Q1, Q10, Q11, Q12, Q13, Q19, Q26b)
Assessment strategies for day-to-day assessment during the lesson
â€¢ Asking questions to assess children's starting points, in order to assess attainment level and plan/adapt learning and teaching activities accordingly.
â€¢ Asking a range of questions, from literal to higher-order (open and closed questions), allowing pupils 'think time' which will encourage a deeper understanding of the question posed.
â€¢ Using talk partners and ensuring all are engaged in answering questions.
Using questioning to engage in individual and whole-class dialogue.
â€¢ Watching children at their work, listening to their discussions allowing for an assessment of their learning as it is happening.
â€¢ Making planned observations of particular children who may be having difficulties to support their learning in the lesson.21-2004 G | © Crown copyright 2004
â€¢ Brief impromptu discussions with children if there have been any issues during a lesson.
â€¢ Holding discussions with children to assess their understanding and to ascertain reasons for any misunderstandings or misconceptions and allowing issues to be resolved within the lesson.
â€¢ Holding informed discussions following up earlier assessment, in order to discuss progress, targets and any peer or self assessments that have been made. Using these to allow planning for the next steps in learning.
â€¢ Marking and assessing written work with the children, allowing for identification of any common errors or misconceptions. This will also help guide children regarding how they can improve and progress.
â€¢ Discussing with the children their responses to the lesson's tasks, allowing for identification of ability to correct any errors and misconceptions. This will also help to assess their achievement
against the learning objectives, monitor their progress and allow discussion regarding how they can improve and the next steps for them in their learning.
Checking children's understanding
â€¢ Conducting recall tests with planned or spontaneous questions to assess immediately with the children their knowledge and speed of recall.
â€¢ Reviewing what has been taught previously allowing for both children and teachers to identify what might need revision and to guide the lesson and future planning.
(Q1, Q12, Q22, Q25a, 25b, 25c, 25d, Q26b)
Self and peer assessment
Self and peer assessment are a means of enhancing formative assessment during which individual, pairs or small groups of children identify the progress that has been made in the lesson, what they still find challenging and how to improve through planning their next steps in learning. By promoting the development of independent self and peer assessment and giving them ownership of their progress, pupils learn to monitor and evaluate their own learning strategies and achievements.
Honesty in assessment is not seen to be an issue as some might have presumed, 'pupils are generally honest and reliable in assessing both themselves and one another; they can even be too hard on themselves'. (Black &Wiliams,1998, p7). Crucially, 'pupils can assess themselves only when they have a sufficiently clear picture of the targets that their learning is meant to attain' (ibid, p7). Sometimes the teacher may use appropriate examples of work to illustrate specific targets.
Using shared aims and planned targets, work can be reviewed with or without the teacher's participation and results recorded and used to create revised targets.
Using pupil self evaluation techniques such as the 'thumbs up/thumbs down' technique, teachers may quickly ascertain pupil understanding at any given point in a lesson. (Q28)
Planning, feedback and homework
Teachers, working alongside their colleagues, plan a scheme of work by designing sequences of related learning activities which have detailed and clear objectives. Using the National Strategy programme of study, as set out in the National Curriculum handbook (1999), they will take into account the age and ability range of their class. Using their secure curriculum knowledge and accurately assessed knowledge of their pupils' prior achievement levels using AfL, they are able to plan for personalised learning and inclusion in their progression of teaching. This allows the teacher
to deliver a lesson during which they will monitor pupils, provide accurate feedback, challenge all pupils and help all learners achieve.
Feedback is most effective when it is descriptive and linked to the learning objectives/success criteria coupled with suggested learning progression routes.
Well planned homework has the added advantage of consolidating and building on prior learning and working with the support of parents or carers.
(Q11, Q19, Q22, Q25a, 25b, 25c, 25d, Q26b)
The National Curriculum, Programme of Study, Level Descriptors and Attainment TargetEach subject in the curriculum, at each Key Stage, has a programme of study as set out in the National Curriculum Handbook (1999) which outlines the subject knowledge to be covered at any given time. Each subject has 8 attainment targets level descriptors or Attainment Focus (AF) Levels as set out in the National Strategies assessment criteria grids (2010), for each attainment target (2010). These become progressively more challenging and have an additional level for 'exceptional performance' for pupils with outstanding ability. These are used by teachers to provide the basis for making an accurate judgement on the pupil's performance by Assessing Pupil Progress (APP) and compared at all times against the levels above and below to ensure an accurate assessment is recorded. Each level description describes in some detail the age-related expectations of an average pupil by setting out 'the skills and understanding that pupils of different abilities and maturities are expected to have by the end of each key stage' (The Education Act, 1996, section 353a). (Q11, Q22, Q26b, Q28)
Assessing Pupil Progress (APP)
In a move away from formal testing, APP was introduced as an alternative means of whole-school and pupil assessment through SATs tests. A structured, ongoing national approach to assessment (where the boundaries between formative and summative assessment can blur), APP equips teachers (and teaching assistants) to track and make judgments on pupils' progress. Through continuous assessment using AfL, the compilation of a detailed and personalised profile for each
child is built using the AF Levels assessment guideline grids. These records allow teachers to understand their pupils' learning needs, and identify any gaps in their teaching that may have arisen, and so allowing for future learning to be planned accordingly which in turn will support schools in raising standards of achievement. APP is most effective when it draws on a broad range of evidence that shows what pupils can do independently and is in particular very effective when assessing pupils with English as a second language. (Q11, Q13, Q19, Q26b),
It is a school's statutory obligation through APP to assess all pupils against 1999 Programme of Study and Attainment Targets, as stated by the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) and adhering to the criteria set out in the National Curriculum, with the purposes of gauging all children locally and nationally against the Government set established national targets (levels and sub levels) in their learning progression through their school life. The data is collected locally and nationally to ascertain the overall performance of a school in accordance with the expected levels of achievement for their age.
A secure knowledge of the national assessment requirements will help teachers plan their lessons and prepare learners well for public examinations and qualifications. (Q11)
Tracking and Benchmarking
The school may implement its own tracking system. Teachers periodically review collections of pupils' work, often in collaboration with colleagues, to build a record of their achievements and allowing for an assessment of the overall national curriculum level the child is working at. Children are rated 'low', 'secure' or high within each national curriculum level.
Benchmarking is the term given to the process of measuring standards of actual performance against those achieved by others with broadly similar characteristics, identification of best practice and the opportunity to learn from those better performing schools can be identified, to raise the standards of achievement of a school and initiate more informed whole-school and pupil target setting. (Q13)
Assessment in Berridge Junior School
At the end of each key stage, Berridge submits their teacher assessment data results of the national curriculum assessments to their Local Authority (LA) and to the government. The submission of these, including P scale data via an Assessment of Reporting Arrangement (ARA) or a Teacher Assessment of Reporting Arrangement (TARA) (QCDA 2010) at KS3 is a statutory requirement. APP has recently been introduced and rolled out across the whole school after teacher and TA training from February of this year. Using rigorous assessment data to track pupil progress, and curricular targets, based on the objectives in the Primary Framework for teaching (2010) which are logged via the School Information Management System (SIMS) (2010) system, Berridge is able to identify areas for whole-school improvement. An Annual Performance Review (APR) allows for in- depth analysis of progress. Since participating in the Local Authority's School Improvement Partner (SIP) Programme (2007) the school has consolidated and enhanced their monitoring and evaluation. Although, due to the demographics of the school and high proportion of EAL pupils, curriculum levels are lower than the national average. However the school's 'contextual value added' (CVA) score, which statistically assesses how effective the school is through measuring pupil progress and test and examination results, indicates that the school is performing extremely well. Introduced in 2007, the age-related curriculum targets have been used to assemble a school development plan and the benefits are already extremely clear. All pupils are tested and assessed, prior to target grouping for English and Maths in KS2. Parents are informed of pupil progress via termly parents' evenings, reading diaries and annual written reports.
In conclusion the above discussion has demonstrated the key features of assessment and reflected on the implications of formative and summative assessment in schools today. I have demonstrated how AfL, APP, self and peer assessment, planning, benchmarking, tracking and assessment requirements impact on a teacher's role in school and crucially her responsibility towards her pupils' learning success through secure curriculum knowledge, effective pedagogy, planning and modified planning to meet any given success criteria within the National Curriculum.
For me, the strengths in assessment lie in schools being able to identify progress and more crucially, areas for improvement, quickly and concisely as I have seen to great effect in my placement school where the AF Levels are accessed via 'I can' statements for child user-friendliness and clarity.
AfL is seen by many as a tool for educational reform and addresses the supposed downfalls of the SATs tests.
Using detailed descriptions of situations or performance, assessment can however be subjective, but in the hands of an experienced teacher it can be an extremely valuable tool.
The weaknesses in assessment in my opinion lie firmly at the feet of the controversial SATs and League Tables and the pressure they place on schools to perform, and although my placement school boycotted the Year 6 SATs tests last year, they opt to take 'optional' SATs tests at the end of every school year in years 3,4 and 5 in an attempt to prepare their pupils well for the inevitable. It could be argued that the increased onus put on regulated formalised testing within the school curriculum has led to a failure to assess significant learning outcomes and led to pupils not being given the opportunity to practice their higher-order thinking skills.
Of course, the question remains, in the light of recent government change, the implications on teachers' prioritisation of curricular coverage and their time when sustaining a system which runs both SATs testing and APP simultaneously.