How assessments are used to monitor students progress

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This assignment will look at how assessment and evaluation is implemented in secondary schools and how it is used to monitor student's progress and the effectiveness of these methods.

"Assessment is undergoing a paradigm shift, from psychometrics to a broader model of educational assessment, from a testing and examination culture to an assessment culture"(Gipps, 1994)

To many laypeople the term 'assessment' relates only to the awarding of grades or marks based on exam results. The same exam results that if they were to look in the newspapers after the summer exam period was over, would show how their local schools had performed compared to other schools in the area or country.

Outside of education circles this is what 'assessment' is seen as; a purely summative approach to how well a person or educational establishment has performed. This was made possible by the 1988 Education Reform Act which put into place The National Curriculum, a set of statutory guidelines which set out what a student must be taught and how they must be assessed, (Capel et al., 2006) this allowed schools to be directly compared to each other in league tables.

Assessment though is much more than this. Assessment is the main tool in a teacher's toolbox that allows them to monitor how their students are doing and adapt their teaching to the needs of the class (Black 1993) "We use the general term assessment to refer to all those activities undertaken by teachers -- and by their students in assessing themselves -- that provide information to be used as feedback to modify teaching and learning activities. Such assessment becomes formative assessment when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching to meet student needs. "(Black, P. & Wiliam, D. 1998)

There are two main types of assessment that are used in schools, formative assessment and summative assessment. Formative assessment is said to be assessment for learning, and is "assessment that takes places during the course of teaching and is used essentially to feed back into the teaching/learning process" (Gipps, 1994). Summative assessment is said to be assessment of learning, and "takes place at the end of a term or a course and is used to provide information about how much students have learned and how well a course has worked" (Gipps, 1994).

Formative assessment is not just about monitoring pupil's progress and using the information to modify teaching strategies. It's also about teaching students to be effective learners (Gipp and James, 1996). Black et al. (2003) believe that it's important for students to be fully participating in their own learning and if they are not, then they are not benefitting from formative assessment. Opportunities for pupils to show their understanding should be built into any teaching, this will allow the initial interactions that provide meaningful learning. (Black and Williams 1999)

The overall aim of formative assessment is to enable the teacher to plan and personalize the learning for the students. The teacher's goal is to move a student from their Zone of Proximal Development to understanding a new zone of understanding.(Child , Capel et al.)

Implementing formative assessment effectively in the modern classroom is essential (Black and Harrison, 204). The emphasis placed on how important formative assessment is in the modern classroom and how it should be ingrained into every lesson (Capel et al. 2006) makes planning and implementing it one of the first challenges to


Elements of formative assessment:

  • Establishment of a classroom culture that encourages interaction and the use of assessment tools
  • Establishment of learning goals, and tracking of individual student progress towards those goals
  • Use of varied instruction methods to meet diverse student needs
  • Use of varied approaches to assessing student understanding
  • Feedback on student performance and adaptation of instruction to meet identified needs
  • Active involvement of students in the learning process

(OECD, 2005)

One of the quickest ways to gauge a student's understanding is to use questioning to ascertain their level of understanding. The difficulty with using questioning is that it's very easy to use closed questions (Capel et al. 2006) which only have a right or wrong answer and therefore only give a summative picture of the students understanding. It is therefore necessary to ensure that rich questioning is used and the students feel challenged when answering (Black and Harrison, 2004)

Whilst on my placements I tried to implement questioning effectively into my lessons. Initially I found that if I didn't plan the questions properly before the lesson I would often inadvertently ask a closed question to my students. However, if I took the time to plan the questions that I wanted to ask in the lessons, I could then develop a more open questioning format and start to gauge the depth of student's understandings. (APPENDIX)

With my higher attaining groups of students I found that with coaching and practice they were able to use their higher order thinking skills to answer questions in some depth and even with a fairly mixed ability group, students were all able to answer in surprising depth. Difficulties often arose though, with my lower attaining groups of students who found higher order thinking skills quite a challenge. Capel et al. (2006) stated that teachers may not use questioning with lower ability groups for this reason, however since 1999 it has been part of The National Curriculum to teach 'thinking skills' and therefore all students must be included (Cape et al 2006)

As an assessment tool, I found questioning to be invaluable for a fast assessment of meaningful learning in the classroom. By asking open ended questions to different students in the room, I was able to adapt my lesson immediately, if necessary, to the needs of the class or individual students. Demos (2004) stated for a teacher to be the best they need to constantly monitor their students, what is happening in their lessons and adapt their teaching as necessary. My lesson observations (APPENDIX) showed that I was making good use of questioning in my lessons and I was starting to develop good use of open questioning.

Questioning not only allowed me to ascertain meaningful learning, but it also allowed me to challenge the students ideas (Murphy, 1999) by extending their answers with 'whys, what if's and what do you think would happen". Pushing their higher level thinking skills and modifying preconceived ideas that they struggled to overcome.

One of the main weakness's I found with questioning were the quiet, shy, students who felt uncomfortable speaking out and answering questions in front of their peers. For these students questioning wasn't an effective way of assessing their learning. Black (1999) emphasised the point of Brousseau's 'didactical contract' between teacher and pupil in that the pupils feel effectively cheated if the teacher moves away from the traditional didactic approach to teaching that they are used to and effectively breaks the contract between them by asking higher order questions. This reflects some of my experience with my more challenging students and their lack of response when questioned.

Sadler (1993) put forward the idea that self assessment is necessary for a learner to make progress and to understand themselves as learners. By doing so they will be able to develop strategies to improve their knowledge and learning

An area that I focused on whilst on placement was on encouraging my students to become more efficient learners. Black and William (1999) identified five key factors that influenced effective formative assessment.

the provision of effective feedback to pupils;

the active involvement of pupils in their own learning;

adjusting teaching to take account of the results of assessment;

a recognition of the profound influence assessment has on the motivation

and self-esteem of pupils, both of which are crucial influences on learning;

the need for pupils to be able to assess themselves and understand how to


One of the key areas of my focus during my placement was quality marked, self assessed and leveled tasks. It was an area that both my subject tutors at my placement school felt were areas that all teachers had to master to be effective educators.

Students need to be aware of the goal they are working towards and how they are going to achieve that goal. Simply telling a student this is what you are expected to do doesn't give them a scaffolded approach achieving that task (Black and Harrison, 2004). The learner has to know what the goal is they are expected to achieve, the standard they are expected to achieve compared to their current level and know how to measurably improve their work (Sadler, 1989). Incorporating all three of these criteria into students work can enable them to make measurable progress and show that meaningful learning has taken place. However effectively implementing them is a challenge in itself.

During my placements, I set several leveled tasks for the students that required quality marking and self assessment. The students were given a mark sheet that showed them what they had to do to achieve each level of the task (APPENDIX ). The task was then explained to them carefully so that they knew exactly what they had to do.

Due to the lower attainment of some students in my classes, the work was given to them target by target. This allowed the students to focus on how they were going to achieve the level, and write it up. This was effective for students who were struggling to keep up with the work, they were able to spend more than one lesson on each area until they felt it was completed. For students who were making progress each lesson, they were able to achieve the levels and keep progressing.

I found establishing the learning goals (OECD, 2005) for the students a challenging task. While my higher attaining students were able to quickly grasp what they had to do, my lower attaining students, not necessarily just my Special Educational Needs (SEN) students, found understanding what they had to do to achieve work at their level a challenge.

For my KS3 SEN class writing a meaningful leveled task was a challenge in itself (APPENDIX), most students in the class were working only at KS3 Level 3, and therefore actually incorporating what they should know into a task that would stretch and challenge them to work at a higher level was frustratingly difficult. Black (2003) talks about how effectively implementing formative assessment in the classroom is from a grass roots level and students can't be expected just to be able to do it, but at the same time they have to be offered the opportunity to work at a higher level than they are at.

It was found that even when explaining and walking the students through the task step by step ensuring that they knew what to do, that 14 out of 16 students were unable to work any higher than their level, even when effectively being led step by step through what they had to do by the teacher and the LSA.

"In assessing the quality of a student's work or performance, the teacher must possess a concept of quality appropriate to the task, and be able to judge the student's work in relation to that concept." (Sadler 1989). For some of the work that was carried out in class, a traffic lighting and post it note quality marking was used to enable students to improve upon their work.

Positive comments were left regarding their work and constructive points were made as to what they had to do to achieve their target grade, or to improve their work (APPENDIX). Black (2004) refers to the students not seeing the comments as positive or constructive, but as wholly negative towards their work and therefore don't see the effectiveness of how the comments are meant to help them improve their work.

Black et al. (2003) said that one of the most important areas of formative assessment is giving the students feedback on their work.

I agree with the idea in principal of using constructive feedback and praise with the students to help them improve their work However in implementing the quality marking procedure with the work I set, I found that it wasn't something that the students knew what to do with the comments given to them and in some cases with the class it caused frustration and defiance. This was mainly down to the students not having the correct 'tools' (Black and Harrison 2004) to know what to do with the quality marked work. If they had previous experience of how to follow on from the comments, I the frustration would have been less.

"The important feature of this technique of course is the quality of the comment" (Black et al.). One of the issues that arose with the feedback was the students didn't understand why the work they had produced wasn't fitting the marking criteria and the found the comments unfair. Even though there was always a positive comment, no matter how hard it was to find one, they often just saw it as all negative

For example, Student A questioned why they had received a comment suggesting that "they put in relevant maps" into their work. They thought that their maps for the location of their companies were acceptable. The issue was that the maps they had used were for the wrong locations for the companies they were talking writing about, in fact one was in the wrong country. Student A though felt that this was unfair and did not see what the issue was.

In retrospect it would have been better to have described exactly why the maps were inappropriate for their course work, possibly using a comment such as "your current maps are for the wrong countries" may have allowed the student to see what was wrong easier, and cause less frustration for both parties.

"A particular valuable method is to devote some lesson time to redrafting" (Black et al.2003). If the redraft time was time limited and was not influenced by school policies and CVA's it would be a really effective way of getting students to independently assess their work and see how to improve it. However with important 'coursework' the submission day, for some classes was more than a year away, which meant that they had no urgency to improve themselves until the end.

Working with a year 11 class (APPENDIX) on their final pieces of coursework, it was found that some of them had actually completed the work at the end of year 9, but had never written it up until then. This meant that quality marking, self assessment and remarking, was a long laborious task, due to the students not being able to remember what they had done.. This in turn made me feel as if I had done more of their work than they had, by having to continuously mark and remark their work to so that they could achieve their target grade.

"Feedback by grades focuses students' attention on their ability rather than on the importance of effort" (Blacks et al. 2003). One comment made by a student who had a B for their work was "my predicted grade is a D why should I push myself for an A?". One of the draw backs for the quality marking that was used for this course work was that the marks for each section were on the marking criteria front sheet, this meant that for some students, the comments were irrelevant when they had already reached higher than their predicted grade. Black and Harrison (2004) describe this attitude as one of the obstacles to overcome while implementing effective formative assessment.

"Opportunities for students to follow up comments should be planned as part of the overall learning process" (Black et al. 2003). With my BTEC classes, who were conditioned to follow the self assess and respond to teachers comments (APPENDIX) I found it was a really effective way of the students to improve their work and they were keen to make the improvements to reach a merit or distinction. The use of portfolios within the BTEC allowed the students to follow their progress throughout the year and monitor the teacher feedback to see how they needed to improve (Black, 1999)

Over all using quality marking as a method of assessing students and teaching them to become more efficient learners has its positive and negative points and I feel that if it was used from the first day at secondary school or even primary school, it would very effective, however when it is implemented with students who are not trained how to use it the challenge felt outweighed the benefits.

One form of formative assessment my students felt they really benefitted from was using summative tests for formative assessment prior to their exams. The students were all given a self assessment sheet to say how they felt they knew the subject area (APENNDIX). They then completed a past paper, marked the past paper using the examiners mark scheme, and then reassessed how they felt afterwards about their subject knowledge. We were then able to as a class determine a plan of action for revision for the upcoming weeks.

By pre-checking what they thought they knew and then revisiting it after the test, the students were able to boost their confidence in some areas, sometimes finding that they knew more in a subject area than initially though, At the same time they were able to identify areas that needed improvement and feed this back to myself and the others in the class so ascertain what had the highest priority for revision.

This self-managed revision enabled the students to believe that effort they put in was more important than the their ability and that by making mistakes they were able to learn from them whilst having control over their learning. (Black 1999)

In conclusion assessment traditionally was used to monitor only final performance of students, and acted as a barrier to their learning rather than as a chance to improve on their learning. Students in the modern classroom now have the opportunity to see assessment as a way of improving their education through their own

Paper presented in a symposium of the BERA Assessment Policy Task Group, on Thursday 12 September 1996, at the BERA Conference held at the University of Lancaster

Sadler, D. R. 1993. cited in Brookhart, S. M. 2001. Successful Students' Formative and Summative Uses of Assessment Information. Assessment in Education. Vol. 8, No. 2, pp. 153-169.