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Assessment in primary education involves acquiring information and making formal or informal judgements about children's progress and attainments, including areas for further development. The main aspects that are usually assessed in children's learning include: knowledge, understanding, skills, behaviour, attitudes and values in relation to the National Curriculum (Wragg, 2001).
Assessment is essential as it can unearth important information. For example, it can; identify gaps in children's learning and where support may be required, provide information that can be shared with parents, inform teacher's planning and pedagogy and indicate the effectiveness of schools. However, this is not an inclusive list and there are other essential reasons why assessment is required, which shall be reinforced throughout this discussion. We shall focus on assessment strategies and how this information is utilised; in particular this will be cross referenced with my experience in school.
We will start by exploring summative assessment strategies. This is also known as 'Assessment of Learning' (AOL) and is an analysis of the assessment to date, which occurs at the end of the year or block of study. Examples of summative assessments include: the Foundation Stage Profile (FSP), Standards Assessment Tests (SATS) and formal teacher assessments. The empirical evidence collated from this is used to check the progress or attainment of the learner in relation to areas of the National Curriculum. The key purpose of this type of assessment is to provide data for national and local benchmarking purposes. Utilising this data is essential as it enables schools to deduce whether children are meeting the age-related expectations. If they have deviated, targets are reviewed and the necessary provisions or interventions are implemented. This is to ensure children stay on track to meet the national expectations of making at least two National Curriculum levels progress over each key stage. In my base-school at Robin Hood Primary, data analysis is important to inform their tracking systems so that they can take action and evaluate children's progress and attainment.
The prior attainment data is also used at the start of term to set targets and inform medium term planning. This is a key focus for teaching and learning.
The Contextual Value-Added (CVA) model is a national measure which quantifies schools performance compared to others with similar characteristics. This model considers a range of factors such as; prior attainment, Special Educational Needs (SEN) and Free School Meals that can affect children's performance; thus provides a level playing field. The school's CVA scores are presented on RAISEonline, which is important in setting the framework for schools and indicating its achievement and attainment (Weston, 2007). This data enables Local Educational Authorities and schools to: identify trends, underperforming groups, set realistic targets, and review overall effectiveness and standards. This is particularly important considering the: 'breaking the link between disadvantage and low attainment' documentation. This is an initiative to mitigate under-performance issues in deprived communities. But it should be noted that the recent White Paper: importance of teaching has indicated a reform into assessment reporting. In particular, the CVA model will cease and
the future reformed curriculum will act as a benchmark for all schools, with a focus on 'pupils' premium' to raise achievement.
There has been negativity towards external summative assessments in terms of their reliability and whether it benefits the child's learning and progress. SATS are classed as 'high stakes', which can result in 'teaching to the tests' and rote rather than deep learning being assessed (James and Gipps 1998). Hall (2010) noted that teachers can also be inclined to adopt 'transmission styles' of teaching, which reduces creativity in the curriculum; and could ultimately impact children's learning. SATS are undertaken at Robin Hood Primary along with teacher assessments. They continue to promote a creative curriculum as they recognise the importance of creating rich learning experiences and tailoring children's needs. This is so they can enjoy learning and develop new skills whilst still preparing children for SATS in an effective manner. In terms of my practice, I will need to employ similar pedagogies to meet the learning needs of children (Q28).
The teacher assessments formally consider children's performance in each area of learning; and provides them a National Curriculum level that 'best-fits' the child. These have proved to be more popular than SATS in terms of their reliability. To some extent this can be used formatively to inform the pedagogy of the classroom (Hall, 2003). The advantage is that the whole- curriculum can be assessed in terms of the attainment targets rather than the specific focus on core subjects. More importantly, teaching is not specifically geared toward tests but can be adapted by pursuing learning goals that meet children's needs (Alexander, 2010). Robin Hood Primary uses a variety of evidence from different contexts to assess pupils as they recognise that children learn in different ways. This is important if we consider Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, where different teaching contexts leverage their strengths. The school ethos is a collaborative planning approach. This enables year group teachers to discuss their assessment approaches, what they are assessing in relation to their programmes of work and whether there is a common understanding of the level descriptions for moderation purposes. Hall and Harding (2002) noted that teacher assessments can be enhanced if a 'collaborative approach' is envisioned. This is where an 'assessment community' is created involving staff, pupils and even parents.
In terms of my own practice, it will be essential that I discuss teachers' assessments with experienced colleagues to ensure that children's progress and attainments are moderated (Q11). This data would also be important to inform planning and personalise learning to help raise level of achievements; and narrow any attainment gaps (Q13, Q19). This also highlights how important assessment data is to monitor children's progress and raise attainment levels.
Now that we have discussed summative assessment strategies, it is important to explore the commonly preferred approach; formative assessment.
Assessment for Learning (AFL) and Assessment as Learning (AAL) are formative approaches and is a fundamental part of the teaching, learning and planning process. It is a continuous process of identifying and responding to children's learning in order for them to make effective progress. Therefore it enables teachers to reassess their pedagogy and planning in light of whether the intended learning outcomes have been achieved. In comparison to summative approaches, AFL recognises the importance of the learner being included in the assessment process. Hall (2003) reinforced this notion:
'… Just as learning is a social process, so too assessment is a social process. The way the learner interprets the learning context is vitally important to their success in that context'. (Hall, 2003, p. 12)
Black and William's (1998) research have proven that AFL does raise standards of attainment. In particular, facilitating the lower abilities more than others, which minimises the spread of attainment. This links with the Assessment Reform Group's (2002) research of AFL practices. They highlighted ten principles to steer teachers in implementing this in their classroom to promote effective teaching and learning. The key purpose of AFL is to raise achievement. It involves children to develop their own learning, which makes them active agents in the assessment process. Planning is critical to its success to ensure that relevant information is collated to enhance children's progress. Alexander (2010) emphasised that AFL matches modern views of how children learn as they actively construct their learning and take ownership.
Key features associated with AFL (but not inclusive) include: sharing the learning objectives and success criteria, providing feedback, effective questioning, involving children in peer and self-assessment, and Assessing Pupils Progress (APP). Robin Hood Primary highly regards AFL as a mechanism to monitor children's progress and attainment so that any barriers can be lifted to ensure that they all reach their potential. This is reinforced by their aim:
'…Raise standards of attainment and achievement by having high expectations of the teaching and learning'. (Robin Hood Primary School's Policy, 2010)
AFL is embedded within their school culture to realise this aim. The noted formative examples are some which are used within the school and shall now be discussed.
Sharing learning objectives is a whole-school approach and is made visually and verbally explicit to the children in all subjects. The children also write the learning objectives in their work to reinforce expectations. This practice enables children to be clear on the aim of the lesson and more importantly what they need to do to be successful, which is the success criteria. This then promotes self-assessment, which links to an important notion made by Black and William (1998b):
'…When learners do come to a sense of how their work is judged they are far more effective and committed as learners. They can self-evaluate'. (Cited in Hall and Burke, 2003, p. 55)
Sharing the success criteria is equally important as the learning objectives. Children recognise what the teacher's expectations are in terms of judging attainment and they can monitor their progress towards these goals. At Robin Hood Primary, they usually make this visually explicit such as on the Interactive Whiteboard and is also reinforced verbally throughout the lesson to make expectations clear. In addition, I have observed the teacher to emphasise the purpose of what they are doing, which is important if we consider the cognitive behaviour approach to learning. This theory states that learners actively construct their learning. By providing a purpose they are motivated to learn, which interlinks with the 'what's in it for me' concept (Hughes 2010).
In terms of practice, it will be important for me to continue to share the learning objectives and success criteria with the class, by ensuring that it is also expressed appropriately to those with SEN and EAL needs. This would enable all children to be engaged with the task and essentially their own assessment. It would also permit me to focus on the learning outcomes and thus quality rather than simply getting the activities complete (Q10, Q12, Q26b).
Self-assessment is an integral part of the learning objectives and success criteria. This can only be successful if children assess and reflect on their own ability and understand what they need to do to improve rather than simply being told what to do. From my experience, questioning throughout and during plenaries are useful modes to assess whether learning has taken place. It also enables children's to reflect whether they have fulfilled the success criteria and learning objectives.
Robin Hood Primary considers effective questioning in self-assessment to be important to acquire an insight into children's learning. Open-ended questions are crucial to ensure that it is inclusive of all learners. Hall (2010) emphasised that children need time to think to develop higher order thinking skills. From my experience, I have noticed the teacher to use 'positive language' in the classroom if children experience difficulties or misconceptions, especially in numeracy. The culture is to treat mistakes as opportunities. I think this is an important strategy to employ so that children are not de-motivated and increases their self-esteem; but essentially influences their learning positively.
The school also uses peer-assessment, which is more than marking tests and can reinforce self-assessment. For example, during certain speaking and listening group exercises, the children had to formulate questions regarding a book, which was then discussed and evaluated as a class. This can be effective as children can acquire self-assurance in creating their own questions and considering a range of differing responses. It also enables them to develop an insight into their own performance and what they need to do to improve by assessing the work of others. Clarke (2001) also reinforced the importance of these assessments as it raises their self-esteem as they are in control of their learning. It should be noted that there can be disadvantages with this type of assessment in terms of sensitivity or children's competitiveness, but if used in the right context if can be powerful.
In terms of my practice, I will need to ensure that I present self and peer assessment opportunities, in conjunction with effective questioning and feedback. This is so children can reflect on their own learning and be motivated to progress. This will also provide me an insight into their learning, which then informs short-tem planning in terms of the teaching sequence of lessons (Q29). In relation to this, understanding the children will be essential to cater for their needs effectively. This reinforces how these elements are closely interlinked with assessment (Q25a, Q25c, Q26a, Q27, Q28).
From the above discussion, we can see how formative assessment strategies are more child-centred compared to summative approaches. This enables them to see how well they are doing and more importantly for teachers to set targets. As mentioned earlier, Robin Hood Primary has pupil tracking systems, which enables them to assess whether children are meeting the age- related expectations. These tracking systems consist of the National Curriculum levels the children obtained in the previous years based on the SATS, teacher assessments, APP data and their predictions for the end of the year. The teachers also have review meetings with the Head Teacher to check that the pupils are on track. It enables teachers to set targets and provisions to facilitate children to make the 2 sub-level improvements within the year. It also deduces whether any interventions are required to close attainment gaps. This reinforces the importance of assessment as pupil- level data is important to inform learning, teaching and planning so that attainment levels can be raised. The 'breaking the link between disadvantage and low attainment' documentation highlights that utilising data can mitigate these links and encourages personalised learning provisions. In terms of my practice, it will be vital that this data is used for these purposes so that children can achieve their potential (Q10, Q13, Q19, Q25b, d, Q26b, Q29).
Robin Hood Primary also have qualitative targets in literacy and numeracy, which are explicitly shared with the children so they know how well they are doing and what they need to do to improve. This is important so they can take ownership for their leaning. They have a target sheet (see appendix 1a and b) in their numeracy and literacy books, which translate into 'I can' statements; and are more child-friendly. This is a mechanism to share targets with the children so they know what they need to do to progress to their expected National Curriculum levels by the end of the year. The targets for EAL children usually differ in literacy (and other subjects) to ensure they progress within their capabilities. Children in Key Stage 1 and 2 also complete an assessed piece of writing known as the 'Big Write'; this is part of the current school's improvement plan which places an emphasis on writing. This is usually undertaken at the end of phase outcomes to monitor children in these specific areas of learning. As well as writing targets in their book, they are visually placed on their tables as a reminder. There are also visual displays such as 'VCOP' pyramids to highlight what they need to do to obtain a particular level, which reinforces the standards to aim for. In terms of reading, the children are informed of their level at the beginning of the year and where they are expected to be at the end of the year. This is tracked by the teacher and teacher assistant who monitor progress.
In terms of tracking other subjects, the teachers provide feedback through constructive marking and general observations in the classroom. This is also integral to the self-assessment process so children know how to bridge the gaps in their learning. Feedback is important so teachers can help scaffold their learning to close the gap between what they know and need to know (Clarke, 2003). The teacher also acquires feedback from the teaching assistants as a way of monitoring progress. This also demonstrates the importance of working closely with the support staff (Q30). I will need to ensure that I give constructive feedback to facilitate learning, especially by linking their learning to prior experiences to make this meaningful. Feedback will also enable me to adjust and inform future planning and teaching; which reinforces the assessment, planning, teaching cycle and the importance of planning and monitoring children's progress. (Q12, Q27)
The assessment strategies across the age ranges are similar for Key Stage 1 and 2. However, in Key Stage 1 they have a phonics tracker to monitor progress and inform ability groups. They also use the 'bubble and block' approach, which specifies the positive element of their work and targets for improvement. There is also the FSP which is a summative approach used in the Foundation Stage. This assesses children's progression and the level of attainment achieved in each of the six areas of learning. There are13 assessment scales covering these areas, which promotes teachers to used focussed observations as a means of the documented achievements (DCFS, 2008). This leads to a summative record at the end of the Foundation Stage. The FSP is used by the Key Stage 1 teachers to enable them to inform their future planning. This reinforces the importance of assessment data in facilitating learning and raising attainment levels.
In terms of monitoring the progress and attainment of SEN children (or those working below the National Curriculum levels), Robin Hood Primary uses p- level data and PIVATS in assessment. These children and those with learning difficulties are still expected to make a similar rate of progress compared to national expectations of other children. The school recognises that high expectations, quality first teaching (as in all classes) is crucial to raise their attainment levels. The p-level data is used to establish good progress for these learners below the age-related expectations. The information from these assessment tools are used to inform Individual Education Plan targets (for some children) and highlighting their strengths too. Working with the SENCO will be important to personalise and monitor the learning of these children in terms of my practice (Q19).
APP is a mechanism they use to track individual progress, which is part of AFL. By doing so, they can identify where children are in their learning and set targets for progression. It also informs teachers' subject knowledge to deduce what gaps they need to fill to enable children to achieve the expected level. The school uses a representative sample in APP as it would be inefficient to monitor the progress of each child. For example, in my base-class they track a total of six children from the higher, middle and lower ability group for literacy (excluding writing) and numeracy. The school uses the APP assessment guidelines from the Primary Nation Strategy documentation to monitor children's progress, although in some instances they use their own materials. To assess reading, the children are grouped according to ability for guided reading sessions. This enables the teacher to select appropriate reading material and assess their word recognition and comprehension skills. Targets are shared with the children so they know what they have to do to progress to the next reading level. More importantly, it facilitates teachers to review planning, learning objectives and identify which group would benefit from accelerated learning to get them on the right trajectory. APP will be essential to use in my practice to inform planning to bridge any learning gaps and to personalise learning too (Q19, Q22). Thus It reinforces how AFL is important is to manage and plan the teaching and learning to get children to where they need to be.
Overall, we can see how assessment is important and an integral part of the planning and teaching cycle to raise attainment levels. Assessment is important to deduce whether children are meeting the intended learning outcomes or experience difficulties; which subsequently inform planning. Planning and the sequence of lessons may then require adjustments such by revisiting the learning objectives or moving ahead based on the children's progress. In turn, this informs the teacher's pedagogy as techniques may need to be adapted or learning personalised to overcome barriers. This may involve changes in the differentiation strategies to tailor children's needs in the given context. Teaching also enables assessments to be made of the class, which informs planning; therefore this demonstrates how these elements are integral. In terms of my practice, I will need to use assessment to inform my planning and deliver high quality teaching. But most importantly, I will need to know my class well and have high expectations to raise attainment levels so that they can all reach their potential.