Assessment and the curriculum
Assessment upholds our whole school curriculum philosophy and in ensures that the content of the curriculum is taught effectively to our students. Carefully planned assessment is vital when promoting and securing the fluent use of knowledge that has been learnt. It is our belief that assessment forms the basis of successful pedagogy, as it allows teachers to gauge the effectiveness of a sequence of instructions. Without it, there is no way to understand what pupils have learnt. On many occasions, outcomes may differ from expectations and, therefore, it is vital that we encourage teachers to take a reflective approach to the assessment process.
Purposeful, accurate and standardised
However, any assessment activity must be accurate if it is to measure intended outcomes. This will allow valid inferences to be made about students’ learning. To ensure assessments are accurate they need to have a clear purpose and set of objectives. Furthermore, care must be taken to ensure that they are structured appropriately, and that outcomes are standardised. Assessments should also enhance learning by suggesting the next steps required for students to make progress.
It’s not all about measurement!
It is vital to stress that assessment is not the same as measurement. Assessment activities might include aspects of measurement. However, there will be a range of approaches that teachers use in their everyday work that will be seen more frequently: class teacher observation; one to one discussions; diagnostic questioning in lessons; marking of pupils’ work including ‘live marking’ and regular short quizzes. It is also worth recognising the indirect and implicit benefits of assessment in the formation of good study habits and routines.
Types of assessment
It can be useful to view assessment by categorising it in the following way:
Good formative assessment will create learning. Formative assessment is a range of formal and informal activities used by teachers during the learning process so they can modify teaching and learning activities to improve pupil learning and understanding. These will be the most common assessment types used to support our curriculum. Formative assessment will be used to build up mental models over time through deliberate practice of knowledge and skills learnt. Most commonly this will be done through frequent low stakes formative tests that will identify misconceptions and ultimately inform teaching (or re-teaching) of knowledge and skills. These low stakes formative assessments should support the spiral, spaced curriculum through regular revisiting and retesting of prior learning. High stakes formative assessments can be used to generate key inferences from which accurate planning can take place.
Summative assessment comes at the end of a learning sequence and is used to acknowledge the achievement of students at any given point. It is inherently challenging to design effective summative assessments. First and foremost, we need to recognise that it is necessary to plan with care so summative assessments measure what is intended and what is important e.g if a science exam requires extensive reading and writing then it may be testing literacy rather than science. Once the validity of a summative assessment has been established the reliability also needs to be ensured e.g would two people who are equally competent in the thing that is being measured end up with the same result every time? Most importantly, to ensure valid outcomes, summative assessments need to sample from a large domain of knowledge and this means we would expect summative assessments to be much less frequent, taking place no more than three times a year. These should always be considered as ‘high stakes’ assessments. To make reliable inference from these high stakes assessments they need to be a large domain size; a large range of topics needs to be sampled from.
We would advocate the use of two potential models for high stakes assessment, the descriptor/skills model with clear and unambiguous success criteria and the exam based model whereby the questions become sequentially more challenging through the course of the assessment. In both assessment types any potential bias must be mitigated against.
The practicality of effective assessments
Practical considerations also need to be made. For example, we must decide if assessments are ‘scalable’ across a large number of students. Additionally, other factors that need to be considered might include operational difficulties, ‘affordability’ (including workload and teacher resource) and time scales. Thought must also be given to the positioning and timing of assessments within the curriculum. Positive summative assessments that also serve a formative purpose are to be favoured. Assessment that dooms some students to failure must be avoided at all costs. Assessments should be ‘ethical’ and equitable, enabling everyone to succeed regardless of their starting points or background. Whilst we need to recognise that student progress will be measured on a final terminal assessment we must remember that student performance on any given day can fluctuate so we must ensure that a cumulative approach is taken when measuring progress.
We recognise that formative and summative assessments are not mutually exclusive; they are interrelated and complementary. The information from formative assessment, supplemented by class tests or tasks, helps to ensure dependable summative assessment and vice versa.
In summary, our approach to using assessments to effectively support our curriculum is that:
- Assessment should create learning.
- All assessments must be accurate, reliable and ethical.
- Formative assessment will predominate, with ‘low stakes’ testing at its core supported by less frequent ‘high stakes’ activities.
- ‘High stakes’ summative assessments will be used sparingly 2 or 3 times a year.