This NEWSLETTER is a very special one, as in it I seek to lay out some solid foundations and guidance on how school leaders might usefully be reviewing their existing policies for ASSESSMENT to ensure that they make the most of the opportunity that exists to be really clear about the why and how of what is the key to effective teaching and learning. Whilst the daily grind of dealing with lockdown and closures inevitably continues, now is the time to take the assessment bull by the horns and get it right for the learners. The following paper, together with the most recent blog (The Curriculum as the new Progress Model” ) were both well received by the Leadership Networks with whom I work regularly, and are I think worth a wider audience.
Take a moment to reflect on this ……… and consider if it might enhance your own policies or inform your planned Assessment CPD.
The principled use of ASSESSMENT to maximise the impact of teaching and learning on pupil outcomes 2021 and beyond.
The extraordinary circumstances that have occurred in schools as a result of the Covid-19 Global Pandemic following Lockdown in March 2020, intermittent disruptions to provision September2020-December 2020, together with a second period of school closure from January 2021 following the Christmas Holiday, forces us to review our approaches to teaching learning and assessment, so that provision closely matches the accurately identified needs of the pupils, at a time when their learning and well-being have been severely compromised. Never has it been more important to ensure that the use of assessment in our schools truly serves the varied needs of learners and their teachers. This is a time of great uncertainty. The following Inspir.ed clarification should lie at the heart of curriculum intent and it embodies commonly held principles of assessment by which we should strive to operate. It takes account of a range of current research and opinion on the future of assessment in our schools, and might usefully form the basis of review of any school policy on Assessment, Recording and Reporting that might take place as part of school improvement initiatives in the coming months.
Our intention is to create and implement a curriculum for our pupils that introduces a range of key concepts that learners are helped to build into reliable schemata. These are simply mental structures of how things work. We are ambitious for our pupils’ learning and measure the impact of what we do using agreed principles of assessment.
ASSESSMENT: We regard the proper use of assessment as a key teaching and learning tool, and place it firmly at the heart of our practice. We are determined that it will be a servant not a master in terms of workload, and that it will inform all that we do.
The nature of assessment related activities in which the school community engages is determined and defined by the specific purpose to which they will be put.
- Those aspects of assessment deemed to be formative are integral to high quality teaching and learning. The prime purpose is to support learning and to determine next steps to be taken by teacher and learners. They take place as learning is happening across the whole curriculum, and are expected to:
- be embedded in all lessons
- provide clear evidence of the learning to date and any relevant misconceptions
- inform teaching so that provision closely matches the identified needs of the learner
- facilitate the collection of evidence of effective (deep) learning, and mastery of standards over time
Adults working with learners will use a range of formative assessment strategies to plan teaching that is based on pedagogy rooted in Direct Instruction methods and principles in that it:
- is sequenced in small steps, provides clear explanations and models processes clearly, reducing (fading) scaffolding appropriately over time.
- utilises questioning in ways that fully engage all pupils and enables teachers to check frequently for understanding
- requires pupils to regularly review and recall previous learning to support new learning.
- takes account of learners’ need to purposefully practise small steps in the learning sequence first with teachers, then with peers and increasingly independently
- Includes planning a range of periodic activities and tasks that are specifically planned and structured so that pupils have ample opportunities to demonstrate or articulate their deepening understanding.
These planned opportunities will be designed to yield visible evidence of progress through the planned curriculum journey, and information to be noted by adults and shared and discussed with learners themselves. They will contribute to annual and in-year assessment and are best thought of as Curriculum Related Expectations (CREs) that are unique to the school’s stated INTENT.
Adults in the school will be provided with professional development in using a range of research based formative assessment strategies effectively in classrooms.
- Those aspects of assessment deemed to be summative, provide information as a judgement of the learning that has occurred by a particular point in time. The prime purpose is to establish a shared understanding of learning that has taken place to date. These assessments may well draw upon scores from recognised standardised tests such as reading, spelling and maths, as well as on informed and moderated teacher assessments. (Question level analysis of standardised tests will be used to identify gaps in learning, and will be used formatively to inform future teaching and interventions.) The numeric outcomes of these periodic assessments, made at specific times in the academic year, are best used to inform annual or end of Key Stage transitions, and are also typically used for accountability purposes in ways that are less helpful to teachers at the point of learning, but of more use to school leaders planning strategically for school improvement.
We use summative assessments to:
- analyse the attainment and progress of individuals and groups of pupils at key points in time (indicate how often ie 2/3 times annually) as they experience the planned curriculum
- indicate the extent to which pupils are likely to achieve mastery of the end of year or end of key stage Age Related Expectations (AREs)
- inform decisions made about interventions and resource allocations
- inform transition between year groups, key stages and schools
- provide evidence for both internal and external accountability, comparing the achievements of the school community with others both locally and nationally.
As a result of our well-considered use of summative assessment, leaders in our school will be regularly informed about the extent of pupils’ learning as they pass through the school, experiencing the curriculum as planned sequentially. Where pupils or groups encounter temporary barriers to learning appropriate interventions beyond the immediate provided at the point of learning can be arranged swiftly, and resources deployed according to identified need. Pupils vulnerable to falling behind what is expected of them in any year, will be identified and supported appropriately, to ensure that they are equipped to tackle learning in the following academic year.
We work hard to dispel the myth that assessment can be BOTH a valid test of learning AND a valid test of teacher effectiveness without compromising one or both processes. We try hard to reduce the tensions that exist between the use of assessment as a learning tool and as an accountability instrument and to ensure that our policies and strategies are immune to maladministration, and remain both manageable and affordable.
The language of assessment:
In this school, leaders, teachers and pupils use an agreed, common language when discussing attainment and progress. As such, it is one that articulates the complexity of the structure of the pupil response, and crucially does not seek to label or categorise the pupils themselves. (It is the language of SOLO Taxonomy)
NB: The planned curriculum is now deemed to be the accepted model for pupil progress. (Ofsted Handbook September 2019) The expectation is that content will be carefully sequenced so that new knowledge and understanding (concepts) build on that which has been previously taught and learned effectively and are organised by the learner into increasingly complex schemata.
Our school curriculum describes the journey learners need to go on in order to get better at something. Our language of assessment helps everyone to understand where they are at key points in time on that journey.
As pupils experience new learning, they are taken by teachers in small steps from the point of being a novice to one where, as a result of high quality instruction and planned, purposeful practice, they come to know and understand more, can make links, see relationships and be more aware of processes. They operate more complexly as they gain expertise and use the building blocks of concepts to deepen their understanding over time.
The planned, broad and balanced curriculum, and the regular assessment of progress through it, takes account of both the quantative increase in knowledge at the point of early learning, and the move to more qualitative gains. As more knowledge is acquired, all pupils are empowered to organise it so that it becomes deeply embedded. The evidence of attainment and progress upon which teacher assessments are made is thus dependent upon the teachers’ observations of pupils engaging in tasks. Tasks specifically planned by them within the teaching sequence; tasks that towards the end of sequences or units provide opportunities to make visible that which they increasingly know, can do and understand (outcomes) as a result of their experiences within the unit of study (impact)
Implications for now:
The impact of the closures of schools for extended periods of time:
Initial research by both OFSTED and the Chartered College with regard to the impact of the 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic indicated that;
- young people and the wider community suffered an increase in anxiety and a decrease in their own well-being as a result of the social isolation that occurred during periods of lockdown
- the very real differences in personal home circumstances prevailing at the time of the lockdown were accentuated with the disappearance of what is generally considered to be the socially levelling environment provided by normal school environments.
- the ability to provide distanced learning support for parents varied widely between schools, and where technology was not readily available, the situation was exacerbated.
- the gaps in learning that opened up between groups of pupils between March 2020 and September when schools returned was largely as a result of the socio-economic gaps that already existed in society
- both the mental and physical well-being of pupils needed to be addressed alongside academic learning needs once schools reopened if any chance of making up for lost learning time could be achieved within the academic year.
Remote Education during school closures:
The school has a separate policy and plan for provision during school closure but in the context of an assessment policy it needs to be clear that the curriculum provided is not different from what would normally be offered, and our intention is that it be aligned to the classroom curriculum as far as is possible. It will be carefully sequenced and goals will be explicit. Pupils will receive regular feedback and learning will be assessed on pupil responses.
We need to be acutely aware of the fact that, by its very nature, remote learning severely limits the extent to which teachers can consider the immediate feedback they receive from pupils as they respond to tasks. Whilst teachers will be acutely aware of, and adapt to, the increased need for clear instruction and modelling, their ability to respond in the moment to what they observe in the learners will be curtailed.
Given time limitations and possible interruptions, the remote education will focus of necessity on the basics of what needs to be learned in order to move to the next stage in education by the end of the year. Assessment of the remote learning must have core purpose. (ref OFSTED document “What’s working well in remote education” 11th January 2021 at www.gov.uk)
On the returning to school after any closure, extended period of absence or interrupted formal schooling, during which individual learning experiences are likely to be diverse, the immediate need in terms of individual learning is for us to assess:
- the degree of emotional well-being relative to previous condition
- the gap between the actual knowledge and understanding in core subjects relative to that which would have been expected by that time
We make these assessments against established national standards and norms, regardless of the learning opportunities experienced by individuals or groups during school closures.
Assessment of emotional well-being: e.g PASS (Pupil Attitudes to Self and School) is a nationally benchmarked psychometric assessment specifically designed to spot attitudinal or emotional issues in children, is a useful tool to help pupils settle back into school life and track how they reacclimatise following trauma. Equally the Educational Endowment Foundation (EEF) has developed a Well-Being Evaluation Toolkit for use in schools to determine the extent and nature of interventions required. Both can be used effectively inform and support initial re-integration into school routines and relationships as well as to indicate future and ongoing needs within a planned Recovery Curriculum.
Assessment of academic aspects:
At the beginning of any academic year: Whilst the early stages of re-integration following previous closure will concentrate on effective transition to new classes and a lengthened period of induction, teachers will initially plan a curriculum that includes short informal assessments of academic attainment in core subjects. The purpose of such assessment is to determine possible gaps that may now exist in learning. In writing, this might make use of the Daisy Christadoulou’s Comparative Judgement resources, as well as any teacher assessments, whilst in reading and in maths schools will normally already have periodic assessment routines that include regular use of standardised assessments. (eg NFER and similar) so the decision that has to be made is when to administer them to get the best indications of what needs to be taught and learned, or re-learned, next.
As soon as teachers judge it to be appropriate, pupils will be formally assessed in reading and maths using resources standardised against national norms appropriate to their age at the time of closure. (eg NFER and similar)
The purpose of this informed use of such reliable, summative assessment tools will indicate an individual, as well as a class average, score relative to what would have been a norm average. Teachers will then conduct detailed item/question analysis of pupil responses the purpose of which is to determine actual gaps in learning as they currently exist, and to plan catch up curriculum provision to address this.
Thereafter in-year, standardised tests in reading and maths will be administered in line with pupils’ actual year group in the normal way and analysed and interpreted appropriately. The purpose is to assess the degree to which gaps have closed since the previous test, and what progress has been made, by both individuals and year groups. This is in the knowledge that the “norm” represented by the average standardised spread of results, is one related to previous “norms” in schools, that existed before school closures.
The expectation of teachers in terms of formative assessment is that it is both specifically planned for, and is integral to the teaching and learning sequence.
It is imperative that in the time available to them pupils learn as much as they can in order to regain lost learning. Current research would indicate that methodology that takes account of Direct Instruction pedagogy is likely to support efforts to achieve this.
It is reassuring to know that Barak Rosenshine’s “Principles of Instruction” are not earth-shatteringly new ideas-they are “ likely to be the things that good teachers do already-things they do when no-one is looking.”(Jessica Powell, TES 4th September 2020 Research Review). Mark Enser (author Generative Learning in Action , 2020) reports that the principles had simply given him “licence to teach in ways that felt intuitively right.” Therefore the question to ask is “If we think we are already doing these things, are we actually doing them as well as we might be?” It is worth a detailed look and some specific CPD this year in the time still available.
Direct Instruction methodology ( Engelmann, Rosenshine, Sherrington) is characterised by teaching in the initial stages that concentrates on acquiring new knowledge that:
- is planned in small steps,
- has clarity in instruction and modelling,
- provides opportunity for extensive practice
- constantly checks for misconceptions
and/or the need to re teach or present the material in a different form.
It requires tasks that build knowledge in small steps through skills of defining, identifying, labelling, finding, matching, listing etc. These are QUANTATIVE tasks in that they allow learners to increase the amount of knowledge they have.
Then, once pupils have acquired the new knowledge as planned, they have time to engage in tasks in which they must ORGANISE the learning for particular purposes by using the skills of comparing and contrasting, explaining, sequencing, classifying, organising etc. These are QUALITATIVE tasks in that they give learners the opportunity demonstrate the depth of their understanding. (SOLO Taxonomy and associated language)
The announcement January 2021 that there would be no formal End of Key Stage assessments for pupils in any primary year group in 2021, provides the opportunity to plan teaching and learning and assessment in the two terms that remain in the academic year, in ways that have never been possible before, for pupils whose needs have never been greater or more diverse.
There is no need to spend valuable teaching and learning time in test preparation and practice using past papers. This announcement has provided schools with the gift of increased learning time- a resource in short supply since March 2020.
There must be two priorities:
- The need to ensure that all pupils have learned enough to equip them for the learning in the next academic year must take precedence over all other considerations. The planned Recovery Curriculum can now be reconsidered to take account of this extra time, and to ensure that sufficient time in the re-planned teaching sequences is given to:
- practising retrieving new knowledge
- opportunities to deepen understanding through key related tasks
- using the knowledge and understanding purposefully in cross curricular contexts
- The need to prepare well for transition to a new class or a different school. Again, previously existing routines and expectations must be revised to make the most of the opportunities afforded by the time that normally would be taken up by preparing for high stakes national testing for accountability purposes. This is an opportunity not to be missed.
Assessments made by teachers at the end of July will be as important as they have ever been, but under current circumstances, they can be used principally for the purpose of communicating to the next teacher the achievement of individuals, as accurately as possible, and unusually, for the sole benefit of the pupils themselves.
Communicating pupil attainment and progress to their receiving teachers and to parents and families at the end of the academic year will rely upon the collection and articulation of a range of evidence from standardised tests and teacher assessments. This can only be achieved through the appropriate use of a commonly understood language of assessment that has been developed within the school, in the context of the extent of the journey completed by the pupil through the school’s planned curriculum, whose intent has been made abundantly clear.
Inspir.ed (February 2021.)