A new conversation about assessment
Are you making the most of new developments in assessment? Sue Horner introduces the QCA’s new principles and says now is the time for a fresh look at the whole area of testing.
There’s a growing feeling that assessment should be more flexible, focus on progress and reflect the needs of each learner. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), talking to teachers and school leaders, has developed four principles to support schools when talking about assessment.
The learner is at the heart of assessment. It’s clear that many learners feel detached from the process of assessment. Assessment, they feel, is something that’s done to them rather than something they have a stake in. To develop as successful learners, young people need to be actively involved in their own assessment through a range of different conversations with teachers, peers and others outside the classroom. Learners can, for example, use forums or electronic galleries to present and share their work and ideas to real audiences. They can invite feedback from peers and the wider community to identify possible improvements.
When using ICT learners should reflect on the process they have gone through to create a final product, whether it’s a presentation, a model, a game or a system for others to use. Learners can often make effective use of audio recording features to explain the decisions they have taken or use software features to track changes to help them reflect on how they have improved. In these ways, learners are encouraged to take greater responsibility for their own learning and deciding their priorities for development.
Assessment needs to provide a view of the whole learner. ICT plays a valuable role in contributing to a picture of the learner that values the broad range of attitudes, attributes and skills found in the aims of the curriculum and personal, learning and thinking skills (PLTS). The use of ICT can help learners to develop as creative thinkers able to use technology to develop their ideas, explore possibilities, seek innovative alternatives and make new connections. Learners develop as independent enquirers when given chances to determine for themselves the information, ICT tools and techniques they need to answer questions, test hypotheses and solve problems. They shouldn’t just develop skills to locate information, but should analyse and critically evaluate information, judging its relevance, purpose, accuracy, plausibility, value and possible bias.
ICT provides powerful tools for learners to communicate, collaborate with others and share ideas on a local, national and global scale. The challenge here is to identify these opportunities and find ways to build these into your assessment processes. You might also explore ways to draw on evidence across and beyond the school or find ways for parents, carers, peers or members of the wider community to contribute to the assessment of a learner’s achievement. For example, outside school, learners might work collaboratively in multi-player games, or be part of online support communities or contribute to the creation of knowledge by contributing to wikis. They can be adept at managing a number of social network spaces or show remarkable resilience when trying to get the next level of a computer game. Making these kinds of links can be particularly motivating for learners, as it helps them to connect the skills and aptitudes they show outside school with those needed to succeed in learning.
Assessment is integral to good teaching and learning. Assessment shows learners how well they are doing and helps teachers shape their teaching for individual learners. When assessment is at the heart of classroom teaching, it allows you to recognise learning as it happens and gives learners the best chance to show what they can do and how much they understand. This may mean a greater role for gathering evidence through the use of technology, through open-ended questioning, observing learners’ behaviour and interactions, listening to what learners say and encouraging them to reflect on their progress.
Assessment includes reliable judgements about how learners are doing related, where appropriate, to national standards and expectations. Using national standards ensures that assessment judgements are consistent across and between schools, enables learners to track their progress and gives you a way of evaluating the impact of your teaching. One key way of developing teacher confidence and expertise in assessment is by sharing and discussing with each other evidence of learners’ progress. These opportunities to compare judgements will make assessment more reliable.
Developing these four principles for assessment may mean looking again at your current practice and exploring different ways of looking at what learners do and say. One way of structuring change is to think about the purpose of the different aspects of assessment: day-to-day, periodic and transitional. This will help you identify practical opportunities for change and improvement.
Day-to-day assessment: Every time you discuss a question or a piece of work with a learner you learn more about the learner’s understanding and progress. These day-to-day conversations give learners immediate feedback and relevant next steps and help them reflect on their learning as it’s happening. They also enable you to adjust your short-term planning in line with the learners’ needs.
Periodic assessment: Every so often it’s important to look at the learner’s overall progress in a subject or aspect of learning. This allows you to draw on a broad range of activities and evidence – including learners’ contributions in group work or discussions. This conversation will help a learner to identify their strengths and areas for development in general, rather than in the last piece of work or topic they completed. In turn, the conversation will give you a clear sense of whether the learner is able to transfer the knowledge, skills and understanding they have developed and use them in different contexts. This sort of assessment can also inform your medium- and long-term planning and provide evidence to link the learner’s attainment to national standards.
Transitional assessment: Transitional assessments are judgements that are meant for a wider audience and will often be made at the end of a year or key stage. They draw on the full range of assessment information and provide a formal recognition of achievement and valuable baseline information for the next teacher.
The new national approach to assessing ICT – Assessing Pupils’ Progress (APP) – supports these changes to school practice. APP not only provides a link to national standards, but also contributes to the other principles of assessment
by building a more well-rounded profile of learners’ achievements which highlights their strengths and areas for improvement. The materials are free and are already available online at nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/157533.
The information APP provides will help you tailor your planning and teaching, and can support productive discussions with learners and parents. The APP approach is straightforward. The assessment criteria for ICT has three focuses:
- planning, developing and evaluating work using ICT.
- handling data, sequencing instructions and modelling.
- finding, using and communicating information.
When you’re ready to make a periodic assessment, you review the evidence of the learner’s achievement using the guidelines, and build a profile allowing you to track progress within the level. As a basic principle, the work reviewed in each periodic assessment should cover a range of areas of ICT and at least one term’s progress. APP provides a robust level-related judgement as well as giving a range of diagnostic information which will help learners progress and improve.
More and more schools are taking the opportunities provided by the new secondary curriculum to think in new ways about where assessment fits into the bigger picture of the curriculum. To support this, the DCSF is investing £150million in continuing professional development through its Assessment for Learning strategy over the next three years. This will help schools make effective use of tracking and assessment for learning tools and techniques, such as the APP materials.
A fresh look at your assessment systems now could make a real difference to your learners’ commitment and progress in the future. There’s never been a better time.
Sue Horner is acting director of curriculum at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority
Taken from School Leadership Today.
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