Teaching beyond the test
In England, Primary school pupils have to deal with unprecedented levels of pressure as they face tests more frequently, at a younger age, and in more subjects than children from any other country. However, in Jersey there has been a shift away from SATs in favour of more continuous assessment methods. Tom Richardson reports on Jersey’s transition from SATs to AfL.
Despite being one of the British Isles Jersey is not part of the UK. The Island operates largely as an autonomous jurisdiction with wide powers of self-government. Although it follows the UK National Curriculum closely, the States of Jersey Department of Education and Culture has been able to develop in ways that the English education system cannot.
The problems with SATs are well documented - they are highly pressured assessments which do not always truly represent a child’s ability and the tests reflect a moment in time instead of progress throughout a school year. The States of Jersey had the authority to implement an alternative system and started to think about whether teacher-led assessments could offer a viable alternative to SATs as well as involving pupils much more in their own assessment.
Jersey started to phase in an Assessment for Learning (AfL) programme to its 24 primary schools and significant progress was made with good feedback being received from teachers. However, education officials felt that a second opinion would help them to evaluate their progress more effectively.
Serco Learning was brought on board to evaluate Jersey’s processes. The outcome of the evaluation led to the creation of a pilot scheme consisting of a group of half a dozen schools. The nominated teachers in each team met frequently to compare their results and check accuracy across the group. After about two terms the scheme was rapidly extended to the rest of the primary schools on the island. Schools were again grouped together so that they could share good practice, knowledge and outcomes.
By promoting pupils’ learning, AfL differs from the traditional approach where assessment is designed primarily for the purposes of accountability or for certifying competence such as examinations. The AfL initiative in Jersey aims to use all classroom assessment to improve pupils’ learning. However, it does acknowledge the need for final summative assessments but shifts the emphasis away from grades for their own sake towards comment-marking which will helps pupils to improve their work.
Assessment has become the responsibility of the teachers and the headteachers and the figures are sent through to the States of Jersey Department of Education and Culture annually but performance is not looked at on an individual basis. The 24 schools are analysed as a whole in order to get a collective picture of achievement and the results are then compared to those in the UK. All pupils are given a Teacher Assessment National Curriculum level at the end of years 2, 6 and 9 and this level is also reported back to parents.
For teachers, the assessments provide continuity and therefore serve as a guide for the pupil’s next teacher. Four main strategies have been introduced in order help pupils move forward with their learning: Quality Questioning, Quality of Feedback including Formative Assessment, Sharing Criteria with the Learner and Self and Peer Assessment.
For pupils, self and peer assessment means fewer marks out of ten or letter grades; instead they spend time drafting and redrafting their work in an effort to improve in line with the teachers’ comments.
In line with self assessment, children have learnt to mark their own and each other’s work. The ultimate aim in this exercise is that by being much more involved in the assessment processes pupils gain a better understanding of what high quality work looks like. For instance, if a child is self or peer assessing, they will be given a rubric against which to assess. Therefore if they do a long piece of written work, a child might be asked to look out for punctuation, paragraphs etc and see whether the work reflects this. As time progresses, pupils themselves become much more aware of their own levels and where they are heading next.
Schools are using good practice in teaching and learning and implementing critical skills that help them to learn the skills of adults. The Jersey Critical Skills programme has been developed to prepare children for the complex rigours of adult life in the 21st Century, as well as helping them to enhance and enjoy their studies. Even at an early age, children will be expected to work collaboratively in groups on specially designed challenges usually based in real life contexts.
In Jersey they are letting children into the ‘secret’ of assessment. Jersey aims to ensure that pupils become owners of life long learning, have self-direction and develop their own internal models of quality thus helping them to know how to learn and know where they are in terms of their learning.
The question for primary teachers in England must surely be, could this be replicated in England? With the abolition of KS3 SATs it is evident that it is possible to assess learning without formal exams. The Government still needs accurate data on pupil performance, with or without SATs, so organised forums like those in Jersey are one way of ensuring uniformity. Another is to invest in AfL software, such as Alfie, across schools, providing an easy way of guaranteeing consistency. In this way, England too could produce single grades based on continuous assessment throughout the year.
In Jersey the assessment is based on what a child has achieved over the year in the classroom. One figure is still produced but it is a more accurate reflection of what has been achieved. As well as tracking current achievement, schools use past grades to set realistic, but challenging targets.
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