Too much data is misused and pointless, says study


Two fifths (43%) of teachers are spending more time administering pupil assessments than interpreting and acting on the data, and a minority run more than 10 or more assessments every year.

The findings, from a study of teachers by GL Assessment, indicate that some schools are unnecessarily adding to teacher workload by running too many assessments and focusing colleagues’ energies on administration rather than analysis.

Some 43% of teachers say they spend 60% or more of the time administering assessment rather than interpreting what it means for individual students, with 15% saying the proportion of time spent on administration is 80% or more.

On average, the teachers in the study say that their pupils take four tests or assessments annually and spend approximately 37 hours, or the equivalent of five school days, a year taking them.

Some children, however, are sitting far more. A third (34%) of teachers say their students sit seven or more tests every year with 15% admitting that the number is 10 or more. More than one in ten (12%) say their pupils spend 57 hours or more taking tests.

An overwhelming proportion of teachers – 95% – think that data has a place in the classroom.

Greg Watson, Chief Executive of GL Assessment, said the findings show that teachers accepted that data was essential in the classroom but that far too much of it was superfluous or poorly applied. “Too much data is about control not improvement, too much of it is misused and far too much of it is pointless. As a consequence, an awful lot of the benefits of assessment are lost,” he said.

Two-fifths (41%) of teachers believe that three to four tests is the minimum each class should take every year to allow them to do their job effectively, with one in five (19%) saying one to two assessments would suffice.

“Most children only need to be formally assessed a few times a year,” added Mr Watson. “Good assessment data isn’t an end in itself but it does provide enough information for a teacher to make a decision about a student. The right data can make a real difference. It provides context. It helps teachers assess students over time and in relation to each other.”

Russell Hobby, General Secretary of NAHT said: “Assessment needs to be robust but it also needs to be insightful. Too often we sacrifice one for the other. While it is good teaching that raises standards, good assessment helps to support better teaching. Data needs to be used to understand students' needs rather than simply as a crude measure of whole-school performance or a proxy for classroom accountability.” 

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