Ask the expert: Gaining ongoing insights by using standardised tests formatively

How can standardised assessments support pupils after lost classroom learning?
With many UK primary schools reporting a decline in pupils’ attainment levels, assessing the needs of these pupils and getting their learning ‘back on track’ remains key. Standardised assessments, such as NFER Tests, provide a straightforward way to gather the data insights you need to support pupils and teachers. As well as providing a reliable way to evaluate and benchmark pupil performance, they can also provide valuable formative benefits.

How can standardised assessments be used formatively?
To maximise the impact of classroom assessment, you should choose assessments that provide diagnostic guidance as this will provide formative benefits. For example, the diagnostic commentaries included with NFER’s spring term assessments show the common errors made by different groups of pupils. This offers a greater level of insight into where pupils may be going wrong and how they can improve. Looking for common misunderstandings or errors in pupils’ work is an effective and way of grouping pupils together to accelerate learning, when there is less time to consider each pupil’s individual needs in isolation.

Why is this diagnostic guidance so important?
The purpose of diagnostic assessment is to monitor pupils’ learning so that teaching can be optimally adapted to their actual understanding. With a very real need to ensure pupils are making the best possible progress in 2021, it is an excellent means of focusing on where pupils need support and can help you teach more efficiently. It is also valuable to understand how your pupils are performing in relation to pupils nationally, as while all the pupils in a class may have a similar level of knowledge, without a national comparison it is unclear whether this standard is appropriate.

How can diagnostic guidance inform ongoing teaching?
Diagnostic guidance can be used to help teachers identify and plan how best to address any knowledge gaps, and to improve learning outcomes for pupils. It can identify a stumbling block that, if corrected, allows an entire class to progress their learning. Alternatively, it can be used with smaller groups or individuals and may provide insights on how to extend the learning for a group of high achievers, or how to support less able pupils. Where there is a clear need for the whole class to practise a particular skill, future tasks can be designed with this in mind.

Why is the spring term an ideal time to use standardised assessment?
A formative approach to testing uses assessment as a mid-way-marker, not as a final destination. The spring term is an ideal time to use diagnostic assessment, as learning from the autumn term can be evaluated before moving on to more complex ideas. By understanding what has been well embedded and what pupils continue to struggle with, teachers can take a more informed approach to planning, while there is still plenty of time to intervene.

Do you have a question on assessment that you’d like to put to one of our assessment team? Send it through to us at assessmenthub@nfer.ac.uk.