Ask the expert: Minimising the impact of lost classroom learning through effective assessment

By Sarah Gibb, Research Manager

We understand that as more pupils return to the classroom, the task of supporting these pupils and understanding the impact of lost classroom learning will replace the challenge of finding new and practical ways to support their learning at home. As ever, accurate and effectively targeted assessment will play a vital role in this process, allowing teachers to ascertain pupils’ differing levels of knowledge and understanding of particular areas of the curriculum.

It is likely that many planned assessments will not have taken place as a result of school closures, with lockdown coinciding with a time of year when schools would normally be particularly focused on appraising pupils’ strengths and weaknesses and considering what their next steps should be. There are also likely to be areas of the curriculum which have had to be missed or are less well embedded. Effective and efficient assessment practice will therefore be essential to enable teachers to identify and plan how best to address these gaps as well as introduce new topics and skills.

Identifying focus areas

One approach that can be used to group pupils together to accelerate learning, rather than considering each pupil’s individual needs in isolation, is to look for common errors and areas for development across the whole cohort or groups within that cohort. Where there is a clear need for the whole class to practise a particular skill, future tasks can be designed with this in mind and differentiated where varying aspects of weakness emerge. It may be possible to identify patterns within a class, such as common misunderstandings displayed by lower ability pupils; a particular skill that mid-ability pupils are finding it difficult to master; or a misconception that is hindering higher ability pupils.

Approaching assessment sensitively

This type of diagnostic assessment will be vital to help pupils make good progress following the disruption to their schooling but it will also be important to remember the peculiar circumstances with which pupils have been faced and how this may have impacted on their feelings about school. Some pupils may be feeling more anxious and insecure about their own abilities. However, quickly identifying the existing knowledge and skills of pupils is necessary if pupils are to progress well and regain ground lost during school closures, so it is inevitable that assessments will need to be completed. It is also plausible that assessments on pupils’ return to school will show widening gaps between different groups of pupils, which will need to be addressed as soon as is possible.

For this reason, it may be beneficial for focused, valuable and timely assessment opportunities to be carefully presented as formative opportunities for both pupil and teacher to learn about what needs to happen next. They can also be thoughtfully integrated into programmes of study to maximise what can be learnt about pupil progress at the same time as minimising the amount of pressure being put on pupils and teachers.

It is important to consider what form of assessment is needed, how it is presented to pupils and the type of feedback that is given, as well as how useful the assessment will be. Sometimes, light-touch and informal in-class assessment will be the most appropriate method. However, there may also be occasions when the amount of information that can be provided on a range of different topics and skills by one more formalised test offers the best ‘return’. The spacing of assessments should also be considered carefully: firstly, there is a limit to how much assessment pupils can undergo and teachers examine; and secondly, pupils need to be allowed the necessary time to develop their skills and understanding before further monitoring can be valuable.

In this unprecedented situation there is a careful balance to be struck between remaining aspirational and acknowledging that normal progress is likely to have been de-railed by lost classroom time. More than ever pupils will need their successes to be celebrated and to believe that they can progress. Next steps need to be clear, attainable and genuinely move pupils forward. These can be identified through sensitively delivered, informative and purposeful assessments that pupils see as opportunities for growth rather than potential failure.