Every teacher knows that assessment is an integral part of teaching, enabling a common understanding of what a pupil has learnt and informing next steps.
Yet, the claim that pupils in the UK are perhaps some of the most assessed in the world often leads to concerns about over-assessment. With this in mind, it is important that teachers integrate assessment carefully into the planning for the school year. Firstly, because this will allow them to make the most of each assessment opportunity. And secondly, because considering the reasons for the assessment will help to ensure that the resulting data provides appropriate valuable information which matches the requirements, perhaps not just for the teacher and pupil, but also for other stakeholders such as parents and school management.
Assessment comes in many forms
Of course, assessment comes in many forms. Less formal assessment is continuous, happening with every interaction between teacher and pupil: conversations in class, observations as tasks are carried out, and marking completed work. These will be planned at the lesson level rather than across the school year, but nonetheless are crucial in establishing whether a pupil has understood the recent teaching input and informing the starting place of the next lesson.
Slightly more formal assessments such as topic tests form a next layer of assessment. Clearly, these need to be scheduled to fit in with the completion of the topic and to probe the specific knowledge and skills that the pupils have been taught. It is important to note that assessment planning cannot be followed rigidly. There needs to be some flexibility in timing and/or content if the teacher observes that the pupils are progressing more slowly or quickly than originally planned. Feeding information gained through assessment back into curriculum planning is vital whether it is for the current cohort, for example deciding that pupils would benefit from additional time exploring a curriculum topic, or for later cohorts, for example by refining a lesson stimulus.
The use of assessments that are more formal still requires perhaps the most planning at the start of the school year. These assessments often require more time, both for the pupils to complete them and for the teachers to analyse the data. Rather than focusing on a specific curriculum area they might look at a wider range of understanding and skills and as a result, often provide additional information beyond that which is possible to glean from a single topic test. For example, standardised scores enable a comparison to the national population and teachers can identify notably high or low attainers across the subject, rather than focusing on what has just been taught. The first step in planning assessments is to ensure that the assessment used will provide the data that is required.
When to administer formal assessments
Given the time investment required, it is wise to confirm the timing of formal assessments matches the intended use of the resultant data. For example, a school wishing to monitor the achievement of successive cohorts will want to schedule the assessment in a small window of the same date each year, while a teacher wanting to appraise the success of a new intervention will want to gain a benchmark result prior to its introduction and then make a comparison after it has had sufficient time to embed. It is also sensible to ensure that the assessment is of high quality having gone through a robust development process in which it has been trialled and proven statistically. We should also note that whether it is both reliable and valid will depend partly on the way it is used.
Read more in: How to ensure a test is valid.
Planning how the assessment data will be analysed is also important. For example, schools may wish to look at whole test data and compare the results of different groups of pupils, perhaps looking at the achievements of pupils receiving the pupil premium for instance. Individual teachers may wish to analyse the question-level data to look for patterns in performance which illustrate there is a common misconception in the class which needs to be addressed. Schools might also want to consider what format any data that is shared with parents will take. Often assessment data is used differently by the diverse stakeholders and any varying requirements should be captured early on to ensure they can be met.
To summarise, here are some key questions to consider when planning an assessment programme:
- what assessment will be used?
- what is the ideal time point for the assessment considering pupil learning, comparison to other assessments and the aims for the assessment evidence?
- will the assessment provide the evidence required by the different stakeholders?
- who will analyse the assessment data and how will the analysis be carried out?
- how will the results be presented and stored?