Refocusing assessment – making assessment work for your students

Alex Galvin, SSAT Senior Education Lead, writes…

Back when I started teaching, assessment was pretty straightforward. Pieces of work were marked A-E and we recorded marks for certain extended pieces of work in a blue folder in the history work room. At the end of year 9, the marks for the previous three years were reviewed and an overall level for the key stage was awarded.

Over the following years, expectations expanded – a level at the end of each year; a level for each significant piece of work; sub levels. Levels within levels, expected levels of progress – levels upon levels.

And then there were no levels.

In talking to school leaders and to colleagues at ASCL and NFER, it is clear that while the limitations (and excesses) of levels were widely recognised, their removal and the lack of any guidance in their place caused uncertainty. SSAT, ASCL and NFER decided to work together on what we call Refocusing Assessment due to our shared belief that the effectiveness of one-size-fits-all solutions tends to be limited. We believe that the best approaches to assessment are designed by practitioners to support their particular context, an idea that was endorsed by Dylan Wiliam in his pamphlets for our Redesigning Schooling series.

We are also of the view that best practice in assessment takes account of subject variance. As a result, whatever system a school implements, it needs to have enough flexibility to allow departments to assess in the way that best suits the pedagogy of their subject.

In light of this, in developing Refocusing Assessment we worked with expert panels made up of heads of department from a variety of subjects, as well as colleagues from subject associations. The expert panels highlighted some of the distinctive requirements of assessment in their subjects, as well as shaping the overarching conclusions and recommendations. The outcomes of the expert panels are available as part of the resource – the link to them is at the bottom of this article.

Central to the recommendations of Refocusing Assessment is the need to invest in training on formative assessment – with the clear understanding that effective formative assessment is rooted in good pedagogy. By establishing a shared understanding around formative assessment, and quality assuring practice in this area, teachers’ professional judgement can be given the weight it deserves. The focus is then firmly where it needs to be – on supporting the learning of young people.

Redesigning Schooling, and the subject-specific resources for English, maths, science, history, geography and MFL are available to SSAT Members at no charge. Visit the Exchange.

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