The 10 Golden Rules of Good Assessment Practice

The easy-to-follow key to successful assessment in your school

Jump to Golden Rule:
Create a relevant curriculum

Golden Rule 1

Use a consistent assessment policy

Golden Rule 2

Foster pupil engagement

Golden Rule 3

Develop planning and differentiation strategies

Golden Rule 4

Make measurable progress methods

Golden Rule 5

Build parental engagement strategies

Golden Rule 6

Make roll out to staff straightforward

Golden Rule 7

Nurture staff open-mindedness

Golden Rule 8

Create academic consistency across staff

Golden Rule 9

Lead with confidence

Golden Rule 10

Chapter Title 1

Introduction

The introduction of Assessment Without Levels, in 2014, ushered in a period of both liberty and anxiety for school leaders.

On one hand, the strict, prescriptive rules about assessment, which often didn’t accommodate all students and stifled creativity, have gone. On the other, a ‘black hole’ has been left where once there was guidance. The framework around which leaders had previously been able to identify best practice in assessment was gone, and some schools struggled to move forward.

The market is saturated with products aimed at helping schools assess and track students progress, offering data-capturing elements and, in some cases, these are effective solutions. Other teachers, however, find these tracking systems too limiting, the algorithms based on data which does not apply to their students. The lack of flexibility and personalisation can leave schools, once again, rudderless in a period where there has already been so much educational change.

Here, we look at ten of the most important elements to consider when reviewing your school’s assessment policies and introduce just a few of the unique, bespoke and adaptive features available in the Learning Ladders model. We hope this allows you and your school to spark meaningful conversations about learning and truly make the best decisions for your students, teachers and parents.

Create a relevant curriculum

Golden Rule 1: Create a relevant curriculum

What’s the problem?

Schools need to devise a relevant, easy-to-use curriculum that doesn’t feel like an oppressive task for staff to implement. Many schools feel that delivering their curriculum becomes an extra chore, shoe-horning tasks into lessons just to prove that certain objective are being taught and assessed, rather than tailoring subject matter to suit their students.

One senior leader said, “Our curriculum is onerous on teachers. Recording progress is becoming a ‘tick-box’ exercise and losing meaning.”

What the Commission on Assessment Without Levels says:

“Schools should be free to develop an approach to assessment which aligns with their curriculum and works for their pupils and staff.”

“In the context of curriculum freedoms and increasing autonomy for schools, it would make no sense to prescribe any one model for assessment. Curriculum and assessment are inextricably linked. Schools should be free to develop an approach to assessment which aligns with their curriculum and works for their pupils and staff.”

What’s the solution?

Schools need to adapt their curriculum objectives and expectations so they can:

  • Ensure teachers are assessing against what’s actually being taught in the classroom.
  • Enable a recording of progress for pupils that doesn’t become a ‘tick-box’ exercise and has real meaning.
  • Engage pupils in their learning by showing them what they’ve achieved, what’s coming next, and how to get there.

Reasons to embrace a personalised curriculum:

  • New-found freedoms to create a bespoke curriculum for their teachers and pupils.
  • Good assessment practice is intrinsically linked to teachers’ confidence in the curriculum they are delivering every day.
  • The assessments that your teachers make only have meaning when the content of the curriculum is accessible for pupils and parents.
  • The opportunity to enable teachers to delve deeper into what a pupil can and cannot (yet) do.

How Learning Ladders helps

Having supported schools in the post-levels era, we know that taking the time to focus on a school’s curriculum can seem daunting at first. Our advice is always to look at the curriculum statements you are using and review them to ensure they are manageable for your pupils, parents and staff, whilst meeting your requirements and expectations.

Learning Ladders allows you to customise your curriculum however you wish, whether this includes extending curriculum statements, shortening them, changing terminology or including your school’s KPIs. By making these changes, you can ensure your assessment system is bespoke to your school’s expectations and, ultimately, directly improves outcomes for your pupils.

“The curriculum was of outstanding quality. It promoted progression and continuity in learning.”

GEMS Royal Dubai School, who gained ‘Outstanding’ in their KHDA Inspection Report in June 2016.

Use a consistent assessment policy

Golden Rule 2: Use a consistent assessment policy

What’s the problem?

Too often there are inconsistencies in schools’ assessment policies. With more freedom comes more confusion of expectations and room for deviation from the path set up by the schools. Whilst autonomy for teachers is important to feed ownership and confidence in the classroom, a school-wide policy for assessment is necessary in order to accurately chart progress from one year to the next.   

What the Commission on Assessment Without Levels says:

“Before considering any commercially available assessment tool, schools should make sure their policies on assessment have been confirmed. Any product should be evaluated in terms of how well it supports delivery of that policy.

Without a robust policy, it will not be possible to determine the suitability of any assessment product, and it will be easy to become distracted by superficially attractive features which might turn out to be unnecessary or inappropriate.”

What’s the solution?

Some of the best ways to implement a consistent assessment policy are to:

  • Have a strong launch plan and ongoing training for staff
  • Rewrite the assessment policy, getting all staff involved, to create clarity on what each assessment milestone means. For example, what does ‘Emerging’ actually mean for a pupil? If school leaders don’t know, how can teachers, parents or pupils know?
  • Have a clear assessment policy to provide schools with much more meaningful conversations about pupil progress and give staff more confidence in what they’re doing in the classroom every day.
  • Speak to other schools about what they’re doing and learn from each other.
  • Use your freedom to make your school a fantastic place for children to learn and develop.

How Learning Ladders helps

Learning Ladders doesn’t prescribe the way you should assess; you can follow one of our pre-written assessment methods, or use your own formative assessment policy. You can use the assessment information, gap analysis and analytics to inform your teaching and planning so that each individual pupil is supported in their learning needs.

Our platform enables you to note your pupil assessments and immediately view pupil progress, gaps in learning and next steps across your Learning Ladders site. You can upload evidence to support your formative judgements and choose to share this with parents.

"An inspirational tool to ensure meaningful assessment is at the heart of all learning."

Debbie Buckingham, Headteacher, Alphington School

Foster pupil engagement

Golden Rule 3: Foster pupil engagement

What’s the problem?

Too often teachers become the “gatekeepers” of assessment. The responsibility falls on them to capture and be accountable for every act of learning in their classroom and the pressures of capturing, recording and reviewing this data is immense. Students, from an early age, need to learn to be accountable for their own assessment criteria, and furthermore identify their next steps with ease.

What the Commission on Assessment without Levels says:

“In-school formative assessment helps pupils to measure their knowledge and understanding against learning objectives and wider outcomes and to identify where they need to target their efforts to improve.”

What’s the solution?

It is important for pupils to be aware of their learning journey, otherwise how can we expect them to know how to develop a skill or be proud of what they have achieved? This can be done by:

  • Creating curriculum objectives that are child-friendly by breaking them down into manageable steps and using pupil-friendly language.
  • Using a curriculum pupils can see – make their objectives visible and accessible.
  • Ensuring teachers are talking to pupils about their progress so far, how to improve and what’s coming next.
  • Generating fantastic conversations so children can start taking ownership of their own learning.

How Learning Ladders helps

Our ladder booklets make your curriculum visible for pupils so they can see what they’ve achieved so far and what’s coming next. In their book, ‘Inside the Black Box’, Dylan William & Paul Black discuss the ‘ultimate user’ of assessment information is the pupil. We mustn’t forget that assessment is a tool to improve learning outcomes for pupils and not a data management practice.

Involving pupils in their own next steps, with teachers providing pupils with feedback about what they can do, improves their knowledge, understanding and skills.

“As a head, it ticks all the boxes. Children have ownership of Learning Ladders; it’s pupil-centred, it’s all about outcomes, and it ensures home and school are working to the same goals.”
Karen Edwards, Headteacher, The Heights Primary School

Develop planning and differentiation strategies

Golden Rule 4: Develop planning & differentiation strategies

What’s the problem?

One of the biggest challenges for teachers is differentiation. Making this a meaningful, strategic practice that both stretches the most able and supports the least able without adding to a teacher’s workload can seem an impossible task. A tracking system that shows gaps in learning and enables teachers to help students fill those gaps is an essential tool for modern classrooms.

Any tracking or assessment system a school buys into must support teaching and planning, enabling an easier approach to differentiation. If it’s not fulfilling this purpose then it’s important to ask if it is right for the school. Most ‘tracking’ systems are designed to provide data, but if this data doesn’t generate conversations about learning or inform teaching and planning then what purpose does it serve?

What the Commission on Assessment Without Levels says:

“Ensuring assessment directly evaluates pupils’ knowledge and understanding of curriculum requirements helps to create a virtuous circle of teaching and assessment. Teachers assess pupils’ understanding of a topic and identify where there are gaps. This tells the teacher what to focus on in future lessons and prompts the teacher to consider how his or her teaching approach can be adapted to improve pupils’ understanding.”

What’s the solution?

There are a number of ways schools can find planning and differentiation strategies to suit them:

  • Take a step back and ask if this assessment system is fit for the teachers’ needs.
  • Purchase a commercial assessment system that enhances teaching practices – engaging pupils in their learning, helping teachers identify gaps in learning and enabling them to plan accordingly.
  • Find a tracking or assessment system that provides teachers with the information they need to support pupils in their individual learning journeys.
  • Allow teachers to make informed decisions about pupil progress, not just provide data. What schools need is a simple, effective and in-the-moment gap analysis to support teachers with their future planning.
  • Stop lumping children into ‘ability groups’ – the focus always becomes their grades (however described or derived) rather than the granular detail of what they can and cannot yet do.  

How Learning Ladders helps

With Learning Ladders, schools can view the granular detail what each pupil can and cannot do; teachers can then recognise their gaps in learning and plan for each pupil’s next steps. Schools have access to detailed analytics that support classroom practices.

Using the assessments, evidence and analysis information, Learning Ladders enables staff to build a detailed picture of progress for every child. Then they can track the termly progress for each pupil, class, cohort and whole school against the curriculum expectations they have chosen to use.

“Having spoken to colleagues in other schools, our system really is an assessment system, as opposed to a tracking system.”
Karen Tomlinson, Executive Head, Millbrook Primary School

Make measurable progress methods

Golden Rule 5: Make measurable progress methods

What’s the problem?

The term ‘progress’ is so broad and has become so foggy in recent years, that understandably many school leaders and teachers feel confused about just how much progress students should be making. ‘Good’ progress for one school may look different to ‘good’ progress in another school.

Teachers know their pupils and understand the expectations they have for them throughout their time at school. If you can demonstrate what ‘good’ progress is for a pupil, and for your school, then don’t get caught up in the semantics of ‘good’ ‘expected’ and ‘on track’ progress – instead, show off the amazing steps pupils are taking with their learning.

What the Commission on Assessment Without Levels says:

“The problem with levels [is that]… Progress became synonymous with moving on to the next level, but progress can involve developing deeper or wider understanding, not just moving on to work of greater difficulty. Sometimes progress is simply about consolidation.”

What’s the solution?

A whole new way of approaching progress is required by schools which can be done by:

  • Being confident when explaining what good progress means for the school (if senior staff can’t explain what good progress is, then how can teachers, students or parents be expected to know?)
  • Noting pupil assessments and immediately viewing pupil progress, gaps in learning and next steps.
  • Uploading evidence to support formative judgements and choose to share this with parents.
  • Professor Rob Coe recommends a focus on feedback rather than grades, “an assessment with twenty questions has twenty bits of information. A grade has just one.” Remember it’s the twenty bits of information that are needed to assess progress made, not the one.

How Learning Ladders helps

Learning Ladders provides a simple, visual and live snapshot of every child’s learning – a Gap Analysis for every child. This means there is a starting point developed for each and every child in the school, enabling individual progress to be charted in a seamless and time-saving fashion.

Crucially, this analysis can be personalised to the exact curriculum actually being taught in the school, and the assessment policies of that school. We know that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work, this has to be tailored to each individual school.

"I like all the new additions, they certainly enhance the site especially the Gap Analysis and ability to print grids. The Grids look a really manageable way to work with children and parents"

Paul Sutton, Deputy Head Teacher, Butlers Court School

Build parental engagement strategies

Golden Rule 6: Build parental engagement strategies

What’s the problem?

If Golden Rule 5 is followed, Golden Rule 6 becomes far easier. Often schools find it difficult to explain progress to parents and it can lead to miscommunication, unnecessary anxiety or disengagement. If systems are simplified, information sharing and parent participation becomes much more straightforward, but first teachers and students need to understand the method.

What the Commission on Assessment without Levels says:

“When effectively communicated by teachers, in-school formative assessments provide parents with a broad picture of where their children’s strengths and weaknesses lie and what they need to do to improve. This reinforces the partnership between parents and schools in supporting children’s education.”

What’s the solution?

In order to engage parents in their child’s learning and progress, schools need to try:

  • Developing a strong and consistent assessment policy that is embedded across the school.
  • Being clear and transparent with parents about exactly what the assessment policy means, i.e. what it means if their child is ’emerging’, and what you expect from parents at home.
  • Providing parents with curriculum advice and keeping them up to date with their child’s gaps so that conversations with parents will be a lot more meaningful.

How Learning Ladders helps

Parents have access to the parent portal with teacher-written articles that link directly to their child's Learning Ladders. Each article breaks the curriculum down into manageable chunks, explaining how the objective is taught at school and recommending ways parents can help at home.

Teachers can choose to share images of children’s classwork for parents to view at home. Each child's portfolio follows them throughout their time at the school and gives parents a historic record of their child's achievements.

Using the Ladders at Home site, parents get access to a suite of  curriculum resources, all of which can be translated into over thirty languages at the click of a button, meaning schools can now support and engage all parents from a range of different backgrounds.

"I think this is an amazing tool. It provides accessible information all year round, rather than waiting for updates at Parent Consultations."

Leanne Wyatt, Parent, The Oaks Federation

Make roll out to staff straightforward

Golden Rule 7: Make roll out to staff straightforward

What’s the problem?

When school leaders introduce a new policy or framework, four distinct personalities usually emerge in the staffroom. There are the team members who will enthusiastically come on board, those who will plod along quietly with change, those who are vocal about their aversions to change, and those who may need extra support. It’s vital to understand these nuances if any positive change is to be achieved.

Because teachers have been exposed to do many swings and roundabouts in recent years with so many legislative changes to education from government, additional changes implemented internally may be met with distrust, exasperation and a lack of commitment – remember this is a natural response to what has already been a difficult period of change for teachers.

What’s the solution?

In order to engage, and build confidence and trust between teachers when it comes to new methods of assessment, schools must:

  • Make sure there is a strong and consistent roll out amongst teaching staff.
  • Take the time to embed the assessment system across the school community.
  • Involve staff in its development and crucially know your assessment policy.
  • Model good practice: positive reinforcement is the key.
  • Establish focus groups and small teams for training, across year groups, subjects and experience, where possible so staff can help motivate one another and share tips.
  • Ensure staff understand how to use the new approach and can see the benefit this will have on their teaching, then sustainable foundations have been laid for the school.

How Learning Ladders helps

For our schools, Learning Ladders isn’t an ‘off the shelf’ assessment package. We encourage schools to take time to set up their curriculum so it’s right for their school. This gives them the opportunity to introduce the new system to their school community.

If teachers don’t feel confident with a new system, they will either use it in a way other than intended, add to their workload to try and understand it, or not use it at all. With any of these outcomes, you have to ask if the system is adding any value to your school?

Any new system can only be as successful as the amount of time you put into embedding it across the community, and this starts with modelling from the top down.

“A new system for assessing pupils over time against a ‘ladder’ scale of building knowledge and skills is developing well, helping teachers to spot gaps in knowledge and understanding and plan accordingly.

The ladder system is also giving pupils an increasingly well-developed understanding of their strengths and areas for development. Pupils’ books are regularly marked with helpful comments that usually work to direct pupils towards clear improvement or corrections.”

Ofsted Inspection Report 2016, West Earlham Junior School: Good

Nurture staff open-mindedness

Golden Rule 8: Nurture staff open-mindedness

What’s the problem?

After only a short period of implementing a new assessment model, staff can lose patience and insist “Our system just isn’t working for us.” People want quick, easy results that don’t interrupt the usual flow of their days; time spent on training and troubleshooting a new process is time taken out of the day-by-day lesson planning, marking and myriad other jobs expected from teachers each day.

If a system isn’t working, then schools can be afraid to stop, review why that might be and make changes. Many of the ‘off the shelf’ products available cannot be customised, so naturally they won’t work for every school but sometimes schools plough on with these products regardless as money has been spent and reputations are at stake.

What the Commission on Assessment Without Levels says:

“A product should only be adopted if it presents the best way to support delivery of the school’s assessment policy.”

What’s the solution?

In order to nurture open-mindedness and find an assessment product that suits your school, try:

  • Finding a system that can be customised so the school’s curriculum, can be adapted for staff and expectations for pupils can be managed.
  • For those staff who display positivity, get to grips quickly with the new system and are confident at adapting: use their expertise by including them in training.
  • Make these staff members ‘expert teachers’ to help other staff, by raising morale and offering advice and modelling best practice. Perhaps they could be observed using the new assessment method with their class or film themselves in a lesson for other staff to watch.

How Learning Ladders helps

Completely flexible to the curriculum you follow, schools can choose to use our curriculum statements or adapt and create their own. All Learning Ladders members can use the curriculum designed by Hiltingbury Junior School, recognised by the DfE’s Assessment Innovation Competition 2014.

The ladders are derived from the National Curriculum 2014 for Years 1-6 and are broken into pupil friendly ‘I can’ statements (‘rungs’), making your curriculum manageable for every pupil. You can also use our Learning Ladders for science, geography, history, languages, EYFS and P-Scales. No matter which Learning Ladders content you use, assess the curriculum that you feel is worth assessing, keeping staff on board and building confidence every step of the way.

“It has been fed back from one of our teachers that Learning Ladders has revolutionised their teaching!” 

Patricia Watt, Deputy Headteacher, Hyde Park School

Create academic consistency across staff

Golden Rule 9: Create academic consistency across staff

What’s the problem?

With assessment, there is often a lack of consistency amongst staff, subjects or year groups. The judgements school systems give teachers for pupil attainment and progress, don’t match teachers’ professional opinions and thus, each time the pupil goes forward in their school life, the next teacher feels either obliged to continue mis-reporting progress or risks showing the child is ‘going backwards’ to position them in their correct academic place.

The conflict between pre-programmed algorithms and abstract data, and human judgement is always fraught. Schools shouldn’t be relying on commercial systems to tell them where pupils are in terms of attainment and progress. The teachers that are teaching students day in day out are the best judges and need to be trusted – yet a system which allows fair, consistent assessment across the school is essential.

What the Commission on Assessment without Levels says:

“A good assessment policy… should also outline arrangements for ensuring teachers are able to conduct assessment, confidently and competently, by explaining how access to professional development will be provided.”

What’s the solution?

To build a strong foundation and ensure you have a consistent approach, schools must:

  • Offer training and continual professional development is a great way to prepare teachers, whilst putting knowledge and skills in place.
  • Adapt the curriculum expectations for each subject and assess pupil progress consistently.
  • Know their curriculum – the design and the intent of it. They must be given time to explore and collaborate in the delivery and creation of it.
  • Know what impact their curriculum is having on pupils’ knowledge and understanding and have the confidence and freedom to adapt it accordingly.

How Learning Ladders helps

Any tracking system with an algorithm will present the data it has been fed in a particular manner. Your teachers need to have the power to disagree with this based on the human, contextual information they know about their pupils. Customising a new system, as with Learning Ladders, will mean your data is meaningful.

It’s important to remember that it will take time to embed and not to expect results straight away. These will come when you have a strong and consistent assessment practice across the school community. If all staff are using the same assessment policy, have the same expectations and can have their voices heard regarding their ideas, questions and concerns then you’re far more likely to get their buy-in than if you were to introduce an inflexible one-size-fits-all package.

"I like the ladders because it feels like I am going up. I can see what I have learnt and what I will need to do next."

A pupil from Hiltingbury Junior School

Lead with confidence

Golden Rule 10: Lead with confidence

What’s the problem?

Over the last few years, there have been many questions that school leaders have been posed regarding assessment methods. Whether these questions have come internally from staff, parents and governors, or externally through school improvement visits or inspections, leaders have had to be accountable to a wide range of parties across the school community.

The semantics of assessment from school to school now varies, and even schools sharing a playground may have different assessment approaches. This has lead to school leaders occasionally having to defend their approaches, and others having to explain their decisions to those who may try to take the school’s assessment journey down a different path.

What the Commission on Assessment without Levels says:

“In the context of curriculum freedoms and increasing autonomy for schools, it would make no sense to prescribe any one model for assessment. Curriculum and assessment are inextricably linked. Schools should be free to develop an approach to assessment which aligns with their curriculum and works for their pupils and staff.”

What’s the solution?

When changing the school-wide assessment system, leaderships need to:

  • Be confident in their approach and to champion this to whomever they speak to about assessment.
  • Take control and review practices if there is an element of the assessment practice that doesn’t feel right, or is distracting teachers by giving them endless hoops to jump through.
  • Avoid the fear of ‘getting it wrong’ – if things do need tweaking as time goes on, do it with confidence and humility. Teachers want adaptable, honest leaders, not people who think they know it all or are deceptive.

How Learning Ladders helps

Some of our schools have said it is more reassuring for someone else to tell you what is good progress for your school, or how you should assess. However, unless these people are directly involved in your school and know your pupils and school history, then any notion of ‘good’ progress is arbitrary and either based on best fit or a generalised assumption of progress.

Perhaps something can be altered internally to make the system work for you, or you might need to review your assessment system entirely to make sure you have a process fit for the needs of your school. Whether this process begins with amending your curriculum, or deciding on your progress expectations, then we’ll get you on the way to having a bespoke assessment system that you can champion internally and externally. The team at Learning Ladders have a wealth of experience at helping schools find the right processes for them, treating every team as the unique group they are.

“After deciding that we needed to introduce a new assessment system we began to research a variety of approaches. There were so many systems that, after an hour of looking at them, we still did not understand! As a group, we’re not statisticians but we are used to looking at and interpreting data; if we couldn’t understand an approach after an hour, then how could we sell this to someone else?

After spending time finding out more from other schools and the Learning Ladders team, we began to picture how Learning Ladders would work across the school and how teachers could implement it in the classroom. I was drawn to it as it was workable and, as a teacher, I could see who is achieving, who isn’t and what I needed to do next.”

Catrin Parry-Jones, Headteacher West Earlham Junior School, Norfolk

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