We all know that the word assessment can send a shiver down the spine of any teacher. The sense of dread and impending data drops. High stakes accountability and league tables have left a mark on education. You may or may not agree with the need for exams and tests and end of key stages. There is something to be said about the way assessment has been used over the last 10-20 years. It has caused some unintended knock-on effects.
When we used to fill in APP grids (pardon my language!) we began to get disillusioned with the assessment cycle. Systems were built with arbitrary point scoring systems. We would tick off objectives in neverending lists, and the system would ‘reward’ us with a score. We would then disagree. “He is NOT a 3b! He is a 3c at most!” and also….”he was a 2a last term so he cannot be allowed to jump up by two sub levels already…”
Sound familiar? Followed by the patter of fingers on a keyboard. Frantically trying to undo our enthusiastic clicking. Assessment became this. Levels going away in 2014 should have been the end of that. But unfortunately it did not end there. Levels were reproduced in many ways and still exist. But now we are careful to not click into the 2Secure into we are sure. You may still be using some variation of this. And that is understandable, and can even be useful if used correctly. But assessment should, first and foremost, be used to inform teaching and learning. If data is not used to inform learning, then it most certainly is redundant and should not fill your weekend! Read on to learn more about using data to inform teaching and learning.
But when is student assessment data useful? And how can we make sure every click is an investment in the outcomes of a pupil?
In any given lesson, you are doing all the type of assessment which a teacher does skilfully. This is done in a way any non-teacher would realise. A question, aimed at a specific student, to assess if they understand. A ‘thumbs-up’ check on the carpet before the class go to do their work. A quick mini-quiz halfway through the task to check understanding. The marking of a book over the shoulder. Listening to a partner chat to see if they are helping each other or heading down a route of misconceptions.
All of this type of student assessment data feeds into the learning even during the lesson itself. Using data to inform teaching might look like a tweak of the lesson for everyone, or some time for a 1:1 chat with one pupil. It may be some extra support and scaffolding. It might be a decision to lay out some manipulatives. All of these conversations and ‘touchpoints’ feed into learning. This happens when a teacher works to include them in lessons.
Marking books helps to assess each child. It gives them some next steps and lets them know where they are succeeding. Although not every piece of work will feed into student assessment data. There is a conversation around learning that happens via marking books. It does help to give useful feedback to learners. It makes them more able to take ownership of their own learning journey. They are also better equipped to ask the right questions and seek out extra help for their next steps.
In many schools now the marking of books has been reduced to aid teacher workload. Whole class feedback is favoured by some schools. Others have reduced expectations or left it up to teachers. This has helped teachers to become more focused on giving the feedback. This is the most useful, rather than filling in reams of marking out of preparation for a sudden book scrutiny.
As well as being an endeavour which helps individual learners, marking of books (or at least a glance through) can help inform planning. It’s one great way of using data to inform teaching. This may be a realisation that many pupils have a misconception that will lead to an adjustment of the lesson plans for future days. Or it may be useful to pull out a few individual books and put them in a pile as a reminder for you to work with those children specifically in coming lessons.
This is another example of class work feeding back to inform teaching and learning.
Some schools are using platforms which have home-school communications built in. Here teachers may choose to share work from class with parents, which helps the child and parent to have conversations around their learning. These conversations can really help to involve parents in informing learning in the home. They can also give students pride in their work. All too often children see their books closed and put away in a pile at the end of every lesson. Sharing the occasional piece of work with home can give that lesson a whole new lease of life.
Completing assessment grids online/on paper:
As well as using student assessment data from the classroom to inform planning for the current unit of work, adding assessment to online, or paper, records helps to reflect on learning over time. We like to think we will remember exactly who struggles with comparing fractions. That may not be the case in 3 months time when we revisit the topic. For that reason, it’s useful to make a record of how the class did. It helps to inform future lesson plans and resourcing for support. Online tools often give you lots of useful outputs if you do spend the bits of time it takes to add this information. The more outputs you are offered by a system the better.
For example, you teach comparing fractions and add assessment information to a system. You should be able to use that in many ways. You can look at an immediate gap analysis, which can highlight some trends you might otherwise miss. This is often illuminating and helps to improve pupil outcomes. It focuses the teaching on the areas which need it most, as well as for the children who need certain elements. At senior leadership level this information can also help with resourcing the school. For example, finding the areas which need extra CPD, or even money spent on physical resources.
It can also provide a good overview of graphs of cohort data and progress over time, and help to evaluate interventions. An intervention may cost a lot of money but the data shows an insignificant impact on student outcomes. It is better to find that out as quickly as possible to avoid throwing good money after bad. On the flipside, if it is working well you might want to move funds from elsewhere, then be able to offer the intervention to more students.
We’ve already mentioned the use of sending home pieces of work from school, or sharing a photo or video of evidence, which can spark conversations at home. But even parents will be interested in data which shows their child’s strengths and targets. An overall grading may not be as useful as the detail here. A grade usually turns into a conversation of comparison “Is this better or worse than last term?” or “How did everyone else do?” or “Is this good?”. However, information which shows “Mary is secure in number bonds to 10” with a target saying, “Next we will be learning the number bonds to 20”, is a specific objective which parents can support. You can also advise them of ways to help with this at home. Our teacher-written articles are designed to support you with this.
You may also be using standardised testing in your school. If so, then the analysis of this is a way of using data to inform teaching. Although they may be used for summative data capture, at the end of year they can also be used formatively. There are assessment systems which allow you to analyse test results, as well as seeing formative data to give a rounded picture of a child’s achievements. This can help at an individual and class level to inform teaching and learning. At the whole school level, it can help to inform resourcing and school improvement priorities.
Essentially, assessment is not the scary word we sometimes think it is. The only terrifying assessment is that which eats our time then ends up in a dusty cupboard somewhere. Using data to inform teaching and learning, and involve parents and pupils in the learning journey is always worthwhile.
If you want to know about how Learning Ladders makes your data meaningful, you can read more about our data and analysis features which provide you with clear and purposeful gap analysis.