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Talking about Assessment

Assessment refers to a variety of methods used in education to measure and evaluate student progress. It involves systematically documenting and analysing data to inform future planning and progression; testing can be used to guide teachers in terms of the support, extension and intervention they offer their students. It can be formal and informal, general and specific; however, its value can vary significantly depending on the context and purpose of the assessment.

We recognise that talking about assessment is not always easy. People often have preconceptions about tests, assessments or exams and this can make them more difficult to use. Most important, is that the purpose is always made clear. What are we trying to find out? How are we going to do it? How are we going to look at the results?

What are the different types of assessment?

Assessment comes in many forms and the approach used to measure student progress will differ depending on the purpose for the assessment taking place.

Formative and summative assessment

These are the two main types of assessment, in which students demonstrate knowledge and understanding either in an informal and continuous way (formative) or show what has been learned at the end of a set period of time or unit of study (summative).

Often referred to as assessment for learning, formative assessment is day-to-day ongoing assessment that can be used to gauge what has been learned or where a student’s starting point is.

Examples: A phonics check, listening to a student read, interview practice, lesson quizzes

Generally as a result, planning can be adjusted and interventions put in place if necessary.

Summative assessment, on the other hand, is focused on a final assessment of what has been learned during a specific course or topic. There is usually a mark to be reported that can be used to measure how well students have performed in this task.

Examples: End of year exams, GCSEs, the driving test.

Baseline assessments

Baseline assessments are used to assess what students can do before a course or new year group begins. It provides educators and advisers with a profile of a candidate’s existing learning skills and levels of independence, which is vital for understanding their learning potential.

Examples: APT, CAT4, InCAS

Baseline assessments can also help to identify misconceptions and gaps in knowledge, as well as pointing to skills and strengths that students already have.

Supporting conversations about Assessment

It is generally agreed that assessment is an essential part of the learning process; schools and teachers need to know whether or not pupils are actually learning and developing. Students will encounter assessment throughout their time at school, and it doesn’t need to be considered a bad or hard thing when facing a ‘test’.

It can help to talk about the purpose of the assessment as described above: Is it to check their prior knowledge, or progress, or how much they have learned? Is it high-stakes (does the outcome really matter?) or low-stakes (to get a better understanding of what’s easy or hard)? We strongly recommend talking through results with students - it’s rarely a surprise to them how they have performed and when supported, it is often a big confidence boost to see progress in specific areas. Plus it provides focus on those challenge areas. Always be specific on what skills or knowledge needs to be worked on, so subsequent progress feels more tangible.

There are a number of debates around at the moment talking about how assessment is used, how frequently students should be formally assessed, and the extent to which the assessment process is beneficial to students and teachers. Central to any discussion is to remain focused on the original purpose of the assessment and what the results are used for.

Two key discussion points are:

  • Worries over the stress that assessment and sitting formal exams can cause to students. The pressure to perform, meet targets or achieve certain grades is thought to be responsible for much of the anxiety felt. Again, the purpose of the assessment is key and this can help alleviate some of the stresses. There are some assessments that are worth getting stressed over, but the vast majority are really not. It’s ok to have this discussion with students. And if the assessments are high quality (and more importantly, fit for purpose) then being relaxed about the outcome is going to help students perform at their best level.

  • How “teaching to the test” is hindering broader learning and the aims and objectives of the curriculum. The emphasis on student outcomes and results can often undermine the assessment process as teachers and tutors teach “tricks” for passing and may even manipulate results of internal assessments to make progress appear greater than it is. This leads to questions surrounding the reliability of data and whether results are, in fact, accurate reflections of the learning taking place.

If you have questions about assessment or assessing your child (or student), we are always happy to answer them. Simply get in touch with the team.


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