What does effective assessment look like in primary maths?

A good test isn’t just a summative experience – it is also packed with rich formative opportunities.

Thanks to John Dabell, trained teacher and former Ofsted inspector, for the following article.

Effective assessment in maths is all about team-work and joined-up thinking. It doesn’t stand alone or parade data like a pedagogical peacock.  Instead, it links together teaching, learning and assessment in a creative and integrated fashion, so that teaching promotes learning, learning enables assessment to take place and assessment acts as a stimulus to both teaching and learning.

This is a three-pronged approach not a stab in the dark because it is strategic and intentional. Effective assessment is truly one of the most powerful levers teachers have to influence the way children learn. Taken together, the synthesis of teaching, learning and assessment has the potential to refine and more accurately diagnose key strengths and weaknesses.


Uniting formative and summative assessment

Traditionally, summative and formative assessments have been seen as polar opposites and are frequently pitted against each other. Yet, this binary view of assessment has been damaging and unhelpful as it has demonised testing and given assessment a bad name.

Assessment has become a dirty word and a value-laden one heavily entrenched with negative connotations associated with accountability and performance. Unsurprisingly, many teachers and children hear the word ‘assessment’, fear it and treat is as a synonym for ‘test’. The challenge therefore is to reinvent assessment as a force for good, a force for learning and a force for teaching. Tests are not inherently wicked but they have certainly been twisted and contorted out of shape especially when used as purely cut and dried high-stakes data collection exercises.

A good test isn’t just a summative experience – it is also packed with rich formative opportunities. Summative tests all have a formative backbone to them and when used intelligently, they can act as genuine stepping stones towards fuller understanding. Unfortunately, many children don’t use the results of their tests formatively as they see them as summary indicators of their success. This is a major obstacle to their progress because they can often see their ‘results’ as an end-point and a belief that their maths ability is fixed and unchangeable.

The new Mathematics Progress Tests (Second Edition) from RS Assessment from Hodder Education don’t divorce summative and formative assessment, they unite them so that they help encourage a maths mindset focused on growth. The tests have been designed to encourage progress and help pupils see their ability as incremental. Used as formative tools for change they can actively encourage the development of positive beliefs about maths learning, motivation and self-belief.


Integrating teaching and maths assessment

Assessment and teaching interact when teachers collect evidence about pupil performance and use it to shape their teaching. The Mathematics Progress Tests recognise the huge contribution that assessment can make to learning by helping teachers and children see what they know, what they don’t know and what they partly know.

The tests are seen as opportunities to learn and improve rather than as something threatening. They act as valuable windows into thinking and help children take control of their own learning because they can assess their own knowledge, identify gaps and set themselves targets for their learning. Using the tests formatively and acting on the assessment information positively means children can improve their performances.

Mathematics Progress Tests are formal in nature but they don’t focus narrowly on the outcomes but instead look at what needs to be done further to contribute towards learning. Fully updated in line with the SATs to include multi-stage questions, they demand that children articulate their thinking about their work and so make accurate and reliable assessments of their strengths and weaknesses, identifying areas of potential difficulty and growth.

When used diagnostically and formatively, the Mathematics Progress Tests offer very powerful ways to identify gaps in learning and assess pupils’ performance against age-related expectations.

They recognise that assessment is only valuable if it changes the way teachers teach and children learn. By eliciting evidence of pupil performance or attainment, then interpreting it and taking action, we can facilitate huge gains in achievement.


Analysing progress in maths lessons

Using the online analysis and reports tools via MARK (My Assessment and Reporting Kit) enables you to gain valuable and clear insights into individual and group performances, view gaps and generate reports in an instant. MARK can show ‘hot-spots’, serious gaps and weak-points and so further examples and questions can be generated for children to try.

Effective assessment in maths removes the tension between diagnostic/formative and evaluative /summative functions by being flexible and focusing on progress rather than simply tests scores. Mathematics Progress Tests provide quality content and each of the questions can be ‘unpacked’ formatively and used as teaching opportunities to ‘zoom in’ and examine more closely. This post-test teaching provides maths moments to address any misconceptions, muddles and mix-ups.

With particular ‘red flag’ questions where there appears to be some confusion or lack of understanding, the tests can be used as collaborative exercises to pool ideas and expertise.  For example, children can answer one question at a time and then be asked to work in groups to produce the best composite answers they can.  This re-assessment enables everyone to participate in editing and improving their answers.


Promoting active assessment in maths lessons

Effective assessment in maths is a marriage of thinking, it is multidimensional and dedicated to successful learning. When a test discloses evidence of learning needs and this evidence is acted upon dynamically then we can close learning gaps and nudge children towards better understanding. It also makes children aware that maths is about learning and not performing, it is about communicating and making connections, that depth is more important than speed and everyone can learn maths to the highest levels.

The Mathematics Progress Tests can help children probe their own understandings, get feedback, support intelligent intervention and support either little steps or giant strides. In essence, the tests promote active assessment as they contain within themselves recipes for future action and cause learning to take place.


Find out more about brand new Mathematics Progress Tests here.


If you liked this blog, view our other Maths blogs here.


key stage 1, key stage 2, maths

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