What will be the future of writing assessment?

Thanks to Michael Tidd for the following article. Posted May 2016. 

It seems fair to say that the interim teacher assessment frameworks have not been warmly welcomed this year. With Year 6 tests out of the way, and Year 2 tests swiftly following suit, attention is turning now in school to the process of teacher assessment for 2016.

Particularly in Writing, that process this year involves a lot of searching for technical features and punctuation throughout pieces of writing – and not much appreciation for the quality of the overall product. Teachers have quickly had to become adept at spotting hyphens and dashes, or finding ways of including exclamation sentences in seven-year-olds’ writing.

For now, it’s a system we’re stuck with, and teachers will find the best ways they can of dealing with it. These Writing Checklists will help both teachers and their students to provide the relevant evidence for this year, but what of the future? What are the alternatives?

Common Tasks

One possible alternative is the return of tests. They probably wouldn’t return in their current form, having not that long ago been scrapped, but it would be possible to insist on the completion of common tasks nationally which could return to being externally assessed. One of the significant issues also exists in the current systems – teacher assistance. Having seen coursework at GCSE scrapped because of the difficulties of ensuring a level playing field, it seems that anything short of test conditions could be fraught with difficulty.

Best-fit descriptors

One of the most significant concerns that is raised about the frameworks is their ‘secure fit’ nature. Many have proposed that a change to a ‘best fit’ approach would be fairer for pupils, but ministers have been clear that the ‘best fit’ approach was one of the problems with levels. Might an alternative be a mixed-economy? It seems fair that a child who cannot accurately punctuate a sentence would not be regarded as reaching the expected standard, so could some of the current criteria be maintained, and combined with a best-fit descriptor approach? To reach the expected standard, pupils could demonstrate a broad range of skills, including (but not limited to) a small number of key indicators. A happier medium, perhaps?

Comparative Judgement

A more radical alternative that is occasionally proposed is that of comparative judgement. This system removes the needs for descriptors or tick-lists entirely – something that teachers may find harder to get used to. Comparative judgement involves directly comparing the work of one pupil with another to see whose is better. By repeatedly making such comparisons, rather than marking against criteria alone, it is possible to rank work to identify different levels of achievement. A key advantage of this approach is the more holistic judgement, rather than a narrowing list of criteria alone. As a result, the best way to prepare children for such assessment would be simply to teach them to write as well as possible. It would be a significant step away from what we have used in the past, but it might address those significant concerns about ticking boxes.

Much could change over the coming year. Until we hear more from the DfE, we can only work with the system we have, and try to do our best by the pupils in front of us. As always with assessment, the best approach to take is for teachers to know as best they can the specific abilities of the pupils in front of them, and to find ways to allow them to improve. We can only hope that the assessment system recognises it.

Looking for further support with writing assessment? Take a look at these Writing Assessment Tasks.


assessment frameworks, english, grammar, key stage 1, key stage 2, spelling, writing, writing assessment

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