Thank you to our guest blogger and Deputy Head teacher Michael Tidd for the following article.
In a world without levels, with APP scrapped, and a new assessment landscape suddenly emerging, it's sometimes hard to know where to turn. Schools up and down the country are working on a whole host of different models for in-school assessment, and without the common language of the old world, it sometimes seems hard to know how our own systems relate to the wider world.
Alongside this, as each school develops its system, there is the eternal doubt that what we're doing will meet the needs of pupils, teachers, parents, school leaders and - of course - Ofsted. How will we show progress? How will we moderate? How do we use our formative classroom practice to produce measurable data, without that data becoming the be-all-and-end-all?
But there may be some advantages to this new way of working. The freedom for schools to focus their assessment practices on what suits their children, their school and their curriculum is an opportunity not to be missed. And we can make use of tests in parallel to add the much-lauded “robustness” to our systems.
Tests have had a bit of a bad press over the years, but in reality it's the way we've used tests that has been problematic. The over-use of high-stakes trying to predict outcomes or to usurp teacher assessment was an error, but the fault didn't lie with tests themselves. Used appropriately, carefully-chosen tests can support assessment in the classroom, and help us to benchmark our pupils’ attainment against external measures.
That's why at my school we're making use of the Rising Stars Progress and Optional Tests. The Progress Tests help us to make judgements about pupils' learning throughout the year, while the Optional Tests provide an externally-set benchmark for summative data. Neither replaces teacher assessment, but both add value to our work.
Teachers make use of the Progress Tests at times and in ways to suit their needs. For example, I find the mathematics unit tests particularly helpful for forming judgements against our in-school assessment and tracking model. The short assessments quickly review the content taught, allowing me to identify gaps before moving on to the new unit. They inform my teaching in a way that any good assessment tool should, all without becoming onerous or dictating the curriculum in the way tests once did.
Throughout the year, these small tests support teachers’ assessment and planning, and help us in making informed judgements as part of our wide range of assessment techniques. However, as the academic year draws to a close, we also value the opportunity to look at the progress of our pupils against a broader framework. That used to seem straightforward with levels, and many schools used government-produced tests to support other judgments. The flaw came when test results were seen to be more important than the on-going judgements made in the classroom.
Instead, tests serve their purpose best as a snapshot of attainment. In most schools, such snapshots can provide useful summary data. The key to success is in their use. Test scores, whether from individuals or cohorts, should represent a starting point in discussions about progress, not the final conclusion.
That's how we make use of the Rising Stars Optional Tests. They present a snapshot of information about how children are performing against the national expectations. They don't tell us everything, but nor do they need to: we have teachers for that! If the tests show up a concern about an individual then we can use the teacher’s knowledge and other assessments to see what action needs to be taken. The tests also help us to make quick broad judgements about vulnerable groups or classes of pupils. They don’t tell us everything, but they provide a useful overview. Most importantly, they help to take the pressure off teachers’ assessments, which can be kept purely for formative use.
For too long the misuse of testing, combined with the labelling effects of levels and the over-use of the resulting data, meant that tests were seen as a narrowing driver of the curriculum. Schools are free now to develop their curriculum and assessment approaches to suit their needs. They should not be afraid of selecting tests to form part of that strategy, ensuring that they use them to support rather than replace the important work of assessment every day in classrooms.
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