Assistant Principal, Norfolk

Using Rising Stars Assessment Progress Tests to enable individualized teaching    

Assessment systems in schools have traditionally been filled with lots of data, which is then analysed on numerous different levels. In some schools this data has been used to good effect, but in others it takes on a ritual of its own; assessment is sometimes done, presented in a nice table and then ‘forgotten about’ until a visitor asks for evidence of progress and attainment. What is often missing from assessment systems, however, is one crucial factor – the individual children we teach and their learning. 
 
One of the freedoms associated with the government's move to assessment without levels is the clear removal of the need that seemed to develop in schools to ‘pigeonhole’ children into certain attainment bands in each year group. As schools, we are encouraged to focus on what each child can do and what progress they have made, rather than a numerical measure. Of course, there still remains the summative national assessments at KS1 and KS2 but, apart from this, schools have the freedom to assess in a way that works for them and their children.
 
It may be obvious but at our school children are taught to the gaps in their knowledge, rather than simply a blanket ‘one size fits all’ approach that can sometimes be seen in schools. As a school we have therefore worked this academic year, with the help of Rising Stars Progress Tests, to adapt our internal systems so that the focus is solely on each individual child’s learning.
 
We have been using the Progress Tests since September 2015. We administer these at regular intervals throughout the school year, across Years 1-6.  However, we actively discourage staff from focusing on the summative numerical data (i.e. what score did Jo get?) and instead have been encouraging them to focus on the wealth of formative, ‘soft’ data that can be gained from each assessment.
 
Instead of asking staff to submit the ‘traditional’ spreadsheet of numerical scores to SLT, we have asked them to share a document that outlines the main gaps in knowledge and understanding from each assessment, together with how their teaching over the next 4-5 weeks will be tailored to these gaps. These documents exist without a numerical piece of data in sight. This means that the focus remains on what we think it always should be – the children’s learning.
 
Each member of staff has approached this in different ways, and they identify the gaps and record them in a way that suits them. Some staff have chosen to use the powerful question-level analysis spreadsheets provided by Rising Stars, and others have decided that they would record the main gaps after they have marked each child’s paper. But, regardless of the methods, each teacher is essentially following the same process. By doing this, staff have been able to focus on learning. They have easily been able identify gaps, misconceptions and common areas for development, and adapt their teaching to ensure that these gaps are filled. Teachers also use this data to help inform their filling-in of the assessment statements used as a school, and again these statements focus on the expected attainment for the year group, rather than assigning a numerical value to a child and their attainment.
 
Teaching staff have been able to plan effective intervention groups, and have used a range of resources, included Rising Stars’ Shine! Mathematics and the Achieve 100/100+ series to help deliver these interventions. They have also been able to use resources such as Fluency with Fractions and Problem Solving and Reasoning to help plan lessons and interventions based on the gaps identified.
 
We have also encouraged teaching staff to actively involve support staff in this process, so that they are aware of the gaps that exist for the children in the class(es) they work in, and are therefore able to make the maximum impact on learning.
 
Children, of course, have also been a vital partner in this process, and we encourage staff to discuss the marked assessments with each child, and to help them identify and understand their gaps. Most children across the school are now aware of their areas to develop, and take great pride when they show that they now understand an area or concept which they previously struggled with.
 
Through all of this, we are able to embrace the idea of mastery for all whilst helping to fill gaps. It is clear to all staff that any gaps are addressed and filled (with support if needed) in their year group, rather than leaving it to a later year group as was sometimes previously the case.
 
This approach did take a small amount of adjusting to, and it was introduced gradually over the 2015 autumn term. As a leadership team, we began to re-focus our questioning and analysis from a ‘what score did they get’ to asking ‘what gaps were identified and how are these going to be addressed’. Whilst, of course, there are grade boundaries provided so that we are able to get an indication of whether children are working at, below or above the expected standard, we found ourselves relying on these to a lesser extent.
 
We are also able to pull together common themes across year groups, phases or the whole school, for example, we could identify if questions requiring inference was a common gap in reading, or if division was a common gap in maths, and then offer targeted and bespoke support and CPD to teachers.  
 
Of course, this can be seen as an extension of the day-to-day assessment for learning that is a common feature of all of our classrooms; teachers are always assessing what children know and understand and tweaking their lessons and sequences of work to ensure maximum impact and that no child is left behind. The Rising Stars Progress Tests have however provided another valuable tool to aid this process, and also provide a useful way to assess the retention of knowledge and the ability of children to apply their learning to the style of questions in which they will ultimately be assessed by at the end of KS1 and KS2.
Tim Handley, Assistant Principal, Maths Specialist Teacher and NCETM PD Lead
Progress Tests (New Second Edition)
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