Formative Assessment – teacher autonomy, pupil involvement, positive collaboration

Formative Assessment is a pedagogy that should be an integral part of classroom practice. Pupil participation and focused teacher interaction should lead to deeper understanding, and an opportunity to correct mistakes and change misconceptions. Formative assessment should foster the confidence to take risks and work things out.  It should form the basis of forward planning, define the curriculum content and ensure pupils can articulate how they are learning as well as what they are learning. Statutory assessments do not and cannot accurately capture pupils’ achievements.

The above is echoed in a recent report launched by Pearsons and the research organisation LKMco,  Testing the Water – ‘How assessment can underpin, not undermine great teaching’. the report is the result of a national consultation on the future of assessment and it explores some of the questions that surround the issue of assessment and its place in the accountability system we currently have in England.

The report says, ‘understanding and using assessment should be a fundamental competency for all educators’, however the findings suggest that there is a lack of training, teachers lack confidence in the process and they do not know where to go for support, help or advice.  There is an implied criticism that far too much of teachers’ time is geared to summative assessment and the tendency to teach to the test.  The pressure to produce data for reporting and accountability weighs heavily on teachers and negates their confidence in using formative assessment to support learning.  The advice from the report suggests that schools should limit the number of summative assessments and make greater use of standardised tests to benchmark how their pupils compare with others nationally.

Teachers need to have the autonomy to establish what pupils have learnt, remembered and understood and plan the unfolding of the curriculum content and skills development accordingly so that all pupils can deepen their knowledge and build the skills to access that knowledge.

The report focuses on the issue of workload associated with assessment and how this can be reduced. There are some interesting case studies and references to some research based ideas that support high quality formative assessment to reduce  workload. However, teachers need to be confident enough to trust that this will be acceptable to inspectors and those who assess their performance in school.  The report also highlights how new technologies can help to reduce the burden.

The report also asks the question ‘How can unnecessary stress about assessment be reduced?’ The advice for schools is to ensure that pupil performance in tests is not linked to the assessment of ongoing teacher performance. There should be a much closer association with ongoing formative assessment in the classroom.

In summary schools need to,

  • Increase the confidence of teachers to use formative assessment as an integral part of their pedagogy and provide the relevant training to support this
  • Mine the considerable bank of support available to the profession
  • Access training that covers both the theory and practice of assessment that is relevant to those with different roles from senior leaders to Governors and parents
  • Reduce the burden of summative assessment and focus on assessing the deepening of knowledge and understanding of curriculum content in both the core and foundation subjects
  • Ensure the data that is collected as a result of assessment is diagnostic and granular and allows teachers and support staff to define the gaps in pupils’ knowledge or where they need to be challenged and stretched to fulfil their full potential
  • Create a culture that ensures there is meaningful communication about assessment, how it is undertaken, its accuracy and the results that inform planning and intervention across all learning
  • Focus on how pupils learn and how developing learning skills as part of accessing a deep, rich and broad curriculum is far more likely to see them succeed in summative statutory tests than ‘teaching to the test’.  Read Alison Peacock’s piece on page 51 of the report, she says at the end, ‘If the input is right the output looks after itself’.
  • Review the school’s marking policy and testing strategies, focus on their efficacy for pupils learning and the devastating impact too much marking has on teacher well-being
  • Celebrate learning, effort and achievement in the classroom and build the confidence of pupils to take risks with their learning, tackle the unfamiliar and challenge themselves, their teachers and their peers to seek and find out more
  • Use a variety of assessment strategies and decouple pupils’ test and exam results from the assessment of teacher performance in the classroom

Learning Cultures have a unique and highly praised reputation in providing training for teachers that will give them the materials, resources and learning to take back to school to share with others.  Formative assessment requires a high level of competence.  There needs to be a mechanism that allows for effective collaboration, moderation and a collective understanding of its efficacy and accuracy.  Join us at one of our training courses,