By Nicki Devon, Deputy Head Academic, Eltham College Junior School, UK
Every Assessment Lead wants a great assessment model for their school, but how do you ensure the tail isn't wagging the dog?
A school in which the curriculum is a hostage to its assessment system is often recognisable by its overworked staff, their teaching stymied by incessant data-collection and spurious target-setting.
There is a hopeful illusion that the effort must be paying off; it's a lot of graft, so of course it must be contributing to a robust measure of student progress. But often an illusion is all it is.
Using reliable assessment data
I would argue that streamlining your assessment model, and ensuring it has reliable standardised data at its core is fundamental to an effective system. It also has the added benefit of freeing your staff up to spend their time on teaching.
In practice, this might mean choosing a digital assessment system such as CEM’s InCAS to produce your baseline data in September, or as your summer assessment tool. At either point, you'll have a reliable profile of each student in your school.
The profile is a way of beginning to analyse each cohort's strengths and weaknesses and their progress over the year. You may choose to add other, formative assessment into the mix, but with InCAS at the centre of your assessment wheel, you can gauge the reliability of your other assessment tools and understand how near or far students are from both realistic and more aspirational expectations.
Instant access to student profiles
The pandemic has made remote access to assessment data invaluable to many of us, whether we are classroom teachers, school leaders or both. A digital profile of a student's strengths and weaknesses at the touch of a button can be extremely useful when talking to parents. Or even when simply seeking to understand a student's struggle with an aspect of their homework.
However, there are still barriers that need breaking down to ensure that useful assessment data doesn't just sit in the cloud waiting for its moment to shine. Especially now we are all back in school.
Sharing and using the information
Making assessment data as easily available and as intuitive to interpret as possible for your staff is key to success here. It's about choosing the most relevant data-sets to share, and having them in a centrally located area with easy remote access. This might be via SharePoint, or perhaps even a web-based data-tracking tool which combines data from numerous sources for each individual student.
Whatever you choose, it's important that you lead on data literacy, and that you're available for support when questions arise. Having a reporting system that is closely linked with your assessment model also helps to maximise relevance to teachers and creates a culture where using assessment data becomes second-nature.
5 Ways to maximise the benefits of assessment data in your school
Choose a digital, self-marking platform as your core tool, where assessments are quick and easy for classroom teachers to implement.
Make sure the data-sets available fit your school's requirements, and focus on one or two measures to share with your staff body (e.g. standardised scores and age-comparisons); train staff on data interpretation and provide a yearly refresher.
Ensure buy-in from all stakeholders by being transparent with your data. Sharing standardised scores with parents, for example, can form the basis for some useful conversations at parents' evenings. Taking this step also encourages all staff to become fluent in their interpretation of the digital assessment feedback, and thus more likely to use it to inform day-to-day planning for the students in their class.
Make equal use of both a wide- and zoom-lens; use your data to spot school-wide or cohort anomalies (is there a discrepancy between achievement in English and Maths, for example?), and look in a more granular way at the differences between an individual student's scores in each aspect to help identify SEND issues, for example. Both views will help you to plan your curriculum to get the best out of all your students.
Don't be afraid to interrogate your data and re-assess a student if you think you need to. No system is perfect, and any test will only measure a student's performance at that moment in time.
With any luck, you might find, as I did, that in reassessing your assessment model you have begun a natural pruning process.
What was previously an unwieldy tangle, the inevitable outcome of assessments being added over the years instead of supplanted, can be transformed into something that's actually useful, bearing fruit that benefits the whole school community.
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