Teachers need greater support in order to understand and maximise the value of assessment in their classrooms

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A new report, Testing the Water: How assessment can underpin, not undermine, great teaching, published today by LKMCO and Pearson, calls for more support for teachers and greater understanding of assessment across education sector.

The report is based on a year-long research project including a national survey of over 1,000 teachers in England, opinions from focus groups, an online consultation, thought-pieces from fourteen leading educationalists, and three international case studies.

The report identifies eleven major challenges for educational assessment and makes twenty two recommendations for ensuring assessment “underpins, not undermines, great teaching”.

Standardised assessments

A key finding in the report is that schools should make greater use of standardised testing packages to assess, benchmark and report on pupil achievement in specific knowledge and skills areas.

The report suggests that assessment providers should provide information about the reliability of their assessments, that is easily accessible and digestible.

The report also highlights the benefits of using standardised assessment in schools to help:

  • Provide schools with an indication of how their pupils compare with their peers nationally
  • Reduce the burden for teachers and middle leaders in some subjects, where they regularly have to create their own summative assessments
  • Reduce teaching to the test

Increased use of standardised assessments in school may also help to address the issue of the lack of common language for describing pupil achievements, particularly at primary level.

Assessment Literacy

A further key finding highlights the need for greater ‘assessment literacy’ among education professionals, beginning with teacher training. The project found that:

  • Only a third of classroom teachers in England feel ‘very confident’ about assessment
  • One in five classroom teachers would not know where to look for information on assessment if they needed it
  • Less than half of teachers received training in assessment as part of their initial teacher training

The report calls for reforms to teacher training, including a compulsory test at the end of initial teacher training, to ensure teachers joining the profession have mastered key elements of the training curriculum, including assessment.

“If you want to change teacher’s behaviour, and you want to engage with something that’s as complex as assessment, you’re not going to do this in half day or twilight session.” Professor Rob Coe

The magic wand

The report also features contributions from a group of prominant educationalists including CEM Director, Professor Rob Coe; Daisy Christodoulou; Geoff Barton, and Dame Alison Peacock.

These experts were asked to contribute short thought-pieces, addressing the statement:

‘If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing about assessment in English schools, it would be…’.

Professor Coe’s magic wand aims to create a professional learning culture around assessment:

‘Exactly how magic is this wand? Presumably it is cheating to say the one thing I would change is to make all assessment perfect, in every way, forever?
If I have to be more specific, I think there are three main things I would like to see improved:

  • The first is about the quality of assessments. Quality here includes things like the precision of scores (reliability), alignment between the things learners have to demonstrate to achieve high scores and the kinds of learning we value and promote (construct validity), freedom from biases, and a lack of both construct-irrelevant variance and construct underrepresentation.
  • The second is about the capacity to use the information and feedback from assessment processes to inform the learning process in ways that are optimal.
  • The third concerns the ways assessment is used as part of the learning and consolidation process. These include retrieval practice, the testing effect (in which weighing the pig really does make it heavier), and a consideration of forgetting as a natural and expected part of learning, but one that can be overcome by design and good use of assessment.

So that looks like three things, and my magic wand can only deliver one change. But I don’t think this is cheating, because all three depend on the same change: building the skill, understanding, expertise and experience of teachers in their use of assessment. Hence, my magic wand will create an infrastructure and culture that promotes and requires substantial, sustained and effective professional learning about assessment as a routine expectation for every teacher. From that, the rest follows.’

Read the full report

Find out more about CEM’s range of standardised assessments