Using formative assessment to support student resilience

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By Natasha Arain, CEM Assessment Lead, Cambridge Assessment, and Mark Frazer, Teaching and Learning Lead, CEM

Resilience (or the ability to ‘bounce back’) is a valuable trait that we often take for granted.

Researchers Cahill, Beadle, Farrelly, Forster, and Smith (2014) have found that there are many factors within resiliency. These include social competence and pro-social values, optimism, purpose, attachment to family and school, problem-solving skills, effective coping mechanisms, and positive self-image.

Most people recover from small disruptions relatively easily, however, the events of a year with unprecedented social and educational disruption may have had a considerable negative impact on our students.

(Re)building resilience

Recognising the signs and supporting their students to rebuild their confidence and resilience is a challenge many teachers currently face.

In the short-term, it is difficult to spot students who are struggling to keep up with the expected pace of study. Young people are generally quite good at ‘putting a brave face on’ and problems often only become apparent once it is too late. The symptoms of feeling overwhelmed and helpless are as varied as the potential causes.

Lacking a sense of resilience is a long-term problem that takes time and attention to address in a meaningful way.

Assessing academic performance alone is unlikely to be sufficient in the current circumstances. Understanding what your students’ emotional needs are and how they have been impacted is equally important. Teachers and school leaders need ways to quickly evaluate their students’ needs so that they can act to address potential issues before they become too deeply rooted and develop individualised strategies.

In the current situation, conducting a baseline assessment with students is a good way to start.

Evidence-based insight

A score in a baseline assessment will not provide the answer to the problem or explain what the problem is. It can, however, be used as a starting point of a conversation with a student to better understand what the broader issues are.

Identifying learners who are not performing in line with expectation is perhaps one of the most useful signposts to issues relating to wellbeing and resilience. Teachers generally know their students well and anomalies in performance tend to ring alarm bells.

This year, baseline assessments, such as those designed by Cambridge CEM, may help to provide an insight into how students have been impacted. Cambridge CEM has amassed a considerable amount of student-level assessment data over the past thirty years. This information allows us to understand students’ expectations relating to their attainment and progress. We hope that comparing this year’s data to our established benchmarks will help to expose potential issues at an early stage, allowing teachers to react quickly and decisively.

Assessments to underpin teacher observation

In a classroom setting, you may be able to spot resilience issues in body language or behaviour – but that behaviour can manifest itself in a variety of ways, and when you have a class of 20-30 students to teach, it can be very difficult to spend extended time with individuals. With remote teaching and learning, observations and interventions are even more difficult.

Assessment data can give you an extra pair of eyes.

Evaluating and addressing student learning in relation to expected progress is one priority, but this should not be our only focus – the wellbeing of young people is vital, too.


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