Forward thinking: formative assessment throughout the year

Being able to monitor progression throughout pupils’ academic career is essential in ensuring that all gaps in learning are addressed, but I’ve often been asked ‘how can schools achieve this without being overwhelmed by tests?’

Assessment is an integral part of school life. Regular, reliable assessments are crucial in developing a clear picture of pupil development and individual needs. Summative and end-of-year testing is perfect for measuring a pupil’s trajectory from the beginning of the year to the close of summer term. On the other hand, ‘light-touch’ formative assessments can complement these formal tests, identifying any weaknesses to be addressed during the year.

Not only that, but assessment is pivotal in informing teachers of how they can adapt their classroom practices so that pupils can master the subject at hand. It allows them to keep track of their pupils’ strengths and weaknesses. Essentially, assessment is just as much about establishing what pupils don’t know, as what they do.

Light-touch formative assessments can take many forms. The best example I’ve found is that just by having a conversation with members of the class, teachers can discover something about their pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills. Finding a way to record these discussions can help to demonstrate academic development just as well as test scores and assignment marks.

Recording where pupils have expressed difficulty in a particular subject is useful for both the current teacher - who can look to immediately support that pupil - and future teachers who need to see the gaps in learning they need to address. Using statements, where pupils can make a positive claim about their skills and what they have learned is an excellent confidence booster, and can alert teachers to groups in the class who require further help.

Another method of assessing work that has become more popular in the digital age is taking photos of pupils’ classwork and sharing these observations as appropriate. Whenever a teacher needs to make a progress report for an individual or group of pupils, all it takes is a few clicks to find the relevant piece of work in a folder, rather than the tedious task of rifling through numerous exercise books! Tablets and other devices can also facilitate this.

I have found that most schools already encourage peer assessment, which helps to demonstrate what good work looks like. The difficulty lies where pupils will not want to upset or offend their classmates with poor marks. The solution is moving this into an anonymous, digital format. This way, work can be re-distributed faster and the worry of criticism is removed.

In short, formative assessment helps teachers stay in tune with their pupils’ individual needs. Formal testing is a useful form of assessment for both teachers and Ofsted to keep track of pupil progress over the course of the whole year, but on a day-to-day basis, a light-touch approach complements traditional assessment methods to give the staff, and the pupils, what they need to shine.

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By Chris Smith, Head of Education Services, EES for Schools