How useful is your assessment data? Does it focus on supporting teaching and promoting learning or the tracking and monitoring of progress? What has the most impact on the teachers and pupils?
The quality of the assessment data can be a problem for many schools. The levels mindset has been hard to shift as leaders have been so used to collecting aggregated data, including grades and levels with its various subdivisions, that they have simply continued with the practice in its many forms.
Understandably, school leaders want to know whether their pupils are making progress. “Have the pupils in class X made one year’s progress (or hopefully more) from one year’s teaching?” The problem is they are so used to a single grade, number or letter to base any answer to this question on.
A new and interesting way of thinking is to start by tipping the whole process on its head. So rather than focusing on the data you already have, consider the outcomes you would like to see from your assessment data. Then work backwards to understand how you might gather the data you need. It might also help to ask classroom teachers to make decisions about assessment systems rather than leaving it to the school leaders.
Data can provide useful pointers or signposts that help to not only identify gaps in learning but also improve teaching and learning. Here are some simple questions that a teacher may have which accurate assessment data can answer:
1. What have I taught my pupils that they still don’t know or can’t do?
When teachers have spent time teaching their class a particular skill, it can be demoralising to realise just how little pupils know or can actually remember during an assessment. In many classrooms, a grade or level is entered into a computer and the teacher has to then move on.
We need to move our thinking away from the quantity of curriculum coverage and more towards securing the necessary knowledge, skills and understanding. It’s the basis on which future learning can be built. We also need to move away from aggregated data to data that reveals where there are any gaps in learning. Quality assessment during as well as at the end of a particular lesson or topic is invaluable in identifying these gaps. So much of the detail is in the analysis which can help to form the planning for the next lesson or two.
2. What am I about to teach my pupils that they already know?
Without effective data, it is difficult for teachers to remember what has already been taught and learnt successfully from term to term. Duplication in learning can switch pupils off. It can also be difficult for teachers to cover another class during the absence of a colleague, as they don't know at what stage the pupils are in their learning.
Schools need to look at ways of assessing pupils and storing data that not only easily identifies gaps in learning but highlights exactly what has been taught before duplication takes place. Teachers can then move pupils on according to their individual pace of learning and those covering other classes can pick up where the usual teacher has left off.
3. What do I teach well and where can I improve?
Teachers need to feel confident and to take professional responsibility to self reflect on their teaching in order to improve. Ditching the pressure of external lesson grading is one answer; allowing teachers to take responsibility without judgement. By reflecting on their own teaching, teachers can analyse how to make improvements better than during lesson observations. Looking at the analysis of their latest pupil assessments helps them to become adept at spotting patterns and trends. Teachers can then understand where they may need to look at a different way of teaching a particular topic and open a dialogue with a colleague who appears to have taught it much better.
4. Did I miss a step or go too fast at one point and not take the pupils with me?
The conclusions that can be drawn out from data about what our pupils do and don’t know, or can and can’t do, and what we do and don’t teach well are more valid and useful than ever before.
Assessment needs to sit at the pivotal point between teaching and learning; collecting the right kind of data in the easiest way is key to achieving this goal.
You can read more from me regarding my views and opinions on education right here on the InfoMentor blog. You can also find out more about InfoMentor - a teaching and learning resource that has been specifically designed to make life easier for schools by tackling workload for the modern teacher. You can download white papers, view case studies and request a demo.