Assessing pupils progress – a contempory issue
The assessment of pupils’ progress has been modified somewhat since it was introduced by Black’s (1987) report with the National Curriculum Task Group on Assessment and Testing; which was set up as part of the preparations of what became the 1988 Education Reform Act. The act brought in the assessment arrangements for the end of the 4 key stages, at the ages of 7, 11, 14 and 16 respectively. It was decided that only the core subjects of the national curriculum should be assessed at the first key stage and ‘at subsequent key stages it should be in all the foundation subjects (the core subjects plus art, geography, history, music, physical education, technology, a modern foreign language at the last two stages, and Welsh in non-Welsh speaking schools in Wales) p.40. Kyriacou (2007) states, the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1989 were coupled with associated procedures for monitoring pupils’ progress involving the use of centrally produced tests. These tests then gave an indication of both pupils’ performance and that of the schools nationally.
The curriculum was then looked at again in 1993 by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority’s chairman Sir Ron Dearing, who was asked to ‘…review the curriculum with a view to ‘slimming down’ the curriculum, simplifying its assessment arrangements…’ p.45
The 1997 Education Act saw the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority replaced by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) which is still in place today. The assessment of learning at the end of KS 1,2 and 3 is now a combination of teacher assessments and end of key stage standardized national tests, SATs, although in 2009 the end of KS3 tests were abolished; and science at KS2 is only to being used in some pilot schools for 2010.
In 2005 the Labour Government’s Schools White Paper committed support for every child in giving them personalised teaching and learning; by putting children and their needs first, giving support to make good progress and leaving no child left behind in their education.
This report will look at the contemporary issues of Assessment for Learning (AfL) and its new partner; Assessing Pupils’ Progress (APP) and their use within the establishment (primary school) and how or whether it has impacted on the way assessment is carried out across the board.
Assessment is extremely important as it shows how pupils are progressing and carried out with thorough procedures can be of significant value to teachers and the pupils they teach. It checks that learning has taken place. There are many different methods of assessments these include; discussions, questionnaires, exams, presentations, role play, observations, written work, practical work and questioning.
Using assessments can help teachers and learners reflect on their practice and how their learners are learning. Assessment helps teachers decide how they teach, using different teaching methods to ensure that all learners are proactive. Cowley (2004) stated that good assessment would help the teacher monitor the learners’ progress and plan for future teaching and learning.
Assessment encourages learners’ motivation and they can receive feedback (both teacher and peer) on their progress. Teachers’ can use a range of assessment methods to check pupils’ progress.
Obviously assessment does not come easily, teachers’ workload can be increased greatly; both when carrying out the assessments and then having to mark them. There can be unnecessary pressure put on to the learners’, and sometimes when assessing a learner it depends how they are feeling at the point of assessment on how well they do.
In 2006 the new Primary National Strategy for literacy and mathematics gave two main purposes of assessment, summative assessment of learning and formative assessment for learning; which the new framework aimed to cover. This strategy gave teachers guidance on aspects of assessment for learning which was linked directly with guidance on planning and gave a broader and stronger pedagogic approach.
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Assessment for Learning (AfL) Strategy
According to the Assessment Reform Group (2002), ‘Assessment for learning is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there’. AfL has been used for a number of years and has given teachers’ ways in which themselves and pupils can use assessment activities to gain a clearer understanding of the learning that has taken place to date and how pupils’ future learning can best progress (Gardner, 2006).
AfL is closely linked to the government’s Every Child Matters (2004) where every child should be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution and achieve social and economical well-being; and personalised learning, both ethos’ have featured heavily within a range of DCSF policies throughout the last decade.
The aims of the AfL strategy are clear; they should encompass every child, teacher, school and parent/carer so that every child knows how they are doing. Every teacher is able to make judgments on pupils’ attainment, progress and how to forward plan when pupils are not fulfilling their potential. Every school should have well placed structured and regular assessments and tracking strategies in place and every parent and carer should know how their child is progressing and when they need to improve; they can help support their child and the teacher.
The benefits of AfL is its powerful way of raising pupils’ achievement, if pupils’ understand how they learn, where they have gaps in their learning and how they can close these gaps then it will have a positive effect on every child. According to the government, good assessment for learning makes: accurate, fair, reliable, useful, and focused continuity enabling schools to ensure learning is taking place. Therefore teachers, schools and parents and carers all need to know where their children are now, where they need to be and what they are required to do to get there.
The four elements for AfL then are objectives, questioning, oral and written feedback and self and peer assessment. The objectives are met by using questioning in order to check learners’ have achieved objectives, peer and self assessment helps learners to recognise what successful work looks like and the teacher shows good oral feedback so that learners’ develop their own skills in this area, giving them time to reflect on their learning and taking ownership of their work.
Assessing Pupils Progress – What is APP?
Assessing Pupils Progress, otherwise known as APP was originally piloted by 104 schools in twelve local authorities using, initially, Key Stage 2, as a new structured approach to teacher assessment for making judgments on pupils reading, writing and mathematics. Developed by the QCA in conjunction with the National Strategies, beginning in autumn 2006 with recommendations reported in 2008/09.
It has since been adopted as the way to formally assess pupils within schools throughout the country, to help teachers assess their pupils as more of a forensic approach, to run alongside Assessment for learning (AfL). According to the QCA it helps teachers to fine-tune their understanding of learners’ needs and to tailor their planning and teaching accordingly. The QCA has provided APP materials for teachers to implement the approach and with these guidelines teachers are able to establish where pupils are within the National Curriculum levels. Hence one Year 5 teacher stated, ‘APP has helped me to become more aware of the assessment opportunities that exist and more secure in assessing pupils’ levels of attainment’.
When APP was introduced there were measures given to schools to help implement the system and possible early models were advised showing the benefits and more importantly their limitations of use. For example, one option was to identify a whole school sample, for instance all pupils previously assessed at a particular level, the benefits of this would be a clear focus, initially small scale and therefore manageable, however this would not be implemented with a whole class and other levels may not be covered. The affective use of APP was also shown to provide information for tracking pupils’ progress in detail, identifying barriers to achievement and to ensure expectations were linked to the national strategies.
The APP materials for teachers to use include a handbook to help implement the approach, give guidelines for assessing pupils’ work, providing a simple format for recording the assessment criteria and focuses for assessment within the specific subject. There are also standard files which hold pupils’ work, which have been annotated, so that teachers become consistent in their judgments regarding national curriculum levels, these files show different levels of attainment. Assessment Focus (AF) grids are provided to show how focuses are used, for example in reading assessment AF3 shows that the pupil should be able to ‘deduce, infer or interpret information, events or ideas from texts’.
In using APP it was hoped that teachers’ would become more informed on how their learners’ are progressing and that they would have a collection of assessment skills in order to make good judgments in the classroom. According to the AfL and APP time line teachers in KS2 should be starting to use the APP process so they can make periodic assessments of all children by autumn 2009.
The time line for the implementation of APP started in summer 2008 when school and subject leadership were expected to do a self – evaluation of AfL and APP in readiness of its implementation and to see what level of support was required. This then moved to them receiving training in the use of APP by autumn 2008 and to have developed the process of standardisation in school with a medium term continuing professional development (CPD) plan to ensure that whole school development of AfL and APP where in place and that teachers would begin to use the APP materials.
By spring 2009, teachers in KS2 should start using the APP process and others were making effective use of the Primary Framework and assessment information to improve their planning for progression; in autumn 2009 it was expected that KS2 teachers were using the APP process to make periodic assessments for all children.
APP assessments were more likely to have accuracy when a range of evidence is collected by teachers from each child that has been chosen, both written and oral evidence would benefit the process and periodic review of their work should be collected and only those with significant evidence need be used.
The use and impact of AfL and APP within the setting
AfL has been used since it was first introduced and the school has now taken the APP approach on board since the autumn term 2009 as a new approach to assessing. The schools assessment policy is undergoing change at the present time so as to incorporate the new assessment strategies.
Derbyshire County Council provided important support training for head teachers in 2008 showing a power point presentation which included making links within AfL and APP, showing APP in action within numeracy and literacy and ending with a review and appropriate action planning. This session provided guidance and advice about implementing APP and to support an understanding of APP. At this point the APP strategy was highly recommended but not statutory.
The training included the progress agenda of APP, showing the progression targets as 2 levels progress, the making good progress pilot scheme, AfL using APP criteria, progression tutoring and single level testing. It also applied the strengthening for formative assessment, focussing on each learner’s learning, accelerated rates of achievement (focusing especially on those at risk of underachieving) and helping to clarify the learning journey.
The National Strategies framework data where shown to help with ideas of how to produce a standards file. An excellent example for Ma2 Number at levels 3 and 4 showed how the use of different colour highlighters for each term were used showing when a specific level was low, secure or high and annotated in the areas where it was felt there was either more work to be done or how far they were off attaining the level.
In the school it has enhanced teachers’ understanding of asking whether the learning objectives they ask of the children are relevant to them, do they understand what they are supposed to achieve by the end of the lesson and is it in child friendly language? There has to be meaningful dialogue between the teacher and learner with regard to the learning objective otherwise the learner will disengage and not be able to progress with what they are supposed to learn, this has been monitored throughout the setting.
The assessment focuses that were discussed were reading, writing, using and applying, number, shape, space and measures; and handling data. The National Strategies AF grid was introduced and this lead to the school producing accessible levels for reading, writing and numeracy from level 1to level 5, so teachers could refer to each with a view to linking the levels and assessment requirements as applicable.
The APP process started in earnest in autumn 2009; when samples of learners (6) were chosen from each year group. Each term teachers review the full range of evidence (written, spoken and observed) for each assessment focus. They select the appropriate level boundary and arrive at judgments using the assessment guidelines sheet; they annotate examples of learners work as reference points and benchmarks. After doing this in-school standardisation and moderation is carried out with colleagues. The implications of APP within the school have helped with the professional development of teachers; it has had an impact on subject knowledge, the curriculum and pedagogy, it has given teachers the ability to feedback to learners and their parents/carers so that they can see where they have progressed or how they need to progress further. It has helped teachers to make good judgments regarding their learners and how to ensure that they progress within the curriculum overall, it has helped them to differentiate learners’ progress so they can tailor lessons appropriately.
APP has enabled better monitoring of classroom activities and homework in year 6; as the learners are asked to assess whether they have understood the lesson at the end by making a comment in their exercise books, the teacher can then assess whether the learner feels they have made progress, if not the work is gone through again, if necessary with a one to one or in small groups. With homework the learner is asked to work unaided and if they have difficulty with any questioning then they should leave it blank and it will be covered again when the whole class mark their homework together. This enables peer to peer assessment and encourages positive feedback whether problems arise or not. The use of an evaluation triangle helps learners’ self evaluate and is also used as a peer evaluation tool as well, this is used in writing where there are 5 evaluations: is it easy to read and set out in paragraphs, is the handwriting joined and legible, is there good use of vocabulary and connectives, is it easy to understand and does it flow, finally is it finished. The learner then decides whether they need one side of the triangle (no), two sides (mostly) or three sides (everything done), this is both a visual and kinaesthetic approach to assessing their work.
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Most of the teachers have been using the APP approach for assessing learners since autumn 2009; but they all have different views, some find it easier to incorporate within their teaching styles; others have found that they have had to adapt the way in which they teach in order to fit the APP strategy in. However, most teachers feel they have become more adept at judging where their learners are and how they can help them improve their progress in line with the Primary National Strategy; especially as they are learning to do this together rather than on their own, collaborative moderation helps enormously.
As part of the implementation of APP, Derbyshire County Council have asked the school for information on reviewing the leadership and management of change (APP focus) and reviewing learning and teaching in lessons (AfL focus) for both pupils and teachers. This information is set out in four columns with the following headings; focusing, developing, establishing and enhancing, the head teacher and the assistant head established the statements that the school, pupils and teachers were secure in and highlighted them appropriately and duly returned them. Some of these included:
* Most teaching staff (including teaching assistants) understand the APP process, i.e. how it fits in with planning and everyday teaching and its potential to track children’s progress identify specific areas of underachievement and inform targeted intervention.
* Parents and carers are informed as to pupils’ progress.
* Pupils are confident to take risks by sharing partially formed thinking or constructively challenging others
* Pupils value talk for learning and consciously use it to advance their thinking
* Lessons are planned to learning objectives with some relevant tasks and success criteria as appropriate
* There are opportunities for structured whole-class, and supported group/paired discussion
One of the KS1 teachers’ had already been using APP in their previous school and has been able to use APP without hesitation and has incorporated this for all of their class. This shows that as Sue Hackman (2009), Chief Adviser on School Standards, points out APP is a straightforward approach to making secure judgments about the standard of pupils’ work and what they need to do next. Hackman (2009) also states in the Making Good Progress, a Teachers TV programme that the government is getting what they want if all the schools children are making good progress. By using APP she also thinks that it is the hallmark of schools that make good progress.
The school has been able to give parent and carers invaluable advice regarding their children’s progress and parents and carers, in return have been able to give their children support with any subjects they maybe falling behind with. Termly information leaflets are sent out to each child by their teachers stating what their class will be learning in that particular term, this enables the parents and carers to have an informed insight into the specific projects that their children are engaging with at any specific time within the school year.
In the year six class APP is an effective support for the transition and transfer to secondary school and this is shared with parents and carers at their child’s parents evening, giving the targets set by the pupils themselves to help them move forward to their chosen secondary schools, with which there is a close liaison to ensure they are well informed about what recent progress they have made and the next steps they are expected to make to move forward in their learning. This helps the continuity of the learners’ progression and to continue the high levels of expectation both from the learner and their parents and carers.
Care needs to be taken when using APP with children from underperforming groups such as English as an additional language (EAL) as the profiles of these learners are more likely to be uneven and therefore the range of evidence should be much wider in order to make a periodic assessment.
Evaluation and Conclusion
APP is in its infancy within the school; however those teachers who have been using it as a method of assessment have done so with an open mind. Most of the assessment methods were in place within AfL and the personalised learning ethos of the school was in place already, so therefore it should not be too difficult for the rest of the staff to undertake the APP approach.
As long as all staff including teaching assistants are included in the training for this inspiring way of assessing pupils’ progress then there should be a smooth transition for the next step when external moderation takes place. The biggest advantage of APP is it uses the national strategies which are already in place, the pilot schools have trialled the approaches with success and found that APP is all that is required to make good assessment judgments, as one KS 2 teacher states; ‘Don’t give up – once you are used to the process the benefits for pedagogy and practice are clear’.
AfL and APP are inextricably linked to personalised learning whereby a teacher has a secure knowledge of each learners’ progress and therefore can accurately tailor their teaching methods to each learner and their individual needs, this is happening in the school where the learning process is being monitored by the APP assessments of the day to day teaching. Therefore it has to be said that it is strengthening the periodic aspect of assessment and then the learners’ receive formal recognition of their achievements within the class and as a whole school when certificates and merits are given out in assemblies.
The consequences of assessment in general have to be; that assessment is an extremely important part of teaching and learning. It can be carried out informally and formally using a variety of methods but depends on the type of learner. The data it produces is used for evaluation of teaching and learning and all members of staff should have the appropriate training and understanding of how the data is used and their roles and responsibilities in teaching and assessing their learners.
Pupils then should be able to know their learning objectives and what their success criteria looks like, they are able to take ownership of their learning and can also help their peers to succeed.
Parents and carers must be kept informed by evaluative reports and parents evenings which provide them with the information about their child’s progress and the next steps they need to take whether into the next class or even the next school.
The essence of assessment then is that it is an integral part of preparation, planning and teaching with a good measured quantity of enthusiasm, so everyone knows where they are, where they need to be and how they are going to get there.
Cowley, S. (2004) A-Z of Teaching, London: Continuum International Publishing Group.
DCSP (2009) Getting to Grips with Assessing Pupils’ Progress, Nottingham: DCSF Publications.
DCSF (2008) The Assessment for Learning Strategy, Nottingham: DCSF Publications.
DfES (2006) Primary National Strategy Primary Framework for literacy and mathematics, Crown copyright.
Gardner, J. (ed.) (2006) Assessment and Learning, London: Sage.
Kyriacou, C. (2007 3rd Edition) Essential Teaching Skills, Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes.
Mackinnon, D & Statham J, (2004) Education in the UK Facts & Figures 3rd Edition, London: Hodder & Stoughton in association with the Open University.
QCA, (2008) Assessing pupils’ progress Assessment at the heart of learning, QCA/08/3867.
Teachers TV, (2010) Making Good Progress Pilots, on line video, accessed 10 March 2010, http://www.teachers.tv/video/32881
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