Assessment of pupils

Pupil assessment

Assessment is an integral part of the teaching and learning cycle and should be central to ongoing classroom practice.

It is ATLís opinion (and one which it shares with many experts in pedagogy, curriculum and assessment) that the assessment process should not govern what is taught. 

Different types of assessment

There are three key types of assessment.

  • Formative assessment records development in progress, rather than completed development. It is an ongoing part of classroom activity, it is cumulative and provides information which informs teachersí future planning. This forms part of ongoing teacher assessment in the class.
  • Summative assessment summarises completed learning. This type of assessment usually takes place at the end of a period of teaching, such as at the end of a topic, the end of a year or the end of a key stage.  Summative assessment statements may be compiled using information from formative assessments in addition to formal tests taken at given points within pupilsí school careers.
  • Assessment for learning, an extension of formative assessment, 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. It should be ongoing and part of effective learning and teaching. Assessment for learning uses assessment in the classroom to raise pupilsí achievement. It is based on the principle that pupils will improve most if they understand the aim of their learning, where they are in relation to this aim and how they can achieve the aim.

It is important that, having planned activities that will provide opportunities for learning, teachers are able to assess to what degree learning has actually occurred, before moving pupils on to the next stage in their understanding. 

The Assessment Reform Group (a voluntary group of researchers who work closely with teachers, teacher organisations and local education authority staff to advance understanding of the roles, purposes and impacts of assessment) have highlighted ten research-based principles of assessment for learning to guide classroom practice.

  1. It should be part of effective planning of teaching and learning
  2. It should focus on how students learn
  3. It should be recognised as central to classroom practice
  4. It should be regarded as a key professional skill for teachers
  5. It should be sensitive and constructive because any assessment has emotional impact
  6. It should foster motivation, by protecting the learnerís autonomy, provide some choice and constructive feedback and create opportunity for self-direction
  7. It should promote commitment to learning goals and a shared understanding of the criteria by which they are assessed
  8. It should provide learners with constructive guidance about how to improve
  9. It should develop learnersí capacity for self-assessment so that they can become reflective and self-managing
  10. It should recognise the full range of achievements of all learners. 

Further information about the Assessment Reform Group can be accessed through their website.

Why do teachers assess pupils' progress?

There are several reasons why teachers assess pupils' progress. Some of these  reasons include:

  • to find out about the pupils as individuals
  • to find out how pupils learn
  • to monitor and provide evidence of the progress pupils make in their learning
  • to enable constructive guidance about how pupils can improve
  • to inform future planning
  • to enable teachers to evaluate the provision they make
  • to enable focused communication with others, including the pupils themselves
  • to make schools accountable.

Assessing pupils

There are many different ways to assess pupils' progress, but if assessment is to be meaningful and informative it is important that practitioners consider the following:

  • identify clear learning objectives
  • choose a suitable activity to facilitate childrenís learning
  • articulate the assessment criteria to the pupils, as it is important that learners are aware of what is being assessed
  • decide who to assess, and who will be doing the assessment (eg teaching assistant, teacher, pupils)
  • decide how to assess (eg observation, discussion, working with a learner, looking at work in progress)
  • record the activity, including learning opportunities - consider how this will be done 
  • decide what evidence is required for the children to be able to demonstrate that learning has taken place
  • observe and record the key findings (photograph, tape recorder, annotated notes etc)
  • share the outcomes of the assessment with the children in a constructive way, so that targets can be set for future learning
  • note any individual needs for extension or reinforcement - this will inform future planning and differentiated activities
  • plan further action based on the assessment findings. 

Assessment evidence can be found through a range of sources, which may include:

  • teacher analyses of the work pupils have done
  • interviews and discussions with pupils
  • planned observations
  • listening
  • incidental observations
  • pupils' self-assessment of work
  • tests.

Records of pupilsí attainment can be used to support the day-to-day activities in the classroom, for instance:

  • to constructively inform and motivate the pupils
  • to inform the planning of future work
  • to inform the next teacher about pupils' progress
  • to help pupils know how well they are progressing, and help them, with teacher guidance, to set challenging targets for the future
  • to provide evidence-based information when reporting to parents
  • to inform headteachers and governing bodies about the work in the school
  • to enable judgements to be made about pupilsí levels in each attainment target at the end of each key stage
  • to be able to justify professional judgements to others
  • to enable standardisation of judgements within and across schools. 

To conclude, teacher assessment can be supported by fostering a classroom environment in which there is:

  • a curriculum which is designed to facilitate observation and recording, and is an integral part of planning for learning and teaching
  • a focus on how pupils learn
  • a clear understanding, by teachers and pupils, of what is being assessed and why it is being assessed
  • recognition that teacher assessment will offer important and valid information
  • an agreed style, format and frequency for assessment tasks
  • a constructive and supportive classroom environment that motivates the children to learn 
  • a climate of giving feedback that enables pupils to know how to improve
  • a sound knowledge of the requirements of the national curriculum, the Curriculum Guidance for Foundation Stage, National Literacy Strategy and the National Numeracy Strategy (Primary Strategy). 

ATL believes that it is vitally important that assessment promotes key learning skills. Rather than focussing on the gaining and repetition of  'know-what' knowledge, the emphasis needs to shift to pupils' demonstrating skills and understanding. Rather than memorising facts, it is more important that pupils learn and understand concepts within any subject which can then be applied in different contexts, enabling learners to identify essential links between different situations and therefore develop/deepen their understanding of a wide range of phenomena. Learners also need to understand the learning process itself, in order to build/develop the skills, understanding and desire needed for learning throughout their lives.