The context and potential significance of Assessing Pupil Progress are much wider than the introduction of procedures for standardisation and accountability. Below are some ideas for how you could maximise the impact of introducing APP to your school

To assist APP, the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) is developing files of pupils’ work that exemplify standards across key stage 3 national curriculum subjects, using the new programmes of study. Files of individual pupils’ work at levels 3 to 8, containing a wide range of evidence and annotations, are being published on the web.

There is a risk that APP will be reduced to bureaucratic and technical arrangements. How can we try to make sure changes to assessment processes enhance the quality of teaching and learning? Always we have to remind ourselves that weighing a pig doesn’t make it heavier.

There are these issues to attend to:

  • What do we want alterations to our assessment arrangements to achieve?
  • How can moderation processes contribute to teaching and learning?
  • How can time be found for productive moderation?

What do we want alterations to our assessment arrangements to achieve?
The Assessment for Learning Strategy (DCSF, 2008), of which APP is a part, sets out objectives for better assessment in schools:

  • Every child knows how they are doing, and understands what they need to do to improve.
  • Every teacher is equipped to make well-founded judgements about learners’ attainment and how to plan to improve it.
  • Every school has systems for making regular, useful, manageable and accurate assessments.
  • Every parent knows how their child is doing, what they need to do to improve, and how they can support the child and their teachers.

The initial emphasis on learners’ metacognitive understanding helps school leaders, curriculum managers and teachers get their priorities right. Enabling learners to understand what they do well and how to develop further takes teaching beyond the transmission of subject content. It means creating conditions which guide and support pupils in learning how to learn.

The evidence of Paul Black’s and Dylan Wiliam’s seminal research review (1998) is that learning outcomes are dramatically enhanced when learners understand what they are trying to achieve and play an active part in deciding how to do it. So we can guard against taking initiative and responsibility away from learners. It is vital that teachers’ judgements, school systems and parents’ support do not undermine learners’ development of autonomy and community. This is consistent with the Every Child Matters agenda (2003).

It takes shared and energetic commitment to prevent adults’ actions from robbing learners of their role in deciding and using assessment criteria and judgements. While attending to validity and reliability of formal assessments and data analyses, we have to be determined to modify and enrich what happens in lessons.

How can moderation processes contribute to teaching and learning?
We can concentrate on making assessment and moderation inform teaching and learning, and so raise, rather than merely classify, standards. It is productive and motivating to use assessment and moderation to explore teaching methods and understand how best to promote effective learning. The one does not have to exclude or diminish the other.

Assessment is formative when learners play a part in defining and using criteria, for example, in self and peer assessment (see Blanchard, 2009). In moderation meetings the focus can be on enabling colleagues to share insights about teaching and learning. These are the steps to take:

  1. A teacher shows (or, if there is no writing or product or recording, talks about) an example of a pupil’s work, and explains its background.
  2. Group members put questions to the presenting teacher for clarification.
  3. Colleagues discuss the pupil’s achievement, using their
  4. own notions of progress and achievement as well as level or grade criteria, without assigning a level or grade.
  5. Colleagues seek consensus on a level/grade, and the presenting teacher compares her/his own provisional judgement with what colleagues think.
  6. The group decides whether to include the example with its level/grade in a portfolio of assessed work.
  7. The group explores next steps in learning and implications for teaching.
  8. The group summarises what they have been learning about:
  • how they teach
  • how pupils learn
  • how they assess and record progress
  • what the team/school does well, and how to develop further.

From time to time, say, annually, the following questions can inform team building and effectiveness through the reviewing and development of assessment and moderation:

1. Who leads assessment developments for your subject team/s?

a. Do they have recognised responsibility and time for that?b. Is there a system which enables subject team assessment coordinators to share experience and inform whole-school work?

c. If arrangements are not in place, what can be done to develop them?

2. Are coaching and mentoring a vital means of developing teaching, learning and assessment in your subject team/s?

a. What shared/paired planning is there?b. What peer observation of lessons is there?c. What shared/paired assessments are made?

d. If these are not in place, how can they be begun?

3. How well does/do your subject team/s moderate assessments of pupils’ work?

a. What are the benefits so far of moderation activities?
b. How can the quality of your moderation activities be reported for accountability purposes, and developed?

How can time be found for productive moderation?
A calendar of quality assurance and development activities for each teaching team and the whole school can be used to guarantee an educational emphasis, rather than mere accountability. Dates or frequency, responsibilities and outcomes can be agreed and published along these lines:

Timing Activity Leader Outcome
  Shared planning   Units of work shown
on the intranet
  Paired observation   Professional development;

enhanced accountability

  Shared marking   Shared expertise and
development; consistency
  Collecting pupils’ perceptions; enabling them to inform developments   Pupils’ feeling involved; better focused development work
  Moderation   Shared expertise

and development;
standardisation

  Team reviewing   Consolidated strengths;

and planning commitment to agreed
developments

  Individual colleagues’ performance management   Job satisfaction;

motivation to develop

  Senior leadership   Confident self evaluation
review of the team and direction for the future

References

  • Black, P. and Wiliam, D. (1998) ‘Assessment and Classroom Learning’ Assessment In Education, 5,1:7-74.
  • Blanchard, J. (2009) Teaching, Learning and Assessment. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
  • DfES [Department for Education and Skills] (2003) Every Child Matters: Change for Children. London: DfES – [email protected]

Sources of information

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2010

About the author: Dr John Blanchard is an independent consultant: contact him via [email protected]

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