Assess with authority

7th November 1997 at 00:00
When teacher assessment was introduced, teachers were horrified. There were probably two reasons for this. First, some schools attempted to tack an assessment system on to existing classroom practice without realising that work had to be planned with assessment in mind. Second, some took the whole thing a bit too seriously - every teacher tried to assess everything and to provide supporting evidence for it all.

The first problem began to be solved when teachers started to plan with assessment in mind. The result was greater clarity, with lessons planned according to clearly defined "learning objectives". The process was helped immeasurably by the replacement of bite-sized statements of attainment by level descriptions. The notion of judging "best fit" within a level description did much to make classroom assessment manageable.

The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, now the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), has consistent ly urged a realistic approach to classroom assessment, and backed up its arguments with supportive documents.

The key concept promoted by QCA in its latest booklet, Teacher Assessment in Key Stage 2, is that "assessment should inform planning". If it doesn't,if the results of assessment are not clear enough to affect the teacher's decisions about what to do next, then the exercise is pointless. The 25-page document concludes: "Planning and assessment are integral to successful teaching. Planning identifies learning objectives, and assessment reveals how far children have acquired learning, which in turn determines future planning."

But teachers want more than this. They want to know what they are actually supposed to do. Does classroom assessment mean setting little tests? Or is it more a matter of "catching" evidence of attainment during the cut and thrust of ordinary lessons? There are organisational questions,too. For example, what is the division of responsibility between the assessment co-ordinator and the subject co-ordinators? What is the mechanism which picks up assessment data and feeds it into the planning process? It is these questions the booklet tries to answer.

It advocates a school policy that encompasses long, medium and short-term planning, within the framework of the statement of aims; assessment should inform planning at all three of these levels. But the individual teacher is probably most worried about immediate, day-to-day assessment. QCA therefore concentrates on showing how assessment can be brought to bear on short and medium-term planning.

This is done by using real classroom examples. There are four pages of samples of medium-term planning, each of which shows how broad headings can be taken from the long-term plans and broken down into learning objectives for the medium term. Section two of the booklet goes on to show how these medium-term learning objectives can in turn be broken down further into short-term plans. There are eight examples of lessons, across both age range and the curriculum, each of which has six key features: learning objectives; activity; assessment; evidence of attainment; recording; and next steps.

Assessment activities are provided in each case, together with an explanation of what constitutes evidence of attainment, and a note on how it could be recorded.

The examples are chosen to show that there is more than one approach to assessment. The lesson on cartwheels, for example, explains that assessment can be carried out by teacher observation; by the children working in pairs, discussing their progress and making judgments about what they need to do next; and by children commenting on their own and others' performance.

The evidence of attainment is shown by the extent to which each child has made progress, and is recorded by simple notes. The booklet continues with a page on marking which could form the core of any school's marking policy.

The final part of the booklet is about the management of assessment. This consists largely of a detailed table showing how the responsibility for assessment breaks down between head, assessment co-ordinator, subject co-ordinator, class teacher and governing body.

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