October 2018

The know zone

  • Data unbound
    ASCL's latest project is helping schools to extract deeper meaning from their data and do it in a much more timely fashion, says Duncan Baldwin. More
  • Focus on curriculum
    With so many schools having to find increasingly innovative ways of stretching their budgets, Julia Harnden says the key to their ability to manage their money well is by keeping the curriculum at the heart of their financial planning. More
  • Hand in hand
    Suzanne O'Farrell highlights some key pointers to ensure your curriculum and assessment are properly aligned. More
  • What lies beyond?
    Kevin Gilmartin explores the findings of a major House of Lords report on Treating Students Fairly that looks into the economics of post-school education. More
  • Dear newly qualified teacher...
    What is the one piece of advice you would give to encourage anyone about to embark on their first teaching role? Something to inspire and instil in them the same spark or passion of teaching that you share - here ASCL members share their views. More
  • Leaders' surgery
    Hotline advice expressed here, and in calls to us, is made in good faith to our members. Schools and colleges should always take formal HR or legal advice from their indemnified provider before acting. More
  • Superheroes*
    It's time to make job adverts for headship more realistic, down-to-earth and honest - to ensure that the candidates are, too, says Carl Smith. More
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Suzanne O’Farrell highlights some key pointers to ensure your curriculum and assessment are properly aligned.

Hand in hand

Designing a curriculum and assessment should go hand-in-hand, with assessment being seen as the process to establish what pupils do and don’t know in the curriculum. In practice it means teachers identifying what they want pupils to learn in a particular subject, what sequence of knowledge can best support this learning and how they will know to what extent pupils have learnt this new knowledge. Not everything that is taught can be assessed so assessment needs to focus on what really matters.

There’s a balance to be struck between summative and formative. Too-frequent summative assessments can end up exerting as much pressure on the curriculum as our old level system; teachers may end up prioritising activities that do not lead to long-term performance but to misleading short-term gains, for example. As Daisy Christodoulou says in her book, Making Good Progress? The future of assessment for learning, it is very hard to make genuine and significant progress on big domains in six to eight weeks. There is a danger that we end up assessing short-term performance rather than long-term retention and a danger that we prepare and drill pupils to pass particular tests without equipping them to transfer that performance to other tests.

There is also the risk that we focus on setting full frequent tests rather than developing pupils’ grasp of more specific knowledge and skills. When test scores become the objective, the value they can have as indicators is reduced. Summative assessments are effective in measuring progress against big domains and should be carried out infrequently.

Guaranteeing reliability

So how can you guarantee the reliability of your summative assessments? In addition to ensuring they are prepared for in the same way by all teachers and taken in the same conditions, you could also use commercial standardised tests to calibrate your thinking. These show how pupils’ progress compares to others of the same age nationally and can be useful at cohort level, showing in general how a year group is progressing.

The results from the standardised tests also help triangulate the results of a school’s annual or bi-annual summative assessments, for example. The drawback is that they don’t provide information that relates directly to the next steps a pupil needs to make.

If we want to see assessment as the ‘bridge between teaching and learning’, as Dylan Wiliam calls it, the priority should be on formative assessment that is structured around ensuring that pupils have mastered the essential building blocks of the curriculum and is not ‘retrofitted’ to any particular test structure.

We should be placing greater emphasis on formative assessment of the curriculum and trusting teachers to quickly assess understanding in lessons, then to tailor their teaching to close the gaps in pupils’ knowledge. In this way teachers’ insight would be much more effective in deciding which pupils need further support and it would reduce the reliance on flight paths and spreadsheets generated by frequent summative testing.

Assessment systems should be developed so that they serve and support the curriculum and so that teachers are able to track curriculum understanding, rather than the data. Curriculum progression models should clearly identify the concepts that teachers want pupils to understand and the individual building blocks of knowledge so that questions can be set that are closely tied to what is being studied. As pupils progress through a subject and master the smaller blocks, they will then be able to deal with larger tasks more effectively and, the assumption is, do better in the final exam.

In summary, assessment data from formative assessment should not be an end in itself but should be seen as an effective measure of pupil learning that supports better conclusions and more targeted actions in the classroom. Summative assessments aimed at capturing pupils’ longer-term learning should aim to cover breadth and depth so that teachers may draw valid inferences about pupil achievement.

Your CPD

Book your place at our curriculum-focused conference, Confident Curriculum Leadership: Creating and implementing an effective curriculum, on 4 October 2018 in Birmingham: www.ascl.org.uk/ConfidentCurriculum

Suzanne O’Farrell
ASCL Curriculum and Assessment Specialist