Not wither formal assessments but whither?

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In the 1st May edition of the TES Jack Marwood conducted an insightful consideration of the developments in learner assessments since the mid-1990's. The article chimed with discussions that we have been having with teachers across the region.

The conversation usually begins with an air of incomprehension about the structures or labels that will be used to measure progress and attainment: no more levels, so its every primary school for itself (we have counted five different approaches, and growing); questions about how much faith will secondary schools place in the data that they get when pupils transition to them; and bemused wonderings about the 0 to 9 number scale for new GCSEs. From there the conversations can take one or all of the following three routes.

Firstly, how assessments are conducted. Everyone, it seems has meltdown stories that involve tearful children, and/or parents, and/or staff. Being assessed means competition and judgement in one form or another, and everybody knows it. Teaching is a caring profession and many teachers seem to experience painful emotions that come from putting young (sometimes very young) people through a process that has implications for the child, the teacher and the school. It's not pretty to see a highly anxious child and know that you are part of the process that is putting them under that strain. That knowledge leads to the second question: why are the assessments taking place?

Morewood's article focuses on the role of assessments in judging the progress of learners and, perhaps, it would be more tolerable system for many students and their teachers if that was the sole purpose, but it isn't. The allocation of funding to vulnerable groups demands tracking of the impact comes from the interventions put in place. Performance related pay and appraisal is dependent on the evidence generated by different forms of assessment. External bodies such as Ofsted demand data to secure judgments and triangulate with other evidence. Many parents want something that they regard as concrete in answer the enquiries about how their child is doing in school. Assessments have always had more than one purpose but, it seems to many professionals that we talk with, the rationale is particularly muddled at present and that confusion expresses itself in the third theme of assessment conversations: when does assessment happen?

The TES article is largely centred on SATs and the arrival in September of assessments for year 2 pupils. Morewood notes the possible prospect of retakes in year 7, something that older staff recall from earlier days. With different sets of data likely to be submitted by primary schools and the GCSEs having moved back to being summative grading, the likelihood is that years 7 to 11 are going to include more assessments, more rigorously conducted and more frequently undertaken. 

Assessment, in one form or another, is not going to wither away. The question would seem to be then, whither is it going?

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