Assessment in primary school is a way to develop a clear picture of a child’s progress over time and is viewed as an integral part of teaching and learning. Each classroom teacher is responsible for the continuous assessment of progress and achievement within their class and are trained to use a variety of assessment methods. However, a written or oral assessment which generates a grade seems to be considered more valuable than any other type of assessment.
There are four main reasons for assessment outlined in the Primary School Curriculum (1999): formative, summative, evaluative and diagnostic. With these in mind, teachers use two main forms of assessment: Assessment for Learning (AfL) and Assessment of Learning (AoL). AfL takes place when the teacher shares information about the child’s learning with the child and uses this information to inform future planning in a way that can most benefit that child. This happens all day, every day. AoL, on the other hand, is used to provide a summary of what the student has achieved, usually occurring at the end of a unit of work, or at the end of an academic year.
Assessment for Learning
AfL helps teachers to consider three key ideas with respect to their learning: Where they are now, where they need to be and how they will get there. The role of the child, in this case, is vital.
Self or peer assessment: Marking ladders, mind-maps, success criteria are some the many forms of self-assessment used by teachers which make children more aware of their learning objectives and encourage them to reflect on their achievements so far, identifying personal targets which are relevant and meaningful for them. Through these activities, children develop higher level thinking skills, applicable to academic life as well as life outside of the classroom. In taking responsibility for their learning, children become more confident and secure knowing that making mistakes is an important part of the learning process and is not viewed as a failure.
Conferencing: Meetings between the teacher and child, co-teachers and parents. In a classroom which values the perspective of the children in it, pupils are given an opportunity to understand more about themselves as learners. This, in turn, encourages them to make informed decisions about their learning, making the most of their strengths and identifying difficulties. Meetings between teachers can help them to work more coherently as a team, develop common standards and reflect on ideas for revising classroom practice which is most beneficial to the children. Conferencing with parents can highlight personal interests of a child as well as any worries of confusion that may not have been noticed by one or the other parties.
Questioning: Teachers are trained to ask questions in a variety of ways and for different reasons. The most obvious, of course, is to gauge understanding or to guide to a more detailed response. This not only encourages that child to clarify their answer but often stimulates a response or further discussion from a peer. Children also use questions to help them to learn, directing them at teachers and peers. Using questioning as an assessment method allows the teacher to model good questioning and encourages the same in the children that they teach.
Observations and classwork: Observations and results of planned activities are a valuable form of assessment as they provide a wealth of information produced in a more relaxed, informal environment. It is entirely possible for a teacher to assess a child’s understanding even during a pair or group task, without the child being aware of it. It also provides the teacher with an opportunity to assess a child’s social development by the way that they are able, or unable, to work collaboratively as part of a team. This is undoubtedly a life skill that some children struggle to develop and part of a teacher’s role is to identify such problems and to facilitate learning opportunities to overcome them.
These daily demonstrations of AfL between the teacher and each child do not generate a grade but are fundamental in terms of teaching and learning. They provide the teacher with the information they need to select curriculum objectives, identify and adjust teaching methodologies, design effective learning activities with suitable resources and differentiate learning.
Assessment of Learning
In contrast, AoL generally involves assessing a child’s learning at the end of a given period, such as the end of a unit of work, a week, a term, or a year. In this case, the teacher leads the assessment.
Children are given written or oral assessments, some of which include the need to memorise facts and reproduce in the way that we expect and a grade is often the only feedback the child receives. While these results can useful to the teacher for planning and writing reports or as starting point for their next teacher, they are often of limited value to the child. The children who have a natural aptitude for tests or those with a good capacity for retaining information thrive on hearing that they’ve got another A+ and delight in the thought of their parents being proud of them. That small percentage of the class are highly motivated, particularly in comparison to the children who struggle to convey their thoughts effectively or get so nervous that they just can’t think or just don’t feel well on that day and receive a grade that labels them a failure. Those children are left heart-broken by the thought that even though they tried their best, it wasn’t good enough. They become discouraged and indifferent, switching off during teacher input and continuing the cycle into the next phase of assessment. It’s difficult to see how integral this can be in developing a positive, inclusive environment in which all children are aware of their targets and how to reach them.
Assessment is used by teachers to address the needs of the children in their class and to plan future teaching and learning accordingly. AfL employs a plethora of techniques that are centered around the child and guide the teacher towards these objectives. Perhaps it’s time that more value was placed on this type of assessment rather than a grading system that doesn’t seem quite as useful in comparison.
Samantha teaches the English curriculum in the Primary School Department. She is an avid reader and also enjoys visiting new places and sharing experiences with friends and family.