When considering what is important in assessment and why, we should also consider what is most important for our students in our education system and why. Assessment is pivotal in our education system because it directly and indirectly informs what we teach, how we teach and how we measure our children’s attainment and progress. How and what we assess sends out the message to all in our society of what type of learning we actually value. If our assessment system, for example, is focussed heavily on the acquisition and retention of knowledge, this will have a significant influence on the Curriculum Offer in schools and inform the dominant pedagogies for teaching.
So what is important in assessment? To answer this, we need to define what we want for our students and then work backwards. For the students in the schools that I lead, I want them to develop as independent, creative, empowered and critical thinkers with a love of learning and a thirst for knowledge. I need to develop an assessment system in my school that enables me to both understand where our students are in relation to these skills, and crucially, what the next steps are for these students in their learning journey. I would argue that the Early Years Foundation Stage is where we are doing this most effectively in primary schools.
Alongside the recognition of the importance of assessing children’s skills, we can also assess their acquisition of knowledge within a broad and balanced curriculum. One which develops our students’ personal, social and emotional skills as well as academic as they become lifelong learners. Returning to our ‘why’, let us define the knowledge and skills that our students will need in the decades to come? And then work backwards. I would argue that formative assessment is more important than summative assessment, and requires greater skill. We have developed an assessment system based on the measurement of that which is easily measured – scores in written tests. For example, written responses in tests are valued more highly than oral presentations – the curriculum then offers less opportunities for Oracy and Dialogic Teaching, with a greater emphasis towards direct instruction (not that there is anything wrong with direct instruction – it is more to do with the balance of teaching strategies in our classrooms).
My expertise is in my knowledge of teacher professional learning. As a school, we are aware that the greatest single factor that impacts on the quality of our children’s learning experiences in school is the quality of teaching they receive. Therefore, the greatest responsibility of school leaders (beyond safeguarding) is to lead the professional learning of the staff team. By enabling them to develop their understanding of effective assessment for learning, dialogic teaching and metacognition, we develop reflective practitioners who are engaging in a continuing ongoing cycle of assessment that enables their students to develop both the knowledge and skills that they will need to be successful as adults.