However, summative data gained from statutory and optional tests is
often used within schools as a means of tracking the progress of children,
teaching standards and school performance. Critics have highlighted the dangers
of over-reliance on test-based summative assessment. Lambert & Lines (2000)
suggest that summative assessment in the
form of exams or tests is only an abstraction of what the pupil
knows, understands or can do. In response to concerns regarding the
over-reliance on summative assessment data, there has been much research into
the benefits of using formative assessment in the classroom.
Formative assessment is often referred to as ‘assessment for learning’ and is linked to the
concept of divergence (Torrance & Pryor, 1998), whereby the purpose of
assessment is to determine what a
child knows, understands or can do. It is conducted on an ongoing basis through
strategies such as questioning, observation, self and peer assessment and
marking. McCallum (2000), states that in formative assessment, both the teacher
and the pupil make judgements about a pupils work against specified learning
objectives. The purpose of this is to discover what a child knows (including
any errors and misconceptions) and use this information to make decisions
regarding the strategies required to move a child’s learning forward, i.e. to
influence planning on an ongoing basis.
There is a wealth of research into the benefits of using formative
assessment to inform teaching and improve learning. Black & Wiliam (1998)
suggest that there has been a significant shift from assessment as restricted
forms of tests that are only weakly linked to the learning experience, toward a
greater interaction between assessment and classroom learning. They go on to
suggest that formative assessment, with the embedded concept of feedback, is
the key factor in the promotion of learning. However, in response to this,
Sebatane (1998) is
keen to point out that assessment per se is not the only factor in
the promotion of learning and that effective
use of assessment procedures is essential. The GTC (2009) agrees that there
is clear evidence that formative assessment is effective for improving pupil
learning, however, a teacher’s ability to transform the assessment into new and
effective practice and to positively affect students’ learning and attainment
is vital. The implication for the classroom teacher is that with assessment
strategies being used for such a wide range of purposes, to be effective it is
essential that the purpose of assessment is clearly defined.
Mitchell & Koshy (1993) believe that it is important to see
assessment as cyclical in nature; although summative assessment is often
conducted at the end of a learning phase, this information will be used to
influence the planning at the start of a subsequent phase of learning.
Likewise, formative assessments made in a particular lesson should influence
subsequent planning of related lessons.
The research has many implications for the classroom practitioner
and in the following section of this discussion I will relate my experiences of
conducting and using assessment in Science and Numeracy during my SE2 placement
at X Primary. As the balance of my practice was formative assessment, my
discussion will concentrate mainly on this area.
X Primary is an average-sized, one form entry primary school with
253 pupils. The pupils come from diverse social and economic backgrounds and
proportion of pupils with SEN is broadly in line with the national
picture. The majority of pupils are from White British backgrounds and
therefore very few pupils speak English as an additional language (Ofsted
2006). My SE2 practice was based in Year 6 during the build-up to the SATS
As Black & Wiliam (1998) point out, in normal classroom work the
effectiveness of formative feedback will depend upon several detailed features
of its quality, and not on its mere existence or absence. As a student teacher,
this has a number of implications for my block practice. It is not satisfactory
to simply conduct assessment: this assessment has to be effectively defined,
planned, conducted and used if it is to be of any benefit to the learning
Research indicates that there is no one formative assessment
strategy that can be recommended for use in any situation. Pollard & Bourne
(1994) suggest that the assessment procedure implemented should be based on the
purpose for which it is being undertaken and this will mean employing different
assessment techniques for different purposes. For example, different assessment
strategies will be more effective with certain subjects and certain age groups.
As my SE2 placement was in Year 6 during the build-up to the SATS tests, much
of the teaching was geared to revision for these tests. Often, as a result, the
lesson objectives were not to develop children’s understanding further but to
give them practice of answering SATS questions. Much of the teaching was in
one-off revision lessons on a variety of topics. This did not lend itself to
assessment to plan for progression. However, where possible I did
implement assessment for learning strategies and use these to influence
planning of subsequent lessons.
strategies provided the most valuable evidence in Science and Numeracy?
Ofsted (2003) indicate that assessment in Science is most effective
when used to stimulate pupils to think through scientific ideas and not just
check recall of factual information. During SE2, I aimed to use a broad range
of questioning techniques to ascertain the level of pupils understanding of
scientific ideas and found questioning to be an extremely useful tool for
assessing the depth of understanding of a topic. For example, when teaching a
lesson on adaptation (appendix 1.1), I used progressive open questioning to
ascertain not only if a child could identify the adaptation, but also if they
understood how the animal used the adaptation and why it had developed (e.g.
environmental survival, to catch prey, to avoid predators). I found that the
children’s verbal responses went into far more detail than their limited
written responses and allowed me to assess more accurately a child’s
understanding (appendix 1.2). Often, I would pose a question to a group then
allow them to discuss their theories. This was beneficial as observation of
this discussion helped me to highlight and address misconceptions. I used this
opportunity to make a note of the responses of my focus group as evidence for
summative assessment when required (see
appendix 1.3). Another reason why questioning and observational
strategies were beneficial in Science was the fact that most of the written
work was conducted in groups. Therefore, assessments based on written work
would have been difficult as it would be hard to judge which children had
influenced the responses.
In Numeracy I found that marking written work was the most valuable
assessment strategy. When detailed working out was shown, it enabled the
assessment of many variables – for example, do children understand the key
vocabulary in the question? Have they correctly identified the operation to
use? Can they perform the method correctly? Have they completed the second step
of a two-step problem? However, the effectiveness of assessing via marking
written work was limited if there was a lack of working out displayed by the
child. For example, when marking work on word problems, a child may have
written a correct answer but with no working out, therefore, from marking
alone, I would have been unable to determine if the child had used an
appropriate or efficient method to calculate the answer, or if they had just
copied another child’s work.
Similarly, a child may have written an incorrect answer with no
working out, but from marking alone I would have been unable to determine at
what stage in the process of solving the word problem the error occurred. As a
result, it was necessary to observe my focus group at work, examining their
work at intervals during the lesson thus identifying and addressing
misconceptions and errors when they were being made rather than at the end of
How did you judge whether
children had demonstrated achievement?
In order to measure achievement, you must be clear about what you
are assessing. Pollard et al (2005)
comment that, when planning a lesson, it is essential that the desired outcomes
are clearly stated so that, when interacting with pupils and marking their work
a clear criteria for success (with respect to lesson objectives) is borne in
mind. Alongside this, it is necessary to determine the most effective and
practical way to conduct this assessment.
During both Science and Numeracy lessons, I planned clear and
succinct objectives and success criteria which were displayed and referenced
throughout the lesson. It is essential that children are made aware of the
lesson objectives (WALT – we are learning to…) and also the steps they need to
take to demonstrate that they have achieved them (WILF – what I’m looking
for…). As Leakey (2001) indicates, this sharing of objectives is essential as
it gives the children an understanding of what is being assessed and ownership
of their own learning. During the lesson, I used a combination of techniques
including open questioning, observation, marking, group presentations of
findings (in Science), and self and peer assessment (although less so in
Science and Numeracy than other subjects) to determine whether children had
fulfilled the required criteria. I found that using focussed assessment
criteria concentrated the children on the important aspects of the learning process
and aided me in giving succinct and
relevant feedback. As Harrison et
al (2001) suggest, referring back to the learning objective makes marking a
more manageable task and intrinsically more worthwhile.
How did you record assessment data?
Evans (2001) questions that however worthwhile assessment may be,
the biggest challenge in a real class of children is how an assessment can be
done under the prevailing circumstances and time. He goes on to suggest that
the key to this issue is good organisation. Taking this into account, I used
pre-prepared assessment record sheets for Science (appendix 2) and Numeracy
(appendix 3) which clearly stated the objectives and pupils being assessed.
This provided a useful reference during the lesson. Alongside this, I included
some pre- determined prompt questions on my lesson plan. I recorded
observations and pupil responses during the lesson although this was sometimes
challenging when managing a class of 30 Year 6 children single-handedly. When
appropriate, I added to the comments made during the lesson when marking
children’s written work. When an LSA was available to support the children
during a lesson, I would ask them to give verbal feedback on particular
children to compliment my own assessment. My assessments were then available to
be used for planning subsequent lessons and to aid summative assessment at a
later date, (e.g. to identify objectives met on the criterion scale for the
Sandwell Tracker). Evans (2001) highlights the importance of using technology
assessment, for example, audio recording a group discussion. I
believe that this would have been particularly useful during grouped science
work as it would provide a record that could be analysed, following the lesson
to glean useful assessment data.
How did you amend subsequent lesson plans in light of your
As suggested earlier, formative assessment is assessment for learning and therefore must be used
to inform both teacher and pupil. It helps to highlight any errors and
misconceptions children hold during and following lessons. Where possible, it
is useful to address these problems immediately, one to one, as a group or as a
mini plenary for the whole class.
This information can also be used to inform subsequent planning. For
example, during the initial lesson (appendix 4.1) of a six lesson block on
solving word problems in Numeracy, I conducted formative assessment through
observation and marking written work (appendix 4.2). As a result, I identified
four key areas where children were making mistakes (misinterpreting the
question, choosing the wrong operation, forgetting to convert units, not
checking final calculations).
Using this information, I adapted my planning for the subsequent
lesson to address these errors (appendix 3). I continued this process through
the entire six lesson block and as a result the misconceptions were addressed
and errors decreased.
In Science, during my observation of group work on adaptation I
identified that children were confusing adaptations of animals with animal
features. To address this misconception, I showed a number of short video clips
during the introduction of a subsequent lesson which helped to explain
adaptation. As a result, the answers in the second lesson were of a much higher
What practical challenges did the process of assessment
Lambert & Lines (2000), point out that implementation of such
assessment practices is demanding. During SE2, one of the major challenges I
faced was balancing assessment with the other classroom practices required,
such as behaviour management and addressing the needs of other pupils outside
of the assessment focus group. This was particularly challenging as in the
majority of lessons I had no adult support in the classroom. I often found
myself unable to dedicate the time I would have liked to my focus group due to
other more pressing matters. The unpredictable nature of the school environment
also created problems regarding the LSA. A number of times I had planned an LSA
into a lesson only to find that they were required elsewhere and unavailable to
me. I therefore had to adapt my lesson on the spot and, as a result, my
assessment opportunities suffered.
McCallum (2000) suggests that national tests and preparation for
these often diverts teachers from practising formative assessment. My
experience in Year 6 in the build-up to the SATS correlates with this, as often
the sequence and focus of lessons made it difficult to use the formative
assessments I had made to plan for progression within a topic, e.g. in Science
where the 5 lessons I taught were taken from 3 separate and unrelated topics,
but also in Numeracy where the main focus of the majority of lessons was
answering practice SATS questions on the area being studied rather than
developing a broader understanding of the subject matter.
As mentioned previously, the group orientated nature of many of my
science lessons meant I could not rely on written feedback which was presented
as a group. This encouraged me to be less reliant on written work and to
develop a wider range of assessment strategies – as Qualter (2001) points out,
it is often appropriate to assess using observation and discussion in science.
It is important that such formative assessments are recorded for future
summative assessment purposes as it is difficult to infer whether a particular
child has met an objective from group written work.
Time constraints presented challenges in formative assessment.
Ofsted (2003) suggests that marking and feedback to pupils is most beneficial
when it gives pupils prompt and detailed information which they act upon to
improve. However, the challenges of marking 30 children’s written work in
detail prior to the following
lesson, whilst balancing all other requirements, was difficult. This
is of particular relevance in Year 6 where children’s written work can be of
substantial quantity. Ofsted (2003) acknowledge that teachers are aware of the
benefits of giving detailed formative feedback through marking but are often
unable to find the time to do so. Time constraints were also an issue with
regard to revising lesson plans for the subsequent morning on the basis of
formative assessment gained during the day.
A prescriptive curriculum created a further challenge in the use of
formative assessment. Once a problem or misconception had been identified,
addressing this misconception in a subsequent lesson meant that there would be
less time to deliver future objectives. For example, when teaching a one-off
lesson on converting measures it was apparent that many children found this
However, only one lesson had been designated to this
topic by the class teacher so it was difficult to address the misconceptions in
sufficient detail outside of that lesson.
Logistical challenges were also apparent; for example, by choosing a
focus group with children from a spread of attainment ranges, the children are
often seated in different areas of the classroom (in attainment groups) which
made it difficult to assess each child in detail. A further logistical
challenge was that certain children within the focus group for Science were
absent on a regular
basis making it very difficult to plan for, and assess, the impact
of teaching on that child.
Lindsay & Clarke (2001), comment on the importance of self and
peer assessment. They suggest that this form of assessment gives teachers a
valuable oblique insight into a child’s own understanding of the skills and
knowledge being assessed. It also encourages children to become more reflective
regarding their own learning. During SE2, I implemented self and peer
assessment but the children were unused to using such strategies. This reduced
their effectiveness until the children became familiar with the procedure.
What are the implications for your
future practice on SE3 and beyond?
During SE2, I gained a valuable insight into the benefits and
challenges of using formative assessment. As the course progresses, I am
becoming very much aware of the interaction between the different elements of
teaching. For example, using formative assessment will enable to me to plan
more personalised learning. This in turn will actively engage children in
learning which will result in fewer lower-level behaviour problems thus
allowing me to dedicate more time to conduct formative assessment during the
lesson etc. SE2 has helped me identify areas I need to address for my own
Class management will become less demanding on my time as I gain
experience in this area and this will allow me to concentrate more on formative
assessment during lessons.
On SE3 I expect to be able to plan for progression in much more
detail as the context of my teaching will not be the build-up to SATS (i.e. I
will be teaching series of lessons rather than one-off revision lessons.)
My use of assessment strategies such as higher order questioning and
my use of formative data to influence subsequent planning were highlighted as
strengths in my observations. However, I am aware that I need to develop a
broader range of assessment strategies including much more use of self and peer
For example, I could introduce ‘steps to success’ for each series of
lessons which children will glue into their book at the start of the sequence
and traffic light their progress.
Marking work effectively and efficiently is a skill, and with
experience I expect to refine my practice in this area, for example, by using
the plenary for peer-marking or marking the work of one group with them during
Managing the workload outside of teaching lessons was difficult on
SE2 as I had to plan each individual lesson from scratch (the school did not
provide any planning). Working from weekly plans and being able to access
will enable me to spend more time analysing learning and enable me
to use my formative assessment to greater effect.
On SE3, it will be more practical to assess a specific attainment
group each lesson. Although it is important to recognise the misconceptions
across the attainment range in a class, it is not practical to assess each
attainment group in such detail every lesson.
Black, P. and Wiliam, D., 1998. Assessment and
Assessment in Education:
Principles, Policy & Practice, 5(1), pp.7-74.
Evans, N., 2001. Thoughts on
assessment and marking. Primary Science
Review, May/June 01, pp. 24-26.
GTC. 2009. Assessment for Learning: Putting it into
practice. Online General Teaching Council for England. Available at: http://www.gtce.org.uk/teachers/rft/afl_prac0904/ Accessed 28 March 2009.
C., Drozdowskij, J. and Westhead, K., 2001. Formative assessment in primary
classrooms. Primary Science Review,
May/June 01, pp. 19-22.
Lambert, D. and Lines, D.
(2000) Understanding Assessment:
Purposes, Perceptions, Practice, London: Routledge Falmer.
A., 2001. Fantastic Feedback. Primary
Science Review, May/June 01, pp. 22-23.
C. and Clarke, S., 2001. Enhancing primary science through self- and paired-
assessment. Primary Science Review,
May/June 01, pp. 15-18.
McCallum, B. (2000) Formative Assessment – Implications for
classroom practice. Institute of Education.
Mitchell, C. and Koshy, V. (1993) Effective Teacher Assessment, London: Hodder & Stoughton.
Ofsted (2006) X Primary Inspection Report, London:
Good assessment practice in Science, London: HMSO.
A., Collins, J., Maddock, M., Simco, N., Swaffield, S., Warin, J. and Warwick,
P. (eds.) (2005) Reflective Teaching,
A., Collins, J., Simco, N., Swaffield, S., Warin, J. and Warwick, P. (eds.)
(2002) Reflective Teaching, London:
A. and Bourne, J. (1994) Teaching and
Learning in the Primary School, London: Routledge.
A., 2001. Assessment in primary science. Primary
Science Review, May/June 01, pp. 5-8.