The best assessment for learning strategies in primary schools

Assessment in primary schools is a much discussed topic, and it captures the interest of the entire community from regulators to school leaders, from teachers to parents and pupils. How should schools assess children? What are the parameters against which to measure performance? How often must teachers assess performance? What are the best assessment methods, and how do these impact children’s progress and wellbeing? And finally, how can assessment improve performance?

The challenge lies in trying to formulate a fair and consistent assessment practice while at the same time safeguarding young pupils from the pressure that some tests may bring. The other thing to consider is how much time should teachers dedicate to assessing, which is to be calculated in proportion to the time teachers need to be spending in the classroom and planning lessons.

In preparation for the SATs tests, primary students undergo a series of assessments that measure their gradual progress in given subject areas.

Standard practices in UK primary schools generally vary between a mixture of formative and summative assessments, but there are a wide range of options available to schools and there is a certain degree of autonomy available.

The pros and cons of primary school assessment

While assessment can empower learning strategies and outcomes, tests and examinations can take a great toll on children undergoing them.

Parents and teachers alike have shown concern over the academic anxiety experienced by pupils.

As adults, we can imagine that wanting to do well in school work is a common desire in most children, yet we must also consider how the added pressure posed by regulatory demands and society, to a certain extent, can lead to an overwhelming amount of stress.

Formal testing in primary schools can lead to both children and staff experiencing anxiety

A study conducted by the Institute of Education at UCL found that the majority of primary headteachers in England view Key Stage 2 SATs as having a largely negative impact on the staff and pupils in their schools. As part of the study, a survey was run among 288 headteachers, and 83% of respondents reported being concerned primarily about the negative impact that SATs had on children’s mental health and wellbeing.

There were also serious concerns about the effect formal exams had on staff, with 99% of the headteachers agreeing that ‘SATs put pressure on teachers’, and 92% saying that ‘SATs have a negative impact on teachers’ wellbeing’.

If we consider the research findings and all the malaise that tests like SATs may bring, it is understandable that schools would not want to rely on such systems too often if they are going to safeguard children and teachers’ wellbeing. Yet, there’s an argument for test assessments being fairer and more manageable in terms of how scoring is guided and organised.

This year, to add to the already challenging situation, schools are also having to deal with the pandemic.

For schools in England and Wales, the primary statutory assessments were suspended during 2020 due to the various lockdowns. Yet many questions remain around how and when primary tests should resume, given that COVID19 may continue to affect the population and cause disruption to children’s schooling in both the short to medium term.

Of course, in normal times and when KS testing is efficiently used, it can be seen as a benchmark for pupils and schools, and it can help demonstrate pupil progress against a specific curriculum.

One way of reducing stress, at least for teachers, is to use an effective technology system that will allow them to speed up the process when assessments and examinations resume. At the same time, other methods and types of assessment in primary schools can continue.

Formative assessment in primary schools

While summative assessment results are based on grading students on classroom assignments or determining the effectiveness of specific learning programs and ultimately measuring a school’s overall progress at the end of a given time period, formative assessments aim to deliver information throughout the educational process.

Many school professionals see formative assessment as a more flexible and dynamic process that involves pupils at different levels without impacting mental health.

On the other side, it is often argued that standardising formative assessment presents more difficulties because it is not based on tests and grades.

Formative assessment, also known as assessment for learning in primary schools, allows students to be assessed while learning is happening rather than at the end of a test.

This method of assessment can be conducted through a variety of strategies.

Some schools use targeted questioning, or recap of starter activities or peer assessment for promoting reflection through comparison and the sharing of knowledge.

A key benefit of this style of assessment is that, in evaluating students’ comprehension levels and learning needs, teachers can amend and tailor their teaching approach accordingly. They can identify gaps and conditions for additional supports in certain areas for individuals or groups of students.

Again, technology can help record each activity result and detect pupils who may need extra assistance and attention.

The importance of primary assessment for devising learning strategies in primary schools

So why is primary school assessment important for designing effective learning strategies?

Despite the different arguments that may favour the summative or formative approach, assessment in primary schools is a vital task to help draw a picture of a child’s academic progress over time. It also helps to inform curriculum and lesson planning.

Assessment results can offer guidance on whether lessons are being well received, whether students are interested in the topics being taught, and whether there might be ways of teaching a particular subject better. They offer insights into which teaching methods and activities are more successful and which subjects require more attention and time so that teachers can better plan their timetable.

How can technology help?

Bromcom offers a powerful and easy-to-use assessment tool called the Primary Tracker. This has been designed specifically for meeting the needs of primary schools.

The Primary Tracker supports both Summative and Formative assessment.

It includes mark sheets that are designed to be clear, uncluttered, and easy to manipulate and customise for teachers.

Results recorded within the mark sheets can be automatically exported as school or pupil reports, then uploaded to the parent portal for easy review.

The MIS is able to run detailed analytics to showcase and track students’ performance against their age-related expectations and curriculum demands. Teachers can use the information gained to identify problems or groups of pupils who may be falling behind.

Timely analysis lends itself to timely intervention, which is crucial to prevent issues in learning from escalating.

Moreover, through the same platform, teachers can detect the source of a possible problem or negative performance result by tracking behaviour and attendance patterns. They can then export any record or report and share it with parents through our integrated communication tools.

Bromcom’s Primary Tracker also offers an option to filter by dynamic pupil groups. These groups can automatically add or remove students to their cohort following rules pre-set rules defined by teachers. For example, I might want to create a Maths catch-up group which checks assessment results and automatically adds or removes pupils when they dip below a certain level.

The mark sheets contained in the MIS have a set of features to make data input as quick and simple as possible. All data available in the sheets can be customised and quickly exported for review meetings.

While we recognise that there might be no perfect or best system of assessment, be the preference for summative or formative, at Bromcom, we want to empower school’s assessment and learning strategies with an intuitive technology that always evolves to adapt to new methodologies and new teachers’ needs.

In fact, our cloud-based MIS can do so much more to help organise all your school’s data, including managing finances and supporting school improvement in many different ways.

You can find more detailed information and explore all our tools on our website. And if you’d like to know more about us, just drop us a line or call us, we are always happy to help.

24 February 2021 / Liza Adebisi



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