Thanks to Camilla Erskine for this article.
What are the benefits of regularly checking children’s attainment?
The main purpose of checking attainment is to see how children are doing in relation to what has been taught and using the information from that process to inform teaching. Assessment plays a key role in monitoring attainment in this way and this article illustrates its use for both summative and formative purposes.
Teachers will have a good sense of how each child is performing from their day-to-day teaching, but summative assessment can provide independent evidence of attainment to school leaders, parents and the children themselves. The information from such assessment can also challenge assumptions and preconceptions and offer more nuanced information about how a child is doing, potentially highlighting ‘blind spots’ or gaps in knowledge.
How can attainment be checked?
Regular attainment checks throughout the year, for example at the end of a unit of work or on a half-termly basis, can be carried out using a range of assessment resources. These can include tests and tasks created within the school or published materials. The main advantage of using assessments developed by teachers is that they are written specifically to reflect what has been taught over the period for which attainment is being monitored. This approach, however, is time consuming and is not something that everyone feels confident in doing, or has the experience to do effectively.
Alternatively, there is a wide range of published assessment resources for schools to choose from depending on their needs. For instance, many schemes come with comprehensive teaching, learning and assessment materials. Standalone tests and assessment tasks are also available, which may offer teachers more flexibility and are generally more affordable. An example are the tests and tasks published by Rising Stars, which are designed specifically to assess learning throughout the entire primary phase in relation to the National Curriculum for English, mathematics, science and computing. Additionally, most published resources have the advantage of including mark schemes and assessment guidance, which both simplifies marking and helps ensure it is consistent and reliable.
What are the benefits for teaching?
Checking attainment regularly can reveal misconceptions in children’s understanding and help pinpoint where further teaching is needed. Recognising such misconceptions can challenge teaching because it might mean an alternative approach is needed to get to the root of them. In this way, attainment checks can be a valuable way for teachers to reflect on their own understanding of the curriculum and different ways in which it can be communicated to children. Where appropriate, such reflections can then be used to make adjustments to lesson plans for the next half term or topic.
Regular attainment checks can also help to identify those children who need extra support or intervention. Additionally, they can be used to monitor the effectiveness of intervention, particularly if a topic-focused test or task is used to look at specific content areas or skills.
What are the benefits for learning?
For children, a key advantage of attainment checks is that they can see what they have achieved so far in the year and what they are working towards. It also shows where they are doing well and where there is room for improvement. Children can share outcomes with parents too, which helps to give them a sense of ownership of their learning. Parents can also become more involved in their child’s learning through understanding more closely what they know and can do, and where there are gaps.
What are the wider benefits for the school?
Headline information from attainment checks can be shared with governors as evidence of whole-school strengths and weaknesses, feeding into discussions about teaching and learning strategies. It could be used to support requests for additional resources or professional development as well as to highlight achievements to be celebrated in end-of-term events. Such information can also demonstrate to Ofsted ways in which the school uses assessment information to inform teaching and learning practices to ensure that all children make good progress.
Find out more about half-termly Progress Tests.
By Camilla Erskine, Consultant Publisher specialising in education and assessment