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Teaching & Learning: To Assess Or Not To Assess?

To assess or not to assess…that is the question


The summer testing season has arrived….everywhere across the nation children are sitting to assessments and tests. No different here at St Peter’s. A little ditty for all our pupils to remember and then some information for you parents about the testing system here at St Peter’s follows:

Tests don’t measure sports
Tests don’t measure Art
Tests don’t measure Music
Or the kindness in your heart.

Tests don’t see your beauty
Tests don’t know your worth,
Tests don’t see the reasons,
You were put upon this earth.

Tests don’t see your magic,
How you make others smile,
Tests don’t time how quickly,
You can run a mile.

Tests don’t hear your laughter,
Or see you’ve come this far,
Tests are just a tiny glimpse,
Of who you really are.

So sitting at your table
With a pencil and your test,
Remember tests aren’t who you are,
Our very own St Peter’s School Baccalaureate®  Assessment will assess you best!

St Peter’s Baccalaureate® began as a curriculum change project in 2010; looking at how we could develop and rejuvenate:

  • WHAT we taught.
  • WHEN we taught it.
  • HOW we taught it.
  • WHAT the pupils learnt.
  • WHEN they learnt it.
  • HOW they went about learning it.

We wanted staff to feel freedom in how they structured their curriculum, we wanted them to be excited by what they were delivering and feel trusted in designing a curriculum that showed their passion and skills; therefore enhancing your children’s learning journey. We wanted your children MORE involved with their learning and we wanted them to have a growth mindset that allowed them to think seriously BIG thoughts and work with endeavour to achieve those dreams. So we asked staff to ensure that every lesson demanded that children explored one of the three core learning skills of: curiosity; finding; and presenting.

Our St Peter’s School Baccalaureate®  developments happened to be VERY timely and we were already a few years along our learning skills developments when the much announced and advertised National Curriculum changes took place (last updated 2 December 2014). The 2014 National Curriculum gave us every learning objective required by government and (alongside the Early Years Framework), we had all the information we needed to begin to link these objectives to our pre-planned learning skills. We began to reflect, re-plan, perfect and wildly adapt our curriculum year on year – KNOWING that we had everything in the National Curriculum covered. As an independent school we are not bound by the National Curriculum and therefore we use the NC14 only as a base guide of coverage and have since built on this to enrich our curriculum to suit our pupils, (often finding we need to stretch and extend most of our pupils above the expectations of the NC14).

Around the same time (2014 – 2015), we were still successfully using National Curriculum SATs tests to track and assess the levels our pupils were working at. We could not believe that we had managed to do this alongside developing working on a really exciting curriculum development initiative. The two things married together well. The children sat on average 9 tests a year. Test results simply sat within the Baccalaureate Assessment grid to show how these test results lined up with the children’s learning skills. We had developed a highly effective system of tracking and target setting for the children and they were achieving increasingly impressive levels when tested. Parents, pupils and staff understood the information we reported about where their children were and where they were going next and things were smooth. Life with levels was really OK!

However, on the 25 February 2015 the Education Secretary, Nick Gibb launched a commission on ‘Assessment Without Levels’, headed by John McIntosh CBE, Headmaster of The London Oratory School for 29 years, and made up of various head teachers and researchers (but no serving teachers). A new era of assessment was beginning, this was quickly phrased as ‘Life without Levels’. These assessment levels had been in use in most schools since 1988, so there were a number of teachers who had never known anything else. At St Peter’s we knew that now was the time to make a significant movement on how we tested pupils. It was inevitable. The nation began to learn about changes to GCSE gradings, International-Bacc was increasing in popularity and educators were all looking for an innovative approach to assessment.

The academic team at St Peter’s pondered long and hard over ‘Life without Levels’. Our beloved ‘safe’ SATs tests were disappearing into the distance; we felt bound by assessment on one hand – seeing only snapshots of what the children were achieving – instead of assessing them as unique learners. BUT we also liked the ease of administering them and the high attaining results that SATs tests were giving us on the other hand.

The team researched (probably a little too hard) and could not decide which testing route to take. SO many products were launched and the market place became drenched in sub-standard products which offered much and delivered little. We temporarily moved towards a system whereby we described pupil outcomes with: emerging, expected and exceeding. It was a good initiative in a world without levels, but all staff felt that it could be too broad and that thresholds were set unequally across the year groups.

Then it suddenly dawned on us that in principle the St Peter’s School Baccalaureate®  Assessment grid of key learning skills actually superseded any of the testing, assessment and exam culture that we had previously built at St Peter’s. The 11+ and 13+ assessment procedures and, in particular, Common Entrance exams had lost favour within pockets of the independent sector and our Senior schools (on the whole) accepted St Peter’s School Baccalaureate®  results as our pupil’s entrance requirements. So in 2015, we started the process of reviewing all our assessment procedures. An innovative, inspirational curriculum is nothing if it is not underpinned with rigour and data that tracks and monitors every child. Where are they sitting in line with National Standards? Are there any factors limiting  their learning? Where are we taking them next? How should we best get there? Appointing our Assessment Coordinator, Dr Rowan Evans, was the pinnacle moment when the assessment cycle began to come together.

Whilst we were happy that our Baccalaureate Assessment Grid was allowing us to map each child’s progress in every area of learning throughout the year, we were also keen to have some way of assessing our pupils against these National Standards. So this academic year we have trialled GL Assessment tests. These have been designed to reflect the changes in the 2014 curriculum and are standardised on up to 35,000 pupils across the UK, ensuring that these assessments provide reliable and accurate profiles of groups and individuals against National Standards. These tests will therefore allow us to track each individual pupil’s progress through their time at St Peter’s. We have been very pleased with the information these have provided us and, therefore, we have decided that from September 2018 all pupils will be assessed on a yearly basis using these GL Assessments. Each child will sit Progress Tests in both Maths and English, yearly in June, and from Year 3 upwards they will also sit non verbal reasoning and verbal teasoning tests in October each year. The progress assessed by these tests will be reported to you at the end of each academic year.

Running alongside these formal assessments are subject specific tests, end-of-unit tests and quizzes which are planned into your child’s termly timetable to more informally gather information to inform on your child’s next steps. These are sat in your child’s normal classrooms and are conducted in a very low key and relaxed manner to avoid unnecessarily causing them to worry or feel stressed. Whilst these results are only used internally to inform teaching staff, the actual process of sitting these tests is a key step in preparing your children for the exams they will have to sit throughout their time in education and, as such, form an essential skill in their learning portfolio.

A table showing our new Assessment Timetable (2018 – 2019 onwards) can be seen below:

They say nothing in education ever stays the same.

We say that nothing in life ever stays the same.

We are committed to continuing our journey in all things education: teaching; learning; curriculum; assessment; testing and support. Never staying still. Always being proactive in change.

We endeavour to communicate in a number of ways what we have planned for your child to experience here at St Peter’s and hope you find the above information about how we assess your child useful. All procedures will begin to be embedded in September 2018. We will be holding workshops for parents to see the above assessment cycle in ‘the flesh’ and opportunities to talk with staff, tutors and ourselves to answer any questions. In the meantime, do not hesitate to contact us with any queries.

 

Year Group Assessment Month(s)
Nursery Development Matters Mich (Wk 1 & end), Lent (end), Trinity (end)
Reception GL Baseline Progress Test Mich (Wk 2), Trinity (Wk 6)
Reception Development Matters Mich (Wk 1 & end), Lent (end), Trinity (end)
Year 1 – 7 GL Progress in English and Maths Trinity Term (Wk 6)
Year 3 – 8 GL NVR / VR Tests Michaelmas (Early)
Other Assessment
Year 1 – 8 READING Mich (Wk 6), Lent (Wk 6)
Year 1 – 8 WRITING – (Y1-6 Roz Wilson)
WRITING – (Y7-8 IN HOUSE)
Mich (Wk 6), Lent (Wk 6)
Year 1 – 8 MATHS – (Y1-6 – Abacus)
MATHS – (Y7-8 – IN HOUSE)
Mich (Wk 6), Lent (Wk 6)
Year 6 – 8 BACCALAUREATE EXAMS Trinity (Wk 8)
Year 5 EXAMS in French and Science Trinity (Wk 8)