Assessment is a fiendishly complex topic. It’s also a vital component of teaching and learning. Many schools therefore sensibly choose to codify their approach in a policy document. However, in my experience those documents can become long and impenetrable, which undermines their purpose. So, having seen oodles of examples over the past decade, here are my top tips for writing an assessment policy that sets your school up for success.
1. Know your audience
I would suggest that the most important purpose of a school assessment policy is to communicate a school’s expectations around assessment to teachers. So a good policy should achieve this goal in clear, actionable language. There are other audiences of course: parents, Ofsted, and so on, but if you write for them primarily you’ll spend ages explaining your logic and not enough time telling teachers what to do.
2. Start by defining the actions you expect to arise from assessments
It’s amazing how many policies don’t explain what will be done with assessment data! There is very little point gathering data if you don’t use it to identify gaps and weaknesses, and then (crucially) allow time for reteaching of priority areas. Equally, when you aggregate data for senior leaders, think about why you do that, and whether it adds value to the school. Assessment isn’t about creating an abstract archive of performance; it’s about providing high quality information to those who need it to improve educational outcomes.
3. Cover formative, summative and national assessments separately
Formative and summative assessments are different things, and not everyone understands (or agrees on) the difference. What’s more, primary tracking systems have in the past unhelpfully elided the two by encouraging teachers to make thousands of teacher-assessed ‘formative’ judgments and used them to calculate a magical ‘summative’ grade. So explain what these concepts do and don’t mean to you, and set out your plans in each area.
4. Give actionable examples of the formative assessment you want to see
I’ve seen tons of policies that say “formative assessment is really important”, without elaborating further. That doesn’t help a teacher embed formative assessment in their class, so say what you mean: Do you like short quizzes? Is there a difference between the strategies you like to see used daily, versus those employed at the end of a unit? Do you want teachers to employ retrieval practice? If so, should this involve spaced repetition, with questions repeated at intervals after learning takes place? When should a teacher use multiple choice questions and when is free-text quizzing more appropriate? Is there a role for mini whiteboards? Of course, you may not want to be too prescriptive, but without any exemplification then you leave space for unintentional misinterpretation.
5. Make sure summative assessments align with your curriculum
Lots of schools now use standardised assessments every term to track attainment in a national context. That has real value, but it gets undermined if you’re using an autumn assessment, for example, that tests topics you haven’t covered yet! Popular curriculum providers such as White Rose Maths and Mathematics Mastery now standardise their termly assessments (working with Smartgrade), so it may be easier than you think to get your summative assessments and your curriculum in sync.
6. Do less!
Schools used to gather assessment data half-termly; now termly seems more common. But even that may be overkill. Perhaps you could pick just two points in the year? Indeed, I’ve come across schools and MATs that are now collecting summative data just once per year, and focusing on more structured formative assessment the rest of the time. So fewer higher quality assessments that get analysed properly may hold more value than a treadmill of more regular assessments.
7. Let technology be your friend
Systems like No More Marking help schools to assess writing reliably. Online platforms like Carousel Learning and Learning by Questions offer flexible quizzing and retrieval practice. And you don’t necessarily need a device in every classroom to make the most of technology – at Carousel for example, we allow you to create whiteboard quizzes from high quality question banks so that you can quiz in a quick, low-tech way.
8. Listen to the experts
Dataproof Your School by Jamie Pembroke and Richard Selfridge is an excellent and comprehensive guide to using school data intelligently. Making Good Progress? by Daisy Christodoulou is a fantastic resource for understanding formative and summative assessment good practice, and Retrieval Practice: Primaries by Kate Jones contains some great formative assessment strategies.
Joshua Perry is the co-founder of two assessment platforms: Smartgrade and Carousel Learning. Previously he oversaw systems and data for a large MAT.