A Guide To Reviewing Your Subject Assessment Strategy

Getting your department's assessment plan right is crucial to the success of your students, teaching team and, ultimately, the performance of the whole school.

As teachers, we rely on accurate, timely data to help us decide where to refocus our plans for teaching, and where we can provide extra support to improve performance. The summer term provides an excellent opportunity to review your assessment strategy in time for the new year.

When you review your assessment plan, you might want to consider the following questions:

  • What is the key purpose of each assessment?
  • Should they be formative or summative?
  • Can you make sure each assessment opportunity becomes a learning tool for the students, not just a measurement?
  • What resources do you need?
  • What action will you take following data collection?
  • Is your good assessment practice clearly celebrated?
  • Are there any that would be better as informal where the data is not centrally collected?
  • Are there any challenges to getting your team onboard?

In addition to this blog post, to help you with your reviews, we’ve put together a set of resources you can download and use with your teachers, subject leaders and yourself. This includes presentations you can adapt for a CPD session, an Assessment Review Checklist and other resources that can help you to design a successful student assessment strategy:

Download Your Assessment Strategy Resource Pack

Purposeful Assessment

Working within the framework provided by your school, make sure your assessment plan has a purpose that also fits your needs. Make this explicit in your plans and communication with your team.

Right from the start of KS3 you can make sure that assessments are always purposeful. You can do this by:

  • Effectively setting expectations for students sitting assessments
  • Learning how to use a criteria
  • Learning how to revise / prepare for the assessment
  • Highlighting and understanding command words
  • Learning how to Peer Assess properly
  • Using mark schemes
  • Using DIRT (Dedicated Improvement & Reflection Time) to improve a specific question/s

Once these early skills have been developed, the purpose can then be directed more towards actions and interventions to support specific, underachieving groups or skill areas after the assessment.

Formative vs. Summative

In our opinion, all assessments should have a formative aspect to them. In trying to create lifelong learners, we should be encouraging students to reflect on what they have done and always see there is an opportunity to improve. Teachers should also be able to reflect on the marks to inform their planning.

After every formal assessment in the Long Term Plan for your department, build in a lesson to reteach a topic or skill area where students performed poorly. When marking, get your teachers to highlight specific questions that you want students to redo. Agree on what can be given as a reward for all students that make an improvement. These don’t have to be big, just a stamp in their books, an exit pass or a reward that is given in your school.

If you’re thinking of ways you can make your formal assessments more formative, download our 5 Big Ideas for Making Assessments Formative which is included in our Assessment Strategy Pack.

To embed it properly in to your departments, use it as a starting point for discussions with your team and pick one everyone really wants to embed across the department. To cater for different teaching styles, encourage a second one that each teacher wants to try too and get feedback on how it has gone in a following meeting.

Writing & Tracking Assessment

Decide what past papers you’ll use for all your mocks and include this in your assessment plan. This will make sure that teachers don’t accidentally give out the paper as revision practice that you were planning to use for a mock.

If you want to use End of Topic Tests, make sure you set up a criteria for how they should be written. Our handy guide might help to ensure the End of Topic Tests are reflective of the final assessment.

All the assessment data needs to be collected and displayed in a way that allows it to be useful to your teachers, students and team leaders. This can take a significant amount of time and is where we can really make a difference for you. Our tracking system has a free 6 week trial with trackers for all exam boards and courses already built for you.

Any data tracking you use should:

  • How the assessment fits in to the course
  • The strengths & weaknesses of each student & the class as a whole
  • Use all relevant assessments to give an accurate Working At Grade exactly as the exam board would
  • Colour code students that are working above, on or below their target grade
  • Provide students with all the relevant data in a report so they can act on it
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If you want to review how a department is tracking their data, download the Example of Effective Data Tracking to use as a discussion point.

Using Data

There is never enough time in teaching, so it’s important to focus on the areas that will have the most impact and, where possible, keep all work within the timetabled lesson time.

There are three main aspects to analysing your data and deciding on your actions:

  • Identifying what topics / skills/ specific questions you need to improve the teaching of
  • Choosing the students that need specific support within your department
  • Making sure whole school needs are met – there may be specific students or groups you need to work with

If your tracking is set up well, then teachers will be able to use the data at a class level. Empowering your teachers to look at and act on the data distributes responsibility and also allows actions to be taken as part of your standard teaching practice.

The actions you take should be reassessed after the intervention, preferably as part of your assessment plan. Collect the data and analyse it after the actions you have taken. On our Tracking System we have an Archive feature that helps you to do this. This way you can review and provide evidence that the actions you have taken have had.

Celebrating Good Assessment Practice

Communicating the positive work you are doing towards assessment will help create a buzz about your department and encourage support from your leadership team. Think about what you can display around your department:

  • Assessment timetables to let pro-active students know what to prepare for
  • Posters on department results to be proud of – both final exams and Internal Assessments
  • Individual successes of students or groups
  • Photos of students & teachers from your department with their GCSE results

Having a one page report and a breakdown of students grades in their books helps students to see exactly where they are at. Any visitors can see the report and students can have an informed conversation on their current grades & achievement. It also gives your students ownership of their data and the motivation and awareness of what they need to improve to get a better grade. Look at a detailed report breakdown for an example of what a good Academic report can look like and what information it should include.

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Is the data really needed?

Some assessments are done to help the teacher within a lesson. These may be quizzes, minitests or practice questions. They are unlikely to be a reliable indicator of how the student will perform in an exam, but are neverless a really useful teaching tool.

If the assessment does not contribute to calculating Working at Grades, is not used for reporting at a department or school level and does not inform any department wide activity, then it may be best to keep off of your centralised tracking. This avoids information overload when analysing your data.

Getting your team on board

Involve your team throughout the review of your Assessment Practice. Let them know that this is an area you are reviewing and use informal conversations to find out if there are any burning issues they have. Your team may suggest practices they would like to introduce that you were already planning on doing. Where possible build these ideas in to your plan then they may be happier to take a little more responsibility and action to help it succeed.

It is still very surprising to me how many departments do not use the same tests across all classes. This is essential if you are going to ensure consistency across the team. There are so many added benefits to all using the same assessments:

  • Less work for teachers – why should everyone use write their own tests
  • Allows comparison of students across different classes
  • Allows moderation of marking for teacher development & consistency
  • Allows everyone to know that the grades have been predicted in the same way
  • Centralised organisation of printing and sharing tests
  • Allows for regular review and improvement of the tests

Before you run a department meeting to review assessment practice, make sure the core structures that cannot be changed are in place. Limit discussions to the areas of practice that are most impactful in the classroom, for example the ways to make your assessments more formal. For example, the core structure you may be providing is that each formal assessment has a review lesson. The discussion can then be focused on what activities could be done in the lesson.

Next Steps

Improving your assessment strategy can be a big job, and it may take a couple of years before you have it exactly where you you it to be. It is worth the investment in time as so much of the decisions you take will depend on good quality data from your assessments. You can make some big wins and improvements quite quickly. Use the checklists and resources at the end of this blog to help you to hone in on the area that needs to be targeted first.

Discuss the aim and purpose for the changes with your team to get them on board with the changes are needed most. The changes you decide to make will need constant reviewing, feedback from your team and reinforcement before it becomes fully embedded in your practice. It will take time, but the improvements to the quality of data will mean you are better informed for decisions on where to prioritise your energy and time. This will improve the efficiency of you and your team and as a result will improve the quality of teaching and students’ results, making the changes all very worthwhile!

Download Your Assessment Strategy Resource Pack