Post-pandemic, where do we start with assessment?

by Crispin Chatterton, GL Assessment

Steering a steady course during the pandemic has been a challenge for everyone. It’s frequently remarked that the situation is unprecedented and that schools find themselves in uncharted territory. This is true – but it doesn’t mean they are entirely without navigational aids. 

Chief among them of course is teachers’ own expertise and knowledge of their students. No one is better placed to detect and identify which children may require support and what kind of help they may need. But serial lockdowns and long periods of remote learning have undoubtedly made that task harder. As several teachers have told me, teaching remotely is one thing, but interrogating learning remotely is quite another. 

Nor is it always easy to tell which children have been most affected by the pandemic. To take one example, the data we have so far on reading ability nationally paints a fairly positive picture overall. Most schools have done a remarkably good job of ensuring their students met or exceeded their expected reading standard during lockdown. But each school has its own set of challenges as, of course, do individual students. 

Our data suggests, for instance, that students with lower reading ability tended to struggle more than others, partly because the necessary personalised interventions they relied on were more difficult to put in place remotely. But anecdotal evidence from several schools we work with also suggests that other children, who didn’t typically have academic problems before, struggled during lockdown. Children whose parents were both working from home for instance and couldn’t provide as much support as they would’ve wanted. Or those with several siblings and restricted access to devices, internet capacity or physical space. 

At the other end of the spectrum, teachers say, were children who blossomed during lockdown – the usually quiet child who felt liberated to speak his or her mind online in a way they didn’t in the classroom. Or the independent reader whose skills only increased as the opportunity to use them widened. So even in reading – where according to our data, students’ capabilities declined less than they tended to in maths or science – there is significant variability at the individual student level. 

How can teachers use assessment most effectively to identify which children need support most? It helps enormously of course to have had in place a robust baseline as a starting point – because whatever the interruptions during the pandemic, student assessments can be benchmarked to it. 

Armed with your data, there are five key questions you should ask of it:
  1. How does your school’s data compare to the national picture? Has it changed substantially since the pandemic began or is it approximately in line with national trends?
  2. How does one assessment compare to another? What do different assessments say about the same child? Triangulating teacher judgement with assessment data can enable you to get a clearer picture. A child’s reading skills determined by our New Group Reading Test (NGRT), for instance, can uncover issues that can be missed by other assessments. Similarly, our Pupil Attitudes to Self and School (PASS) measure may highlight attitudinal issues that aren’t easily picked up in other tests.
  3. What does the data tell you about key groups, individuals and your curriculum?  Mean score ranges have widened during the pandemic, which means there is a risk of more students falling behind. Use the data to understand what is going on in more detail and to help inform your curriculum development, particularly as you look ahead to transition and the academic year ahead.
  4. Does your data allow you to identify areas of comparative success? These will allow you to celebrate and share best practice internally.
  5. Can you identify differences between short-term impacts and longer-term patterns? Serial lockdowns have made determining this distinction difficult so use what you know about your students alongside what the data is telling you to identify what the persistent issues are likely to be. 
Few, if any, academic years have been as stressful as this one. But if schools interrogate their data in the ways suggested above, it should help to alleviate some of the burden by helping teachers identify exactly where the gaps are in their students’ learning.

Crispin Chatterton is Director of Education at GL Assessment, an ASCL Preferred Supplier. 
Posted: 29/04/2021 10:08:49