You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience and security.

1 October 2020
By Adi Ahmet

Making the Most of Classroom Tests

Following the recent school closures, there was widespread concern around the possible mental health impact on our children and young people. While there was also concern around the amount of ‘lost’ learning time, the focus did appear to be on wellbeing upon the reopening of schools, and this manifested itself in many schools making a conscious decision to not make children sit tests for the first term or so. Indeed, the government’s own guidance suggested that schools may want to focus on high quality formative assessment practices, in order to assess children and address gaps.

What is Formative Assessment?

According to TES, formative assessment, also known as assessment for learning is:

“A method of assessing pupils while learning is happening rather than at the end of a topic or sequence of lessons (summative assessment).”

Formative Assessments vs Summative Assessments

In my mind, there has been an over-reliance in the past on tests as a method of assessment, but my mantra has always been if you must set tests, at least make them useful!

I was very pleased that formative classroom assessment was being promoted. That is not to say that tests can’t be a very valuable source of information – it just depends how they are being used.

If testing is carried out in its usual manner, and left as a summative process, the pupils’ test result tells us very little – and the process of taking the test has done nothing to help the child. This is because so often, the main purpose of the test is to obtain some sort of result, or a score.

Benefits of Formative Assessment

However, used formatively, tests can act as a high-quality source of information. Ultimately, we could say that the overall test score does not matter. We can analyse a child’s understanding on a much more detailed level, by looking at which areas they answered correctly, and which questions they answered incorrectly. If we look close enough, we may even be able to work out why they answered incorrectly. Repeat this for the rest of the class, record on a colour coded spreadsheet, and you have essentially mapped your class’ current strengths and areas for development, as well as your planning for the next few lessons.

Make Tests Valuable. Make them Formative.

For any test, you need to know what the common misconceptions are and to identify where pupils have gone wrong. You then need to address this. I know that some schools are insisting that teachers conduct formal tests in their class ( for a range of reasons, from data collection to preparing for SATs…). If this is the case, at least try to ensure that you are getting the most value out of the process by using the tests formatively, rather than in the summative fashion that we have seen so often previously. Tests can often be seen in a negative light, particularly in primary schools, so at least let’s make them a useful tool to move learning forward rather than a backward-looking indicator of where a child was performing, at a time already in the past.

Image by My Gre Exam Preparation via pixalbay

Embedding Formative Assessment by Dylan William

Interested in learning how to use formative assessment in the classroom?

Join us on Monday 5 October 2020 for a one hour webinar with one of the world’s foremost education authorities - Dylan Wiliam. Dylan is an Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment at the Institute of Education, University of London.

Find out more and book the webinar here: Embedding Formative Assessment

This webinar is also part of our Catch Up Curriculum Toolkit, so make sure to see what else is on offer and save some money in the process!