Assessing Maths and Sceince

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Assessing children’s achievements in Science and Numeracy

Over recent years, the profile of assessment in education has increased. Moreover, the purposes and uses of assessment have developed and, as a result, assessment now stands in dynamic interaction with teaching and learning (Gripps, 1996 in Black & Wiliam, 1998). Assessment is conducted for a wide range of purposes, but in order to discuss these further it is helpful to distinguish between summative and formative assessment.

Summative assessment is used to measure progress and it is conducted at specific stages of the learning process - for example, end of unit tests, end of year tests and SATS. Summative assessment is often referred to as ‘assessment of learning’ and is linked to the concept of convergence (Torrance & Pryor, 1998), whereby the purpose of assessment is to determine whether a child knows, understands or can do. Pollard et al (2002) suggest that since the introduction of the National Curriculum, education has seen a rise in the use of summative assessment and attributes this to the way the government has used data as a means of comparing schools. However, summative data gained from statutory and optional tests is often used within schools as a means of tracking the progress of children, teaching standards and school performance. Critics have highlighted the dangers of over-reliance on test-based summative assessment. Lambert & Lines (2000) suggest that summative assessment in the form of exams or tests is only an abstraction of what the pupil knows, understands or can do. In response to concerns regarding the over-reliance on summative assessment data, there has been much research into the benefits of using formative assessment in the classroom.

Formative assessment is often referred to as ‘assessment for learning’ and is linked to the concept of divergence (Torrance & Pryor, 1998), whereby the purpose of assessment is to determine what a child knows, understands or can do. It is conducted on an ongoing basis through strategies such as questioning, observation, self and peer assessment and marking. McCallum (2000), states that in formative assessment, both the teacher and the pupil make judgements about a pupils work against specified learning objectives. The purpose of this is to discover what a child knows (including any errors and misconceptions) and use this information to make decisions regarding the strategies required to move a child’s learning forward, i.e. to influence planning on an ongoing basis.

There is a wealth of research into the benefits of using formative assessment to inform teaching and improve learning. Black & Wiliam (1998) suggest that there has been a significant shift from assessment as restricted forms of tests that are only weakly linked to the learning experience, toward a greater interaction between assessment and classroom learning. They go on to suggest that formative assessment, with the embedded concept of feedback, is the key factor in the promotion of learning. However, in response to this, Sebatane (1998) is keen to point out that assessment per se is not the only factor in the promotion of learning and that effective use of assessment procedures is essential. The GTC (2009) agrees that there is clear evidence that formative assessment is effective for improving pupil learning, however, a teacher’s ability to transform the assessment into new and effective practice and to positively affect students’ learning and attainment is vital. The implication for the classroom teacher is that with assessment strategies being used for such a wide range of purposes, to be effective it is essential that the purpose of assessment is clearly defined.

Mitchell & Koshy (1993) believe that it is important to see assessment as cyclical in nature; although summative assessment is often conducted at the end of a learning phase, this information will be used to influence the planning at the start of a subsequent phase of...
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