Keeping pupils on track and overcoming any negative impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on learning is one of the biggest and most important challenges for teachers. With catch-up funding made available from autumn 2020, it is crucial to consider how this funding could be used in the most effective way to support pupils.
Assessment will play a vital role in identifying the pupils most at need of additional support and informing how this should be delivered. However, with a wide range of assessment approaches and packages available to schools, how can it be used in the most effective manner?
Using standardised assessments
Standardised assessments can provide far more useful data than just a total score. For example, they allow teachers to compare pupil performance both to other pupils in the cohort, and to pupils nationally. Where pupils in a class or school are showing similar levels of knowledge in a specific subject area, this national benchmark can be helpful in understanding whether these pupils are achieving an appropriate standard of performance or whether they may need additional support.
The ability to make different levels of comparison: within class, school and related to the national picture, will help teachers to see both where there are individual issues that might need to be addressed in small group or one to one intervention sessions and where there are general gaps in understanding or misconceptions to be addressed with the whole class. Due to an extended period of remote learning, certain curriculum areas may have had less coverage or may be problematic for particular pupils. Identifying where this is the case and planning targeted intervention support will be key to getting learning ‘back on track’.
Where a school has been using a standardised assessment package consistently, it may also be possible to track individual pupils’ scores across all the assessments taken in order to identify any knowledge gaps or where their knowledge and skills are weaker compared to previous terms or years. This will help to inform planning and to identify the pupils most at need of additional support.
Using assessments that provide diagnostic information
Using assessments, such as the NFER’s spring tests, which have been trialled with over 60,000 pupils and include diagnostic information related to common errors and misconceptions made by those pupils can also be very helpful. These assessments often provide reasons why pupils may be making certain errors and the reasons behind any misconceptions. Alongside the next-steps teaching guidance, this will help teachers to effectively plan any additional support that is required.
Marking assessments also gives the opportunity to interrogate pupil responses by noting down any common errors or misconceptions and considering the possible reasons behind these. This will help to identify pupil groupings and individuals requiring extra support and, crucially, should guide the support that follows in order to enable them to develop a stronger base of knowledge and understanding in that area.
It is also important to note that some pupils’ confidence and ability to focus may have been affected by the disruptions to their schooling. For this reason, any assessments must be presented as part of the normal teaching routine, so that performance is not adversely affected by anxiety and that the data can be validly used for its formative purpose.