Why ‘assessment literacy’ must be part of teacher CPD

    Stuart ShawStuart D Shaw

    Educational reforms in recent years have led to fewer school-based assessments (SBA) like controlled assessments and non-exam assessments (NEAs), and therefore an inevitable increase in externally set examinations.

    But is that about to change?

    A recently published report from the House of Lords Committee on Education for 11–16-year-olds calls for a full-scale review of the English Baccalaureate with a recommendation for revision of the current curriculum.

    On page 70 the report makes the recommendation that “as part of a longer-term review of qualifications at 16, the Government should introduce a greater proportion of non-exam assessment at key stage 4.”

    Could this mean a swing back to a system that contains a greater proportion of SBAs with controlled assessments and NEAs back on the exam specifications and less reliance on exam assessments?

    SBA generally refers to assessments administered in schools and marked by the students’ own teachers, and the research literature on the relative merits and demerits of is well-rehearsed and frequently framed in terms of the trade-off between validity and reliability.

    An important function of SBA is its potential for assessing essential skills, and knowledge which are not readily measured by external examinations. These are the ‘hard-to-measure’ skills, and also some of the most important ones students need to equip them to thrive in the workplace and further education.

    As learning goals of education shift inexorably towards a broader array of skills, knowledge, attitudes and values, the challenge for the contemporary teacher is not just how best to support students in developing these skills, but also how best to assess them accurately.

    Therefore, a core pedagogic requirement for teachers will be assessment literacy.

    ‘Assessment Literacy’ is a key component of teacher professionalism and encompasses the basic understandings, skills, and applications that underpin a teacher’s ability to use and understand assessment.

    The research on teacher assessment literacy has burgeoned in recent years - a result, no doubt, of an increasing awareness that teachers receive very little formal training in assessment throughout their careers – something picked up in ‘Testing the Water: How assessment can underpin, not undermine, great teaching’.

    This was a recent research project undertaken by Pearson, where it was reported that teachers’ access to assessment training throughout their careers is far too limited. Consequently, many teachers are often engaged in assessment-related tasks and decision-making with insufficient training or knowledge of best assessment practices.

    As a result, teachers remain unprepared to design and implement classroom-based formative and summative assessments, often leading to unnecessary workload.

    If the recommendations for the Lord’s report are acted upon, then this lack of knowledge and expertise will need to be addressed as teacher judgement may well play a more significant role in the future when non-exam assessment becomes increasingly more required.

    According to the report, opportunities to develop and apply these crucial skills alongside increasing demands for interpersonal skills such as collaboration, creativity and problem-solving have been “squeezed out of the 11–16 phase.”

    The Lords Committee contend that “Pupils must have genuine, substantive opportunities to study creative, artistic, and ‘vocational’ subjects at Key Stages three and four”. They say it is “vital…pupils develop creative skills to support a diverse talent pipeline for our creative industries”.

    For these reasons, the debate about raising the status of teacher-based assessments, and the question of how to improve teacher assessment literacy, is worthy of renewed consideration.

    Raising the expertise of teachers in the theory and practice of educational assessment is one of the key reasons the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors (CIEA) was established. But for many if not most teachers, in-depth study of educational assessment will have been a rarity.

    But this should not be the case: assessment is integral to the teaching and learning process and not merely an activity related to ‘exams and tests’.

    How can we address this? Teacher CPD is a good starting point. There are a range of courses designed to build and recognise expertise in educational assessment wherever it takes place.

    For example, the CIEA and the NAHT are working together to support teachers through the Lead Assessor Award supporting the NAHT’s aim of having a Lead Assessor in every school. And for those wishing to progress further, they can work towards the Chartered Educational Assessor qualification.

    In addition to this, there are other options if teachers want to further their understanding of assessment - from self-study options to more formal academic qualifications. Some teachers may wish to organise a 'research group' in their own schools to explore these ideas with colleagues.

    There is a pressing need for more support in schools to facilitate teacher internal assessment. The competencies teachers need to effectively teach and assess the skills young people are required to possess in a constantly changing 21st century education - with all its formidable challenges - require serious and careful development.

    Stuart Shaw is the chair of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors (CIEA)

    CIEA training and qualifications

    • Find out more about the CIEA Lead Assessor Support Programme and Award here
    • Find out more about the CIEA Chartered Educational Assessor qualification here