“Miss, is this an assessment?” – Time for a culture shift


I was asked this question this week when some students were doing some extended writing. I was also asked ‘Miss, is this a test?’ as I trialled using multiple choice with my classes. I was a bit mean. I replied ‘what is a test?’. This generally confused them and they got on.

I know what they were asking. They really meant ‘Miss, does that matter?’. This, along with some discussions & tweets in the week have started me thinking that it is time for a significant culture shift in our schools. In particular, the way in which students, teachers and leaders see assessment.

A culture which we are responsible for creating. Whether it be due to league tables, Ofsted, data entry, parental pressure we have created a culture where certain pieces of work that our students complete are seen as more important than others;they are higher stakes, bigger consequence pieces of work. The piece that will be levelled, the work that links to their report grade, the answer that defines ‘where’ they are.

If we were to evaluate how well we’ve done in creating this culture, I think we’ve done really well. It’s just a shame that it has the wrong emphasis (maybe it was what was needed at the time?) and this needs to change.

So now that schools have or are considering dropping levels we have a real chance to shift this emphasis.  We need to think carefully about what we want assessment to be used for, how we will do it and what the consequences are, intended or unintended.

An example where we have created a process that we need to reconsider is asking students about their work. Originally teachers were told ‘all students need to know what level they’re working at’. So we either drilled them or stuck a sticker on their books that they could quickly refer to, to give that level. Then people realised that wasn’t enough and added ‘they also need to be able to say what they need to do to improve’. So teachers then started using processes to try to ensure their students had the ‘correct’ answer to whoever was asking.

Another example where our culture has skewed things is via termly/half termly ‘assessments’. We have placed high value on single pieces of work where students are given the levelled criteria, looked at their own level and then done what they needed to do to achieve their target level. The focus was on achieving the level rather than what they needed to do differently from last time to make a difference. The effect was that students valued these pieces more and mostly put more effort into them as they knew that this work ‘meant something’.

So, now we can choose not to have levels, we can change this focus from a single outcome or a ‘correct response’ and start to create new processes that will provide a more whole picture of learning.

The biggest hurdle is we have years of embedded mindset (a current buzz word)  to change; the students being some of the toughest mindsets to change. And whilst schools can mainly do what they want in between, we are still stuck with key stage testing and GCSEs/A Levels that will need clever managing to ensure the mindset isn’t derailed.

So what do we need to do to change this mindset?

Consider the language and emphasis we use when referring to pieces of work.

Spread the ‘value’ across all work not particular assessment pieces. Everything matters.

Create assessment systems that are fully & smoothly interlinked with what we want our students to learn

Change what we ask students if we want to find out how they’re progressing

Not give any ‘value’ judgements to students or parents – No ‘5a’/master/beginner/emerging/85%/a* etc (this will be another blog)

6 thoughts on ““Miss, is this an assessment?” – Time for a culture shift

  1. I couldn’t agree more. We recently had a departmental discussion on assessment and what we’re going to do to change as a school in our formal assessments.

    One of the largest problems I anticipate in changing the valued assessment mindset we are in (a change I agree with) is parents. I can’t help thinking that if we now change our reports to parents to saying “they are meeting objectives”, ” working towards objectives “, or even ” emerging, meeting or exceeding “, parents will turn around and say “… So what level is that?”

    Parents will need to have their money changed, a time-consuming process which, once adjusted, will probably have to be changed with the next shift on political opinion.

  2. Pingback: What if we didn’t ever use grades with students? | missdcoxblog

  3. Pingback: 26 Strategies for meaningful manageable assessment by @powley_r – UKEdChat

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