If a test only tests what it tests, what is it that we want the test to test?

In Adam Crawte’s (@MrCrawteBilton) blog: ‘Where do we go with assessment’, he proposes that now is an opportunity to really look at assessment and think about how and why we do it.

It is probably fair to say that a lot of the way in which assessment is done is because it’s the way that it has been done for a series of years, or because it’s the way that external assessments are done and therefore within the teaching practice we just replicate that.

Adam’s assertion is that the loss of levels provides us, as practitioners, with an opportunity to not only reflect on what it is that we want to assess- but also the form in which we want to offer that assessment – and crucially, that we do so from a starting point that is firmly rooted in teaching and learning.

Using English at secondary level as an example, the ‘standard’ external assessment is either an extended written response such as ‘How does the writer…’ or the equivalent of a question and answer task: ‘What reasons does Chas give for his break up with Dave etc.’  Both assess different skills and if you add to this creative writing, analysis of poetry, Shakespeare then there’s an obvious focus within this subject on a students’ ability to write essays in what exam boards have previously described as being a ‘cogent, coherent’ manner.

Across other subjects and Key stages there will be also be an equivalent ‘standard’ exam style question- and in as much as I don’t feel that these are the only means by which we want to assess, neither am I suggesting that we should discard them either. What I think we should be doing is think about our subjects in an ‘ideal’ form and devise assessments that enable our students to move in that direction so that they develop as learners- and so that ultimately they can be assessed effectively in this way, but not conclude that they should only be assessed in this way. We should think carefully and pedagogically about what it is that we want the test to test and have that- not the way students will be externally assessed at the ages of 16 and 18- as our professional focus.

Within English, working along these principles it could be argued that a multiple choice assessment is a valid assessment option. It would allow for the addressing of misconceptions within a text- it could also allow for students to choose from four correct answers with the one they choose indicating the level of response that they can currently comprehend or the level of skill that they have. It therefore has the potential to work as an effectively narrow assessment of progress at that particular time of the teaching and learning prior to it- and I use it as an example as it is in a different form to the ‘standard’ assessment method within that subject. Again I’m not advocating for or against this form as it, like all assessments has its strengths and weaknesses, but it is an example of how important it is to discuss as departmental/subject/whole school in a professional dialogue what the benefits of the assessments being using are, and being receptive to challenges to them.

Assessment is already seen as integral to practice; studies consistently show the huge impact that feedback has on progress so the actual assessment is no end point but a stimulus for us to have further professional dialogue on what we do with the findings.

Thinking carefully about how and what we want to test is a means for us to develop professionally in how we discuss learning with students and colleagues, how we reflect on the effectiveness of the curriculum that we have put in place (every lesson is curriculum design) and how we thing about our planning in terms of where does the teaching and learning need to go next.

We should all be thinking about assessment design and discussing it as what is happening in our individual classrooms needs to be taken into account when developing what the test should test.

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Author: @petenealon

Teacher who is mainly writing about education. Reflections on my own Professional Learning and the learning taking place where I work

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