Rethinking Assessment

It is decades since Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam opened up the ‘Black Box’ to reveal the crucial importance of assessment as learning, but it would appear the messages from said box were not heeded. In each decade since, the topic of assessment has been consumed by the fiery debate of high stakes testing, accountability and grading. This crucial debate has often presented valid criticisms but too few viable alternatives, but is the tide turning?

This last week, Evidence Based Education and the Chartered College of Teaching hosted a panel discussion on ‘What Makes Great Assessment?’ The panel, including Daisy Christodoulou, Professor Rob Coe, Head teacher Sarah Lee, Tim Oates, Professor Dame Alison Peacock, David Weston, and chaired by Stuart Kime, covered the topic with expected aplomb – read a transcript of their contributions.

They pose the issue relating to how assessment has become an instrument of school judgment rather than being focused on students’  learning. The issue of an expanding teacher workload (Christodoulou cites DfE workload surveys that show primary teachers have doubled their weekly time spend on assessment, from 5 hours to 10 hours between 2010 and 2013) raised its ugly head in relation to assessment once more.

The debate raises the real issue of the dearth of high quality assessment specific training across the country. This really matters. How can we respond to national policies, like the removal of national curriculum levels, without a secure understanding of what could and should prove a better model of assessment?

In the past weeks I have written, from my perspective as an English teacher, on improving assessment. It can too often see assessment for learning bastardized and our students forced into a relentless sequences of mock exams (see my blog entitled ‘The Problem with Past Papers‘). Given the acute pressures of national accountability, it is no surprise that we would all be so mindful of national testing.

There is clearly an appetite for a fundamental rethink on assessment. The assessment discussion above is one such example. Daisy Christodoulou’s book, ‘Making Best Progress’, has proven a huge hit; Learning First’ conferences are proving incredibly popular; assessment models like ‘No More Marking‘ are gaining traction as viable alternatives; and many great teachers, school leaders, researchers, and more, are leading the way.

As we enter the period of uncertainty that is the election of a new government, there is the promise of a mounting movement to improve assessment for our students and it is to be whole-heartedly welcomed. The calls demanding better national assessment accountability is loud and clear. We need better policies, better training and better ideas on assessment.

If you are a Twitterer, you may want to follow not just the experts on the ‘What Makes Great Assessment Panel?‘ but the many other great voices who are writing and speaking specifically about assessment, helping shift the argument a forging a necessary rethink:

Professor Rob CoeCEM, Durham University

Daisy Christodoulou No More Marking

Professor Dame Alison PeacockChartered College of Teaching 

Dylan Wiliam researcher

Shirley Clarkeeducational consultant

Dr Chris WeadonNo More Marking

Christine MerrellCEM, Durham University

Stuart KimeEvidence Based Education

Michael Tiddteacher and school leader

Dr Becky Allen Edudatalab

Tom Sherringtoneducational consultant

David Didaueducational consultant 

Pie Corbetteducational consultant

Phil Stock teacher and school leader

Dawn Coxteacher and school leader

Jack Marwood – teacher

James Pembroke – data expert


Rob, Stuart, Phil, Michael and Jack, and many more will be speaking at ResearchEd York 2017. You can get your tickets HERE.

Please note: any Twitter list is always imperfect and grossly incomplete, so I apologise to any people I have left off the list and I very much welcome any additions in the comments below. 


3 thoughts on “Rethinking Assessment”

  1. Minor events at school prevented my attendance at the seminar/panel discussion last week, so it’s been great to use blogs, transcripts and video to see what transpired. I don’t think my position as an avowed, progressive academic has moved much over the years, but what I have come to understand is just how differently a child’s experience of education can be between 2 schools, where on the surface they ought to look alike. In a school (think child age between 9 and 13) with a rich, deep and diverse curriculum, with sufficient subject expertise on hand, actually visible assessment and marking has never really been an issue. It’s there, but not enough to write pedagogic ‘How to’ books on. Art marking looks utterly different to MFL marking, and so it should. In our borough we have primary schools who switch to secondary at 11 and middle schools that feed secondary at start of Y9. And we have independent schools such as mine, where children swap sites at 11 but don’t swap cultures. For 10+ years now we have stuck firmly by the use of ‘Chance’ graphs to highlight what’s possible shortly after entry into school be that at 11, 12 13 or even 14 at start of GCSE programme. The more able might see they are more likely to gain a tope grade, but have demonstrated that they have no entitlement to get same and that an E is always possible. Chance graphs give hope to all abilities, not just the entitled. and highlight to teachers too that whilst much ought to be expected of their contribution, the child, the school, the family environment also have their part to play. I remember the great Roger Cole speaking to me (and another 100+ heads at a conference) 15 or so years ago, when he had been asked to visit the Gloucester Action zone to advise on why their primary schools had hit a ceiling beyond which further improvement at primary level seemed impossible to achieve, He reintroduced hope into the curriculum, with art, music and drama rejoining what had become an impoverished curriculum of tests around Literacy and Numeracy. I asked Roger to visit the school then, and revisit 2 years ago, and the staff he inspired remain very close friends to his core belief that ‘releasing the creative potential of children in the classroom’ is what makes for most improvement in schools. It is because you can’t identify in children from which strand inside will spring their specific creative wellspring that we need a rich, deep and diverse curriculum, from which aspirational attainment can grow.

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