Abi Lewis, Head of School at Nobel Algarve British International School in Portugal, explains why assessment is an essential tool for learning and progression
Before taking up her role at Nobel Algarve British International School, Abi Lewis was Vice Principal Curriculum, Standards and Operations at Harris Academy Tottenham.
At Nobel British International School Algarve, we have been focusing on effective assessment this academic year, but why is this our priority?
We know that effective assessment is an integral part of the learning process so its effective use in every classroom is key to pupils’ achievement. Teachers need to know how each student is doing so they can draw valid inferences about the learning in their classroom and adapt the teaching accordingly.
But effective assessment has other benefits too. Used effectively, assessment can promote a deeper understanding for our pupils guiding them to their next steps in learning. It can also motivate students and develop their independence building their autonomy.
And, it is also an invaluable tool for school leaders. By adopting effective and efficient assessment practices we can closely monitor pupils’ progress identifying pupils who need support, plan future curriculum content, monitor the effectiveness of school initiatives and interventions and identify priorities for staff development and resources. In addition, by making monitoring pupil progress part of the culture of the school we can establish collaborative structures that allow teachers to talk about the impact of instruction on student learning and help ensure that the school is using effective strategies to meet all pupil’s needs. By bringing in standardised assessments, we are now able to take a step outside our own school and make accurate comparisons between our school and other similar schools enabling us to evaluate impact robustly ensuring we offer the best education possible for all our pupils.
This year, we are focusing on 3 assessment methods.
- Baseline tests
- Standardised assessments
- Formative assessments
“The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows. Ascertain this and teach him [sic] accordingly” (Ausubel, 1968). We are using a range of assessments to check pupils’ prior learning so teachers can target knowledge gaps and misconceptions – something particularly important after the disrupted learning caused by the pandemic. Checking prior learning, both at the start, and throughout a lesson, helps pupils activate and retrieve prior knowledge that is necessary for them to grasp new ideas and tie new knowledge to their existing knowledge.
We are also bringing in a range of standardised assessments including GL Assessment CAT4 tests which provide an accurate analysis of potential student achievement. These are standardised on 25,000 students providing valuable baseline data with national benchmarks; we are also adopting reading tests (NGRT) which measure reading skills against a national average identifying where intervention may be needed, and then using it to monitor impact and progress made.
The formative assessments strategies we are focusing on are daily retrieval quizzes, effective questioning to check and to deepen understanding within and across lessons and sharing worked examples which allow pupils to develop their metacognitive and cognitive skills without placing too many demands on their mental resources.
Learning requires both declarative knowledge (I need to know something), as well as procedural knowledge (I know what to do) and our professional development has centred around metacognition (how we learn). We must teach our pupils to think about their learning modelling the thought processes of an expert. Research also tells us that pupils need to be explicitly taught to remember what they have learnt – the research advocates that retrieving information at least two, if not three, times will optimise performance. We use low-stakes testing or quizzing at the start of all lessons – low-stakes to reduce stress which is known to “interact with pupils’ metacognitive accuracy” (Spada et al., 2006) and we use spacing, delaying subsequent retrieval practice to reinforce retention because delayed retrieval requires more effort, and it is this challenge that appears to be the critical ingredient in establishing a more lasting memory.