Assessment in the time of Covid

Sponsored: How did independent schools use assessments during the lockdowns, and what lessons will they be taking into the new school year? Andy Small, head of GL Assessment’s independent school team, speaks to Ballard School in Hampshire and Cokethorpe School in West Oxfordshire about their experiences

How have you, your team and your pupils responded to the past 18 months?

David Dunn, deputy head academic, Ballard School (DD):  Two lockdowns and two sessions of online learning have been a tremendous challenge but you could also argue that they have probably moved our teaching and learning on significantly. Learning regression is something that the Inspectorate has understandably been focusing on and it prompted us to look at our own results and our progress in maths and English.

When we compared the results of children over the past 12 months, our year group averages were within 5% – we didn’t see that much of a drop. In fact, in English we found that our scores had improved, probably as many children did a bit more reading in lockdown.

Sophie Dawes, deputy director of studies, Cokethorpe School (SD): After the first lockdown, I don’t think we felt there was a huge difference in progress at our senior school. However, after the second lockdown earlier this year we noticed a change.

I think, in line with a lot of national trends, we found activities like reading and comprehension were where we might expect them to be but some of the skills that require more independence and confidence had taken a bit of a knock. Getting some assessment data and understanding what was going on has been key to helping us know what to do next.

When it came to assessment, what were the key decisions you took and what were your key priorities?

DD: By and large, we got through two lockdowns unscathed and continued to generate the data that we needed. We have actually extended our use of assessment as it now forms part of our recruitment process. A lot of maintained school children have joined us based on our online learning programme and we have tested students before they have come to us. This was a very useful exercise as it allowed us to compare new students to those already in the school.

And with a whole new Year 7 class joining in September, moving to four forms from three, the data allows us to see where these new students will sit in the existing cohort and that has been really helpful for planning and putting groups together.

SD: One of the biggest changes for us was the way we started to use and interpret our assessment data. As well as providing us with predicted grades, we found that sharing the reports from GL Assessment’s CAT4 assessment with classroom teachers for incoming Year 7 and Year 9 students was incredibly useful. It helped them understand the category of teaching style that a student might fit into and some useful strategies to use.

We’re now planning on carrying out progress assessments with our Years 7 and 8 to compare that data with CAT4 to get a better idea of which students are on track or where more attention needs to be paid.

Did any of the assessments you carried out throw up any surprising issues?

SD: Whether it was down to the lockdown or not, one of the key things that came out of the Progress Test in English among our Year 8s was that they were strong at reading comprehension but that they weren’t doing as well in spelling, punctuation and grammar. Our English department was immediately able to implement a big focus on that. Looking forward, we’ll now be running those assessments from Year 4 onwards to see at what point we might need to change the teaching.

DD: When we used the Progress Test in Maths assessment we realised that our students’ mental maths scores were lower than we’d expected them to be. Speaking to the maths department we realised that because our students sit the IGCSE – which allows the use of a calculator – very little of our teaching was being done without a calculator. This worried me, and so we introduced an intensive programme of mental maths in both lessons and during form time to improve levels of skill and confidence.

Feeding those findings back into the teaching cycle has seen significant improvement in children’s learning.

Looking ahead, how do you see the role of assessment developing within the school?

SD: We will be running the Progress Test Series throughout all of KS2 and KS3 and, following a really successful trial of the Pupil Attitudes to Self and School survey with Year 9 students, which gave us both some positive and pause-for-thought results that we’ve been following up through our pastoral system, we are now looking at how we roll it out across different year groups too.

DD: We had a very fragmented approach to assessment before working with GL Assessment. Now we have one system across the whole school. It’s been fantastic to hear all staff using the same assessment language – and that helps when communicating with parents too. What’s exciting for me is the GL Assessment Value-Added Service which will provide a quantifiable measure of the impact our school’s teaching has had on our students.

We’ll be using that for the first time this summer. Putting confirmed exam grades into the Value-Added dashboard and looking at how they compare with CAT4 grades is going to be a major development.

Sophie Dawes and David Dunn shared these views as part of the GL Assessment webinar, ‘Using assessment data to drive success in independent schools’. You can watch the full webinar here

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