3 tips for better school assessment

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by JAMES HANNAM

Cofounder & Owner LearnMaker, DfE Specialist School Advisor, Educational Consultant, Entrepreneur, Speaker & Author

The Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) in 2015 published findings that 70% of K-12 schools in the US had seen a ‘dramatic jump in data collection’ in the last few years. According to the report leaders in schools used this data to track performance, improve teacher instructions, and help parents remain updated on their child’s performance.

The report doesn’t detail the best methods, although it does state that as data collection increases so does the potential to create positive changes in classrooms.

3 Issues for schools

Although data is being collected, its use and value are dependent on several key things.

  1. The speed in which the data is collected

  2. The time it takes to analyse the information

  3. The effort that has to go in to make others aware of the findings

I have found that schools in the UK are incredibly good at collecting data (test scores, progress measures, homework results) but often struggle to squeeze enough of the benefits out of the information they collect. This is mainly due to the variety of methods data is collected, curated, and processed.

Simplifying these assessment systems is vital in order to glean as much useful information as quickly as possible. If you consider data collection of say, a test, the processes often involve; marking the papers by hand, entering the results onto a spreadsheet (personal teacher document with formulae), uploading the processed/standardised scores to a school database, printing off or collation of the data onto another sheet, and finally generation of charts and graphs to visualise the information. On top of this senior staff will complete quality checks; lesson walks, book audits, staff interviews and meetings, in order to clarify information. An awful lot of work!

Another concern is what can be thought of as awareness - the ability for a leader to understand exactly what progress and learning is taking place, and the ability to intervene to improve the learning.

Most assessment systems I have observed, often involve several ‘sub systems’ or checks. These ensure staff have some level of awareness - think about those checks I mentioned earlier. Each one of these has extra steps, more effort, and more work involved.

Data has as shelf life

The time it takes for this information to be processed, understood and acted upon often takes days or even weeks. Imagine the learning that has taken place in the meantime. Your teachers and senior staff are working on out of date data.

Removing or streamlining some of the steps in your assessment systems will mean this data has a slightly longer shelf life. It also means your interventions will be that much more effective, as the student learning is more recent.

Analysis shouldn’t be a drag

The manual processing of data into easy to charts should be a thing of the past, and often falls at the feet of  one spreadsheet savvy member of staff. There are a number of low cost solutions to automate this. When you consider the cost to your staff, could potentially save a lot of money long term (and time!) Having a system which can give your whole team snapshots, overviews and detailed breakdowns of student progress (graphically) is truly revolutionary. It shouldn’t be that staff have to recreate charts and tables first, in order to analyse student progress. This should be automated, and these things exist right now to help you. When working with Invicta Primary School in Greenwich, I have encouraged the use of these types of systems which have saved hours a week for every member of staff, allowing them to analyse student learning on the fly, because the data is live, and not out of date.

Key takeaways:

  • Data should be live, and and analysis quick - so that your staff can be effective with their interventions.

  • Removing steps that make your assessment systems sluggish will improve the quality of data use.

  • Automating processes will greatly reduce workload on your staff

Jay Ashcroft

Entrepreneur. Author. Speaker. Cofounder of LearnMaker