What do you think of assessment? Aside from theories and practice there is a feeling about assessment that motivates us. That feeling comes from deep roots. Since I think in images, I shall explain it this way.
I have a garden. It is important for me to get some things right in order to get a crop. The soil needs to be right, for example, and plants that need full sun don’t get planted in the shade. Some need more water than others. I have to keep an eye on the plants as they are growing to make sure they are getting what they need, but the growing? Well, plants grow by themselves.
What I don’t do is walk around the garden measuring the plants all the time. When I was a complete novice I was more tempted to do this. It had nothing to do with the plants and a lot to do with my anxiety: I really wanted those plants to come out as perfect specimens. With a little experience I’ve become much more patient: my cauliflowers took ages to mature and I didn’t feel rushed or bothered.
We have called the lower school Hadiqa– the Garden. Plants, growth and Nature are a part of the way we think. We recognize that we, as humans, are a part of Nature and we value that. I suppose you might say that we see learning and growth as part of a natural process that connects us to the world around us. And, like good gardeners, we spend more time thinking about whether the soil is right than with how tall the plants (or children) are.
There is another image of education: the `production line. The school I went to as a kid was an exam factory. It gained more fee-paying parents on the basis of its examination results. This meant that, from the moment you entered the school to the moment you left, your life was a preparation for taking those examinations. If you could take another course that led to another examination, you were strongly pushed to do so. There were tests and examinations all the time.
Measurement was important in this system. Every subject had termly “orders” where children were ranked according to how well they did in examinations. All these statistics were lumped together to give class orders, which supposedly showed who was the “best” in the year. It was depressing for me and I did well in those orders; I can’t imagine what it was like for the ones who didn’t.
There are some advantages to this system. The assessment is linked only to what goes on in the classroom; there are no fuzzy lines. Teachers are only interested in what goes on in the classroom so it is pretty easy to create a bulwark against school work. The subjects are separate, so you can get by with flunking a few. The emphasis on summative assessment even gives you an “out”: “I just had a bad day.”
Assessment for Learning
The school I went to was a bit old-fashioned even in those days. It had a relentless emphasis on formal summative assessment. If you look at a modern curriculum authority, such as Cambridge, you will see a much more humane and considered approach to what assessment is all about. They use the acronym AFL- Assessment for Learning. That makes sense to me. What do you go to school for if not to learn? Why not use every tool at your disposal to make that learning better?
Our approach to assessment is guided by humane principles. We follow the English National Curriculum for the Core Curriculum and want children not just to get by, but to excel in it. We are slightly different from other schools in that we offer considerable freedom of choice to the children. Some of their activities are not assessed in any way at all. But when it comes to formal work in the classroom, we see no reason not to use all the best and most recent research and evidence available to make that learning pleasurable and productive.
Assessment at MBAT
Assessment and record-keeping are necessary tools that help teachers monitor the development of children. However, at MBAT, classroom assessment is a means to an end and not an end in itself. It allows teachers and children:
- To recognize progress and monitor achievement necessary for moving on to the next stage in learning.
- To recognize problem areas for possible support.
It may also allow teachers to reflect on their own practice.
We separate informal assessments, which all teachers make based on their day-to-day observations, from a variety of more formal assessments, such as:
- Level tests
- Diagnostic tests
- Formal examinations
All children take part in informal assessment as a necessary part of learning. Formal assessments are only made after explaining to parents and children the purpose of the assessment.
At times there are tests in classes. Children may enjoy taking a test and are encouraged to see tests as a part of the learning process. However, we do not compile a database of scores on these tests. If teachers have an anxiety about progress in a particular group or individual for a subject in the Core, they might propose a diagnostic test to discover whether this is really the case. These scores will be recorded because they need to go to SMT, particularly if they imply a resourcing need.
We do not grade projects or activities. Younger students may have no test scores whatsoever, since they work extensively in the project curriculum. We favor what we call “family assessment” for little children. In a family you know when something is not quite right and you act accordingly, which might mean using a test and might not.
Our group sizes are so small that it is possible for the teachers and teacher assistants to use the Tracking Mechanism without setting tests or exams. Teachers may share this information with parents: there is a regularly updated file in each child’s online folder which includes teacher comments and examples of projects; parents can also add information and images to this file.