The impact of Covid-19 on learning institutions around the world has been profound, to say the least. In a new paradigm, where schools are operating reduced hours, split timetabling, blended learning and remote first learning it has never been more important to monitor Pupil Progress in the fundamental areas of learning. Summative one-time assessments are no longer seen as being equitable to all students, as the effects of the pandemic will be felt differently by individual households. We must take into account what external factors in a pupil’s life may have an impact on their learning outcomes. These factors are largely pastoral in nature and focus on aspects such as Pupil Premium, English as an Additional Language, Looked After Children, Free School Meals, SEN etc. Pastoral factors often have a substantial impact on learning outcomes, however are not considered in the standardised summative assessment approach we are so familiar with in the UK.
Covid-19 has brought into sharp focus, the need for on-going, teacher-led assessment. It has forced the hand of mainstream schools to devise ways of evaluating pupil progress using formative and self-led assessment methods and put the onus on teachers to collect and evaluate more evidence than ever before. One of the key challenges faced by teachers, and educators is finding the time to collect meaningful evidence to support their pupils progress.
A survey, conducted by UNESCO in April 2020 showed the different approaches that governments across the globe had taken in response to the outbreak of Covid-19. Exams in most settings have been either rescheduled, or cancelled. This has created a vacuum in pupil assessment data and led some countries to rely on some form of teacher-led validation of learning. India, France, Italy, Denmark, Mexico, Thailand and the United Kingdom have all been identified as having pivoted their assessment model to a more formative approach during the pandemic.
In the context of the United Kingdom, there have been different approaches at different levels of schooling. A-Levels and GCSE exams have been cancelled this year with the department of education opting for the ‘calculated grade’ process, which will take into account a range of evidence including non-exam assessment and mock results.
Primary schools in the UK were due to adopt the new Reception Baseline Assessment Framework for KS1 pupils in Autumn 2020, however due to the pandemic, the implementation of the framework has been put on pause. The National Teachers Union suggest that during a time of blended learning; “the use of summative assessment tracking systems, ‘data drops’ of assessment outcomes and the setting of assessment targets should be discontinued…the main focus of assessment activity when online systems are used should be on formative assessment and providing feedback to pupils”
Over the coming months and years, it will prove a huge task for the education system to restructure their thinking and their approach to assessing pupil progress. I have no doubt that standardised tests and exams will once again play an important role in pupil progress, but if the challenges of Covid-19 have taught us anything, it is that we will need continue to be more agile and innovative in our approach and that emerging technologies have a vital role to play in bridging the assessment gap.