Understanding Assessment and Reporting: A blog guide

In my experience, assessment is widely misunderstood by a lot of people in education – which is a worry given how much of it we do and how high the stakes are with formal assessment issues.  There all kinds of confusions, false premises, false promises and circularities across the system.   There are too many people driving decisions who don’t really understand the mechanisms at work.  That’s what I see.

What we can measure, the meaning of different modes of assessment, the weight we place on assessments and the degree of reliability in data – these are all questions teachers and leaders need to explore.  Sometimes things get so mixed up it’s as if all the tools have got jumbled:

  • Your high jump is Amber; you are developing the ability to secure a high height. 
  • Your art work has a score of  4.7. This represents progress of -0.46
  • Your working-at grade is 6 minus and you should be aiming for 6 plus; in order to progress you must produce better work. 
  • Your maths score is 17/25.  www – you got 17/25; ebi, you get more answers right.
  • Your essay is ‘Emerging’. www – you included some detail; ebi, write in more detail by adding more detail.
  • You can  demonstrate that you are beginning to approach the ability to develop knowledge of life, the universe and….. Smiley Face. 

I jest. But only just….

I have written a lot of blogs about assessment over the years and this blog is basically a guide to them.  Some still refer to NC levels – because of when they were written – but the underlying critique of levels helps to understand a range of assessment fundamentals.

  • Assessment, Standards and the Bell Curve
    • This explores a range of issues around the bell-curve and how ever-present it is.  It’s not a conspiracy unless you don’t understand it; it’s how we define standards nearly always.
  • The Assessment Uncertainty Principle
    • Explores ideas like the size of marks, the idea that essays have no ‘true’ mark (featuring a favourite assessment anecdote) and issues with linearity in notions of progress. All assessment is a fuzzy cloud. All data is an illusion of precision.  Forget this at your peril.
  • KS3 Assessment: 8 steps to a workable system
    • This post outlines a set of ideas leading to one model for assessment without levels. It’s one rational response – most of which makes good assessment sense.; some is a compromise with parental demand for information and isn’t ideal but the thinking is there.
  • Towards an Assessment Paradigm Shift
    • This post brings various ideas together to make a case for accelerating a shift that is starting to happen – from macro data tracking to micro formative assessment.
  • The Bell-Curve Cage: Something must break.
    • Here I explore the clash between the political imperative to demand improvement in outcomes from all schools with the political/technical imperative to build confidence in our exam system by placing strict limits on the degree of improvement that is allowed!
  • Nicky Morgan vs The Bell Curve.
    • One of my most read blogs of all time. A joyous rant against Nicky Morgan for her apparent lack of understanding of the bell curve and the idea of ‘average’.
  • Standards?! What’s going on with GCSE grades?
    • This post looks at some issues around the meaning of grades, the problem with tiered papers and the difference between absolutes and relative standards via growth chart comparisons.  Almost forgot I’d written this but it’s a good one!
  • Don’t do ‘Can do’. The problems with can-do checklists and trackers.
    • A related post to the one above; Can-do statements are hugely problematic if they are used as anything more than rough and ready revision checklists for students; if they are use for formal assessment it’s a graveyard of validity.  Plus they create all kinds of data distortions and lots of unnecessary workload stress.
  • We know Amy is struggling. The question is what we do about it.
    • This post links to the one above, suggesting that, whatever our assessment tools are, we need to be sure that we have curriculum-driven plan to address students’ struggles with learning.   There’s no point having data tracking systems if we don’t have good action plans at the ready for when students don’t make the progress they should.
  • The ideal assessment tracking regime? 
    • This looks at all the factors schools should consider with tracking systems, all the issues with reports and then suggests the features of a really sound system with one particular example from Saffron Walden County High School.

If you read all these posts – (or some of them!) I think you’ll have plenty of food for thought as you explore this important area.  Often there are more questions than answers.  I also recommend that anyone interested in assessment read’s Daisy Christodoulou’s excellent Making Good Progress.  It’s full of insights and her recipe at the end is certainly the way to go.




  1. Its also a stick to beat staff with. Half of Scotland @Primary is now doing 3 monthly tests on a range that is so wide that the chart axes are difficult to read. Clearly the messenger is not to blame but the higher ups must be getting desperate.

    Liked by 1 person

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