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I launched Classroom Monitor in 2005 with the original focus to cater for the formative assessment needs of the average English state primary school. Since then, and encouraged by the customisable nature of the platform, we have been able to adapt to meet the varying needs of schools across the wider education sector and the globe.

In the last three years, we have tripled the number of international schools we support and have developed Classroom Monitor to match the needs of international schools specifically.

What we have learnt supporting a broad spectrum of schools

One of the striking things I’ve learnt working with all the different types of schools, has been understanding the relationship between assessment data, curriculum and the increasing level of influence accountability has had on this relationship.

For example, in the UAE, our fastest growing market, every school has a standardised test to follow. School inspections are annual and focus heavily on the standardised data from the tests. Based on these results, schools receive an inspection grade which then dictates the school’s fee structure and heavily influences the choices parents make when looking for the best school for their children. There is also a large amount of pressure to meet the expectations of parents.

Seemingly incongruous to standardised testing, every UAE international school wants to follow their own curriculum and seek independence in matching their planning, scheme of work or resources. Their uniqueness is a reason for parents choosing them and this becomes central to a school’s success. A recent article focusing on one our customer schools, explains this interesting relationship in more detail – Getting to the heart of assessment at Hartland International School Dubai.

The purpose of formative and summative assessment – striking the right balance

Working with such a wide variety of schools has been fundamental in the development of Classroom Monitor. It has also progressed our understanding of the relationship between formative and summative assessment and the challenge of striking the right balance.

Critically, they are different forms of assessment, with the outcomes of each being used in different ways to improve teaching and learning but it’s important to recognise that they’re not mutually exclusive. Both types of data can be very impactful when viewed separately but there is extra benefit when they are seen as complementary with a clear understanding of the relationships between the two.
Summative/test data should be focused on a grade or performance marker for a point in time, usually at the end of a unit to review outcomes. They should also be standardised and quantitative to support benchmarking, either within a cohort, school or wider to a region or country.

Formative assessment is used by the teacher to qualitatively evaluate pupil understanding, learning needs and their curriculum journey during a lesson or unit. Fundamentally, the purpose of formative assessment is to improve teaching and learning whilst it is happening.

There is ongoing commentary on formative vs summative assessment and the potential issues of the distinction between the two becoming fuzzy. This is being highlighted with the legitimate criticism of the process in English state primary schools, where it is seen that formative assessment is designed to find the summative judgement. This is a flawed approach, as this means the teacher’s judgement isn’t being used to improve learning as it happens – but as just another pot of data to measure performance against.

Some practitioners would advocate there should be no connection between the two at all, but we feel this ignores some important insights. The National Association of Head Teachers’ position is “we call for the primacy of teacher assessment but agree that it should be informed by testing.” Both formative and summative assessment benefit through viewing and analysing them side by side, as broad alignment between formative and summative assessments (internal and external) can assure validity.

Since 2014 and the removal of levels in the UK, we have been focused on supporting schools to match their assessment framework with their curriculum, and we continue to be committed to this. The next development of Classroom Monitor is driven by the culmination of this understanding – we believe every school should ensure that assessment of both types can be used to inform teaching and learning. While formative and summative assessment are treated as independent, we have made it simple to benchmark and compare them to highlight issues to be addressed. For example, highlighting a requirement to tighten formative processes through internal moderation or explore whether the way that tests are administered results in an accurate reflection of pupil attainment.

Whilst we believe that formative assessment is critical to the teaching and learning process and how you can enhance it, some form of additional ‘measurement’ is often seen as useful alongside it, but one can’t wholly replace the other. Summative data is often more closely aligned with accountability measures, so comparisons can be more straightforward, making it easier to identify pupils who aren’t where they should be. While summative data can provide an additional understanding of how secure learning is, and a further opportunity to highlight or verify gaps in teaching or learning that justify additional attention, formative information will always be most closely aligned to the business of the classroom.

If you would like to see first-hand how Classroom Monitor supports the right balance of formative and summative assessment, by requesting a demonstration with one of our assessment experts – book a time that suits you here.

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