Assessment is an integral part of learning and teaching, one cannot exist without the other. It is crucial to remember that we value what we assess and assess what we value. It is also important to see assessment as part of the big picture of CfE. It does not sit in isolation, nor is it something we tag on to the learning process. Assessment is central to the whole learning and teaching process. I refer to this as the PAM cycle – Planning, Assessment and Moderation with the Learner at the centre and you can’t successfully implement one area without the other.pam cycle

We plan, assess and moderate on a daily basis, even in our own personal decisions. Would you plan to go the beach without assessing the weather, evaluating the situation and then moderating before either re-visiting your plans or deciding it is a good idea. Quite simply this is the process we should be ensuring takes place in the learning experiences for our pupils.

Teachers should be planning for intended learning, planning ways to deliver and then assess, evaluate and moderate before moving on. Moderation also comes at the start of the process – hence the cycle! There must be professional dialogue in the process of moderation – the need to share expectations and standards prior to the learning taking place and after is vital. Moderation is an ongoing process – as shown in the diagram above, it happens at every stage whether informally or formally.

As well as this every cycle needs a wheel and this wheel demonstrates all the spokes that ensure the process works and make up the big picture.

apmThere has to be a range of evidence and gathering of information to ensure that assessment is robust and rigorous. Time has to be made to allow for professional dialogue around the sharing of expectations and standards. The information gathered is the process of profiling, which is facilitated through a variety of ways and can use strategies such as learning logs or journeys, e-portfolios and assessment folios.

Profiling evidence should also include a range of types of evidence including formative and summative assessment, baseline assessments, diagnostic assessments, teacher judgements as well as peer and self-assessment.

Children need to build skills in reflection and critical analysis of their work. BTC4 is key to supporting this skills development and will facilitate much of the profiling process.

The profile is a snapshot summary of achievement at a given point in time and the profiling process will facilitate the completion of this.

Reporting provides clear, positive and constructive feedback about children’s learning and progress. It also provides an agenda for discussions between learners, teachers and parents about supporting next steps in learning.

What do we assess?

We assess the learning that has taken place and therefore, it is crucial that assessment is planned and is evidenced at the planning stage. When deciding on key learning activities, the outcomes and the purpose of the learning should lead to the assessment being identified. This does not mean that all individual learning activities are assessed but the purpose of facilitating learning across one or a group of experiences should link to assessment. Ultimately we are evaluating the progress across the Experiences and Outcomes. Assessment evidence can also cover more than one outcome. This too should be planned for and reflective planning or ‘backward planning’, as it is sometimes referred to, should also be used to capture incidental or unplanned learning.

Why do we assess?

To evidence progress in all the areas we plan to teach.

To be able to report with rigorous and robust evidence on the progress of pupils.

To identify next steps in the learning process and to address any development needs that may be barriers to future learning.

How should we assess?

There are a range of mechanisms and strategies for assessing as can be seen in the wheel. Assessment should not rely on one form but include evidence in different formats and through different processes. The key elements we should be demonstrating are Breadth, Challenge and Application, which in turn link with the descriptors for progress – Developing, Consolidating and Secure. The diagram below from the BTC5 Reporting document illustrates how the terms are linked.


There are also four main types of assessment evidence – say, write, make and do and these can be helpful descriptors. There are a number of diagnostic assessment and baseline assessment programmes that can also be used to build a picture of progress and to facilitate the tracking of progress. These should be used as and when deemed appropriate. The main principle should be that the assessment has a purpose and will have an impact on the learning for the child.

When do we assess?

It is impossible to assess all things at all times and there should be a strategic approach in each school to assessment. Assessment should take place when relevant and based on planning and professional judgement. We should be asking ourselves, if this is not serving a purpose in terms of progressing learning, why am I delivering it!

What next?

This paper is a starter for 10, let us know what you think, share with staff and then let us know what else you need – We plan to give more advice in our next Head to Head – your feedback on what that should include is vital.

However, I could not leave this article without a few thoughts on NAR……….

  • NAR is not the Holy Grail!
  • Nor is it a place to lift an assessment to determine progress on a level.
  • It is a work in progress!
  • It will facilitate professional dialogue around assessment and is a useful CPD tool to develop understanding on the principles and purposes of assessment.
  • It is a resource base and provides working examples.

NAR needs YOU!

Pam Nesbitt

AHDS President