Rethinking Pupil Progress

Paul Main

How should we define pupil progress and what does an effective assessment look like?

What exactly is pupil progress?

In the world of education, pupil progress is referred to a student's understanding of fundamental knowledge and academic skills. Progress means to move towards a desired, improved and refined state. 

Historically, pupils were considered to show progress if they were quickly learning and moving on to new concepts and material. Different schools have different philosophies, some systems see progress as a student's ability to memorise key information. Many of the recent curriculum changes have provided schools with an opportunity to rethink their old assessment grids. Asking the question 'what does success look like?' forces school communities to define how they formulate their pupil progress records. Schools have got used to viewing their pupils progress through a dashboard analysis. Being able to crunch numbers and quantify how well a particular year group is attaining has become part of the job for school leaders in state-funded mainstream schools. Other types of schools including independent schools and international schools often have more flexibility in how they demonstrate attainment.

Depending upon the type of school, a pupils progress varies greatly and has many contributing factors including the the quality of the teaching and how well their needs have been met. The areas an educational setting focus on reflect its educational philosophy, ethos and governance. In this article, we will question the average progress score and look at some creative alternatives to assessment spreadsheets.

What are the main reasons for assessing pupil progress?

Assessments paint a picture of where a pupil 'is at', they can have the big impact on student outcomes. The important reasons for tracking pupil progress include:

  • Pupil progress demonstrates what students do know and what they do not know and checks if students are on the right track for the end of year assessments;
  • Identify areas where students need more support, and teachers in planning future curriculum content for meeting the needs of the children;
  • Monitor the usefulness of school interventions and initiatives to improve student learning;
  • Identify areas of staff professional development or desired changes in teaching resources and approaches;
  • Helps in the purposeful and effective use of staff time;
  • Offers help in reporting to directors, trusts or governors.

A dashboard analysis of pupil progress
A dashboard analysis of pupil progress

What are some ways to assess pupil progress?

In state-funded mainstream schools, a teacher can monitor pupil progress records by collecting data in the following ways. However, spending too much time on these activities can distract the member of staff from the primary role of teaching:

Pre-assessments: Pre-assessments are the initial analysis providing insightful ways to discover what students already know and what they need to know before starting a new lesson or unit. Pre-assessments prevent wasting time on things students already know and allow teachers to spend time teaching the things students still need to know.

White Board Practice: Teachers can have students answer different questions on their whiteboards. This offers a quick way to see who has understood the topic and who doesn’t. Teachers can write the names of those who don’t give correct answers so that they can provide extra help and re-teach those who have been unable to understand the concepts.

Exit Tickets: Teachers can use Exit Tickets as comprehensive assessment tools to check what students understood after teaching a lesson. It is better to keep exit tickets short and to the point with only a few questions to quickly check which students understood the topic and which ones need re-teaching.

Monitoring pupil progression of the whole child
Monitoring pupil progression of the whole child

Using different types of assessments for checking pupil progress

The primary objective of formal assessments in state-funded mainstream schools is (or should be) to determine student interests and to collect relevant information about student progress.

Diagnostic Assessments: These are the pretests that usually tell how much previous knowledge a student has about a topic. Diagnostic tests guide the teacher (and the pupil) on how much individual students knows and doesn't know about the upcoming topic. This helps teachers in learning objectives, lesson planning, and identification of areas that may need additional or lesser amount of time spent.

Formative Assessments: Formative assessment involves immediate understanding to guide teaching. With formative assessment, teachers form or mould teaching to better suit pupil learning. The best formative analysis is normally easy to apply and give immediate results leading to instant instructional adjustments or interventions. Some examples of formative assessments include class discussion, formative reading assessment, benchmark tests, or an “exit ticket” activity etc. Comprehensive analysis of pupil progress using the formative assessment helps the teachers to see how much information has been retained by the students. Then, the teachers can modify the next lessons or activities to pick up the pace or fill in the knowledge gaps.

Interim assessments: These are taken at different times during the school year. Interim assessments are usually taken at a school or a district/county level. These enable education leaders to compare learning outcomes and track the progress of the whole class or school. The terms “benchmark exam” and “interim assessment” are frequently used interchangeably. They are used to check student mastery and how to deliver future teaching, so learners can be entirely prepared for the assessment period, state testing and summative exams

Benchmark Assessment: A benchmark assessment is taken across several classes, a whole grade level, within a school, an education authority or district. The main objective of a benchmark assessment in state-funded mainstream schools is to find out if learners have mastered certain standards and are prepared to move further. Generally, benchmark assessments are conducted to help learners prepare for the end of year state exams. The assessment structure for “interim exam” or “benchmark assessment” allows assessing the educational progress of large groups of students. The student results of a benchmark exam help educators understand what lessons they must reteach and which students need additional support. For example, benchmark maths assessments act as a “preview” that shows how a class, school, or district will perform on maths summative exams or state tests. Ofsted are always interested in how institutions can demonstrate specifically how free school meals pupils are progressing. These accountability measures are applicable to state-funded special schools as well.

Summative Assessment: Summative exams document how much knowledge was retained by the students at the end of a certain period of learning (e.g. school year, unit, or semester). In state-funded mainstream schools, Summative assessments are largely considered as the ultimate measure of success. In current times, classroom summative assessments are frequently taken online. Summative assessment marking is conducted by the teachers by way of group projects, multi-media presentations, role plays, creative writing, or other hands-on tasks that demonstrate subject mastery. The scores in summative assessments have a major effect on the final accurate student grades of students.

Monitoring pupils creativity
Monitoring pupils creativity using the Learning Skills Framework


Reimagining how we measure pupil progress

Within the 21st century, there are a few assessment trends teachers would want to track. Modern-day assessment trends include new perspectives about what it means to measure student learning, rethinking the value of the traditional assessment and shifting towards innovative assessment techniques. Others might focus on student disengagement and equity. Analysis across the schools sector show us that different types of schools provide, sometimes very different types of education. These include State-Funded Mainstream Schools, State-Funded Special Schools, Independent Schools, Non-Selective Schools, Muslim Schools, Jewish Schools, Christian Faith Schools, Roman Catholic Schools and Hospital Schools.

Comprehensive analysis of special education schools reveals that assessments in special education are mainly used to determine specific learning needs and strengths of a child and to decide whether or not someone fulfils the criteria for receiving special education services. The current assessment strategy used in each school has a huge impact on curriculum delivery. Regardless of the religion of school, most of the state-funded mainstream schools and none selective schools use the above-mentioned assessment types. Some state-funded mainstream schools use assessments as the basis for school admission. They can accept or decline an admission application on basis of average progress score on the admission test. The level of functionality of each assessment type depends upon the learning task and the study behaviours of the students. Teachers may create an examination paper or they can have a role in marking their students' responses. School-based assessment (SBA) in state-funded schools requires educators to mark students' work and involves department level teachers' cooperation to help ensure comparability of the marking criteria. If your school is rethinking how you approach assessments and want to breath new life into your assessment tracker, you might want to explore the 'Learning Skills Framework'. This taxonomy provides teaching staff with precise descriptions of what learning competencies look like and sound like. The Universal Thinking Framework has also been used as an assessment tool. Originally seen as a alternative to SOLO taxonomy, this resource is enabling schools to develop their own assessment activities.