Assessment and feedback: Key principles from research

In this article, the Chartered College of Teaching’s Head of Online Learning and Community, Hannah Tyreman, outlines the key research evidence that forms the foundation for this week’s learning.

Assessment should underpin, rather than undermine great teaching (Pearson, 2017). If carried out effectively, assessment is one tool available to teachers that helps them to determine where pupils are in their learning at a single point in time. This information can be used by the teacher to adjust their planning accordingly.

Whilst assessment is identified as one of the core practices of an effective teacher, research suggests that ‘only one third of classroom teachers feel ‘very confident’ conducting assessment as part of their day-to-day teaching’ (Pearson, 2017). An education system that has become reliant on gathering data and has a climate of hyper-accountability has had significant impact on external summative assessments but has also influenced in-class assessments too. The availability of and scrutiny of data has begun to drive assessment practices rather than the assessment practices being lead by the needs of pupils and the expertise of teachers.

Couple ineffective assessment practices with inefficient ones that see teachers taking home hours of marking each night, and there’s a sense that the workload assessment creates for teachers outweighs its impact on pupils’ learning.

If technology is used within a context of more effective assessment practices then it might help teachers to gain valuable real-time insights into pupils’ learning whilst also reducing workload.

What might more effective assessment practices look like?

  • The kind of regular, low-stakes testing and retrieval practices we saw as part of Week three’s learning can provide teachers with rich data to inform their practice. The activities themselves can contribute to learning with low stress for pupils and reduced workload for teachers, especially if the practices are used to replace less efficient existing approaches.
  • Assessment practices designed and used in class by teachers have often been found to be unreliable (Pearson, 2017). This lack of reliability is caused by a number of factors. We can reduce the influence of one of these factors by collaborating with colleagues to create banks of questions and assessments to reduce problems arising from a teacher creating their assessments in isolation.
  • All assessment should begin with a clear purpose. In-class formative assessment should move away from accountability and data reporting and should have a focus on pupils’ learning; where it is at a moment in time, and how the teacher might respond to help pupils to improve as a result.

In a later step, you’ll read more about how assessment can help inform ‘responsive teaching’ in this way.

What approaches to marking and feedback can accompany efficient and effective assessments?

‘Marking plays a central role in teachers’ work and is frequently the focus of lively debate. It can provide important feedback to pupils and help teachers identify pupil misunderstanding. However, the Government’s 2014 Workload Challenge survey identified the frequency and extent of marking requirements as a key driver of large teacher workloads… More recently, the 2016 report of the Independent Teacher Workload Review Group noted that written marking had become unnecessarily burdensome for teachers and recommended that all marking should be driven by professional judgement and be “meaningful, manageable and motivating (Education Endowment Foundation, 2016).’

Once you’ve assessed pupils’ learning, what are the research-informed options available to you for ensuring your feedback is valid and helps to move pupils’ learning on? The research does not, at this time, provide definitive ‘what works’ evidence around feedback. However, there are some emerging and promising themes that may point towards helpful practices to adopt:

  • The timing of feedback matters and is highly dependent on the context in which it is taking place. Both immediate and delayed feedback have different advantages and disadvantages top take into account when considering the best method to use. Immediate feedback can help to move learning forward during pupil practice such as whilst practising a swing in cricket or carrying out the steps of a science experiment. This works best as coaching-style feedback provided to the pupil to bring about improvement, enable them to move on and to make progress. However, immediate feedback can also mean that the pupil becomes reliant on receiving it so when they reach a point where they have to perform the activity more formally, they may underperform because they’ve not learned from but relied upon guidance received. Delayed feedback can work well where there is learning to be retained as it allows time for processing to take place (remember the spacing effect from last week’s learning). However, delaying feedback may affect struggling pupils more as they become demotivated or frustrated by their perceived level of progress.
  • ‘Pupils are unlikely to benefit from marking unless some time is set aside to enable pupils to consider and respond to marking’ (EEF, 2016). The focus of this improvement time after marking has taken place should not merely be used to improve a piece of work already done but to revisit knowledge and to practise the skills that will inform future work.
  • Comparative judgement is a marking approach that ‘involves comparing a series of two pieces of work side-by-side to establish a measurement scale. It offers a number of benefits over more traditional marking and moderation’ in that it is more efficient, reliable, fair and meaningful (No More Marking, 2019). The teacher takes the work and compares it side by side, rather than comparing an assessment in relation to a set of criteria.
  • Whole-class feedback approaches have gained popularity by teachers. The teacher reviews all of the written work but instead of writing a series of similar comments on each pupil’s book that identifies their individual areas for improvement, the teacher notes down frequent errors seen across the whole class, and selects pupils’ work to share more widely that exemplifies good practice or common misconceptions.

When you’ve read this article and made any notes to record key learning points, click the ‘Mark as complete’ button below and then select ‘What does research tell us about assessment and feedback?’ to hear more on this research evidence from an expert in assessment.

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Using Technology in Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning

Chartered College of Teaching

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