Podcast - Transforming teaching practice through enhanced assessment expertise

Transforming teaching practice through enhanced assessment expertise

24 Feb 2021 (21:23)

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This is the second in a series of podcasts from Cambridge Assessment Network focusing on different aspects and forms of assessment. Today we are with Loic Menzies from the Centre for Education and Youth to speak about a report they released aiming to cast a light on what schools and teachers need to tackle the big challenges around assessment.

The Centre for Education and Youth is a think and action-tank providing the evidence and support policy makers and practitioners need to support young people.

You can find out more about Making Waves: Building a Better Future for Assessment through our Insight piece in response to the report. 

Cambridge Assessment Network is an accredited provider of assessment training and professional development. We aim to bring together professionals from the assessment community to share best practice and the latest thinking. You can find out about our upcoming professional development opportunities on our events pages. Or to stay up date with our network sign up to our newsletters.

You can also find this episode on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Podcast transcript

Alana: Hello and welcome to the Cambridge Assessment podcast. My name is Alana Walden and I'm here to introduce the second episode in a series of podcasts hosted by our colleagues in the Cambridge Assessment Network, focusing on the different aspects and forms of assessment. In this episode Loic from the Centre for Education and Youth discusses a report on building a better future for assessment. We look at how assessment can transform teaching practice and student outcomes and championing assessment as a career pathway for teachers.

Penelope: So today I'm here with Loic Menzies from the Centre for Education and Youth and in December they released a report along with Pearson UK called Making Waves: Building a Better Future for Assessment, which had the aim of casting a light on what schools and teachers need to tackle the big challenges around assessment. So welcome Loic and thanks for coming today.

Loic: Thank you for having me

Penelope: So first of all would you like to just introduce yourself and tell us a bit more about the Center for Education and Youth and what it is that you do?

Loic: Yeah absolutely. So my name is Loic and I'm the Chief Executive of the Centre for Education and Youth and we describe ourselves as a think and action tank, and our job is basically to work across the education and youth sector and to bring together research, policy and practitioner and young people's insights. So really to try and provide the evidence and expertise that policy makers and practitioners need to support young people better. So we act as that kind of bridge between all those different parts of a sector who sometimes don't, unfortunately don't, talk to each other as much as would be good.

Penelope: So today we are speaking about the making waves report what were the driving forces behind the report and how did it come about?

Loic: So I've been really interested in this area for a long time actually because back as a teacher I used to really struggle with assessment. We had really unrealistic expectations around how much assessment we did, we were expected to do. And by that I mean quite meaningless assessment, the kind of ticking and flicking through a book and I was so frustrated by that because the expectations the school had on me would have taken me 15 to 20 hours a week to comply with, and that sort of notion of assessment as a form of compliance and something that kind of was divorced from its value and purpose, it was something that really frustrated me. It was only when I moved into research and into policy that I began to realise that actually assessment is a real pillar of good education and good teaching because there's just no other way that you can really understand your pupil's misconceptions and plan your teaching and support their progress. So that kind of tension between what I'd experienced as a teacher and as a school leader, and what I could see was needed, felt to me like something that needed resolving.

So a few years back I co-authored a report called Testing the Waters that looked at trying to understand the purpose of assessment and some of the issues and challenges with assessment, and this is kind of a next step in that. So Making Waves is all about building a better future for assessment and thinking about the role that teachers themselves and schools at every level, can take in using their agency and using their expertise to use assessment for good.

Penelope: You said there a bit about your experience as a teacher. What was the status quo you found in assessment in schools? What does it look like currently?

Loic: I mean this is a few years back and fortunately I think the conversation has moved on to some extent. But at the time there were very much top down expectations from school leadership which were justified on the basis of needing to be done in order to comply with Ofsted and quite often a misconceived idea of what Ofsted might want. So we were being told that we needed to be showing that we'd looked at pupil's books, we needed to be showing that we had given it a mark, we needed to be entering data into spreadsheets whether or not that data was meaningful. So it was completely devoid of, or divorced from what, as a teacher I considered to be the purpose of my role. So it wasn't something that was there for helping pupils to learn, it was something that was there to demonstrate compliance.

Penelope: Yeah and then would you say that that sort of meaningless or purposeless assessment was, you know, was it kind of negatively impacting on teachers and pupils as well?

Loic: Hugely. And actually there was a study just published a few months back by John Jerrim at the Institute of Education, which actually showed a really strong relationship between marking and poor well-being amongst teachers. So I mean another area I do a lot of research in is around teacher recruitment and retention. So the teacher workforce, and we see that levels of workload are problematic. But part of the reason why they're so problematic is because they're not seen as demands on teachers time that are meaningful and worthwhile. What teachers are being asked to do sometimes and that time is not what they went into teaching for and that's often the case when it comes to these sort of compliance based assessment policies. So I strongly believe that we could have a much happier and more motivated workforce if teachers were able to take and take back control of assessment and use it for its originally intended purpose which is to support pupil learning.

Penelope: What do you see as the kinds of innovations that could inform teaching practice and support learner outcomes?

Loic: So one of the interesting things about this study is that it was actually in many ways more about how you implement a change and how you design an initiative to maximize your chances of success, as it was about assessing a particular approach to assessment. Because actually I think often it's more about how you implement something, then that becomes a really important determinant of how successful any approach to assessment is. So key within that is tailoring every form of assessment to its intended purpose because as we showed in our first report, the Testing the Water report and as people like Daisy Christodoulou have been arguing for a long time, a lot of the problems with assessment come from the muddying that happens when assessment is trying to serve formative purposes and summative purposes and accountability purposes and every other purpose under the sun. All through one assessment and that can cause huge problems. So I think one of the most promising things when I look at assessment innovation is it's sort of micro assessments or that are really tailored to their purpose. So we saw teachers who were really effectively using those rapid quiz type assessments in order to identify misconceptions quickly so you can change tack and adapt your teaching quickly. And those being key to to that form of that formative continuous assessment and accepting that that won't be the basis of your your summative judgments and that those are a separate thing but really disentangling some of those confused purposes.

Penelope: I think you've spoken before about the need for knowledge sharing and that is something that is part of this report as well. What do you think are the best ways to support people in their innovations and to share their successes?

Loic: Yeah well I think something like the Assessment Network that you have is really important for exactly that reason, because we argue in Making Waves that preparing to innovate is key and when we looked at, you know a lot of initiatives we looked at had all sorts of problems and weren't necessarily successful which was part of what we were trying to study and what we were finding quite often is that people were drawing on very limited sources of information to in order to shape their initiatives. A small number of names of researchers would come up repeatedly or people would be picking from a limited repertoire. So I think one of the things we were trying to do with this report was exactly that, that exchange of knowledge giving different examples. So connecting teachers up to talk about the different approaches they're taking and ensuring that every time a practitioner finds an an issue with assessment that they want to take on as a challenge, that they read read widely about it and search for other examples before trying to reinvent the wheel.

Penelope: Yeah no that's definitely something you know as the Assessment Network obviously we provide a service in teaching people about assessment but we do want to, you know we have that broader mission of bringing professionals together to sort of exchange ideas and learn from each other. So something else that we think is important is people seeing assessment as a professional discipline and a career route, and potentially for teachers that being a career route. So what do you think are the barriers, could be the barriers to that?

Loic: Yeah well almost almost to flip that on its head, one of the things I was really struck by in the study was the value of innovating at a departmental or subject specific level and so we saw that in several schools innovations were being led by heads of department which meant that they could really tailor their approach, their assessment approach to the particular discipline they're operating in, because I think one of the the areas that sometimes we lack as teachers is that subject-specific understanding of assessment so I think as you say in terms of developing assessment expertise as a discipline and doing so within the tradition and the particular pedagogy of each subject is really important and that's even more important at primary level where teachers are having to move between different subjects where the discipline of assessment within each of those subjects is likely to be different, being able to navigate between what assessment looks like in different disciplines is key.

Penelope: Following on from that you mentioned in the report about the need for innovation but responsible innovation. So what would you say the key things are to achieving that?

Loic: So a few of them I've touched on, the first one being that idea of preparing to innovate and so doing the pre-reading, doing the pre-work because actually I think of it as managing the risks because in innovation yeah innovation is risky. It wouldn't be innovation if it didn't often or at least sometimes go wrong and unfortunately when you're talking about education that can have quite a high cost because it's pupils who experience that and sometimes they only get one shot at education. So yeah that preparation is key and bearing in mind that key question of purpose that I mentioned earlier on, in terms of what is the purpose of this particular bit of assessment and thinking about what level to innovate at. Do you need a whole school policy for this or is it a department level policy, or is it an individual practitioners approach? And working out at what level to innovate at is key. And also the question of if you're learning from another approach, if you're implementing something that you've heard about elsewhere, how tight or how loose to be about that innovation. And what I mean by that is that if you've got a tried and tested approach that's been you know properly trialled, it's actually really important to implement that with fidelity to the model that has been tested. However if you're doing something quite new you might want to be able to duck and dive and change and respond quickly in a really agile way to what's going on. So we saw some of our innovators in Making Waves had tried something and quickly realised that it wasn't working how they expected. So they changed it and they were only able to do that because they had quite a loose experimental approach and they were constantly gathering feedback. So are you going to do something that's already got a solid evidence base, and therefore you're going to do it for a fixed period of time following a fixed model? Or are you doing something more experimental in which case you need much more rapid feedback and much more rapid adaptation and I think if people have a read of Making Waves they'll find that we've provided in there a kind of cycle, based on a policy cycle that's been around for quite a long time thinking about identifying what the pain point you're trying to tackle is, thinking about how you plan your response, how you make your decision, how you go about implementation and then how you evaluate all of that in a cycle and a loop. So we put that in there and hopefully that gives people a bit of a structure to innovate in which will mean that it's that bit more responsible and careful.

Penelope: I know you said the case studies within the report were more about looking at possible ways to implement change rather than the specific innovations but I was just wondering whether there were some particularly successful innovations within the case studies?

Loic: So yeah there's a few and one I'd pick out was the assessment innovation team at Heathfield. And what I like about that one is that they really exemplify this quite systematic approach to innovation that I've just been describing. So they, in that school they got people to volunteer from different subjects and so they had people leading innovations from different subjects and they provided some proper training to make sure that people had the right assessment expertise to start off with so that they could carefully plan an evidence-based approach to tackling a particular issue in their subject and then they went about implementing that and constantly reviewing it and assessing the extent to which it was successful. And then they were able to cascade that out when it was successful so it was a really great way of saying look we realise that we want to improve assessment practice in this school as a whole but we need to work out the best ways of doing that and so we're going to equip people with the skills they need to do that and a structured approach to be able to go about doing so systematically. So I was really impressed by that because I think that's quite unusual for schools to take that kind of approach.

Penelope: Yeah and it seems like a good way for, you know you say the idea of cascading, maybe a few people within the school having a deeper level of understanding of assessment and you're kind of able to spread that more widely.

Loic: Yeah absolutely

Penelope: So why is assessment so important? For people that think assessment is all about high stakes testing and exams at the end of your school career, how can it be transformative, how can it make a difference?

Loic: I think it means that you make sure as a teacher that you are putting your effort into the right things. That you know what it is that is stopping one of your pupils from progressing. Because it's very easy to make assumptions about why someone doesn't understand something or to bang your head against a wall as a teacher thinking well I don't, why are they not understanding this. Or I'm sure they knew this last week how come they don't know it now, what's going on? And it can be so frustrating when you think you've taught something but it doesn't seem to have been learned and I think it really closes that loop between what's taught and what's learned telling you where your pupils are at so you can really then direct your attentions with like the precision of absolute precision in order to tackle those misconceptions and move pupils on and that's what I think so powerful about it when it's done well

Penelope: So the report came out in December, with something like this what needs to happen now? How does maximum impact come from the report and what do you hope will be the next steps?

Loic: It's a funny one actually because quite often the reports we do at the Centre for Education and Youth involve quite a lot of recommendations for policy makers but because we're a think and action tank we actually believe that you don't just achieve change through policy change. And that's nowhere more the case than with this report because actually this whole report is about teacher's agency and their autonomy and their ability to enact change. So unlike other reports where we might be trying to get the government to fund an initiative or to change a policy, here it's really about getting the word out to teachers and supporting teachers to make change themselves. And so it's about us getting those kind of models and those lessons that we've been sharing today out to as many teachers as possible. So I mean I've written a chapter in the research ed book on assessment recently that kind of draws together some of the lessons from Making Waves and that type of thing is really important here as is you know talking to networks like your Assessment Network to get the word out there really and give people those tools that they they can use in in their classroom

Penelope: I know you said the report doesn't address a specific policy change but do you think there are policies that are possibly acting as a barrier to teachers, you know being a bit more autonomous in the classroom with their assessment?

Loic: I think where we have accountability that's very short-term it counteracts efforts by teachers to do really sustainable changes to their practice like the ones we're advocating for here. So I've long argued that we shouldn't really be holding schools to account just by year by year in terms of achievement in national exams, that we should be looking at much more long-term measures, multi-year averages and so on. So I think that where we have very short-term accountability pressures it definitely detracts because it creates a climate of fear among school leaders where what they feel they need to push for is for compliance into a framework rather than being able to think, well what will mean that our pupils are doing really well, two years, three years, four years down the line. So I've long felt that and we need to move towards much longer term measures of school success

Penelope: So that concludes my questions. Was there anything you wanted to add to sign off?

Loic: I think apart from really encouraging people to have a read of the report because I think what we've tried to do is to fuse kind of thematic insights about approaches to innovation in assessment and then really detailed explanations of what happened in each of the case studies and what went wrong or what went right. So to engage with that and and see where the potential pitfalls are because having an idea for something you're going to do to improve assessment is really only not even half the work and not even 10 percent of the work. It's just the germ and how you go about implementing a change is what will really make the difference. So I think engaging with that idea of implementation and the stories of how people have gone about things over that time is what matters, which is kind of why we decided to do a project that was a long-term project following following people as they implemented something

Penelope: Okay well thank you very much for that and thank you for coming on our podcast it was great to speak to you

Loic: It's been really interesting to talk about

Penelope: If you enjoyed listening to this podcast you can find out more about the assessment network via the links in the description, join our community on LinkedIn and look out for the next podcast in this series.

Alana: Thank you for listening to the Cambridge Assessment podcast. You can find more of our podcasts on our website. Just search 'podcast gallery' or you can find us on Apple Podcasts or YouTube.

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