According to Wragg (2001) the purpose of assessment are knowledge of results or feedback, support and encouragement, motivation, diagnosis, selection and measurement and comparison.
The Task Group report on assessment and testing for the National Curriculum was published in 1988. A central feature of the report is that assessment should be seen as formative, which means that it should provide information to the teacher which will influence the organization and structure for future learning both for the individual child and the class as a whole (Connor, 1991). Although TGAT (1998) recognized that a major purpose of assessment was formative, they also recognized the summative purpose of assessment. Summative assessment records the overall achievement of pupils in a systematic way. Summative assessment, Guba and Lincoln (1981) argue, is concerned to determine the impact of outcomes of learning.
A distinction is regularly made between the formative and summative purposes of assessment, possibly because this brand of assessment must be correlated to further work which will tackle problems identified.
Whereas summative assessment involves measuring what has been learned in formal assessment, formative assessment in its widest sense refers to any process by which pupils are made aware of how they can make progress. (HCECS, 2009).
Tunstall and Gipps (1996:389) explain formative assessment as teachers using their judgements of children’s knowledge or understanding to feedback into the teaching process and to determine for individual children whether to re-explain the task/concept, to give further practice on it, or move onto the next stage’. This allows the professional to critically reflect on their own teaching abilities, their planning in reply to formative assessment and children can reflect and become empowered because they have been provided with worthy feedback.
Because formative assessment supports teaching and learning by providing feedback to learners and teachers, it is often referred to as 'assessment for learning'. It is undertaken by both teachers and learners and becomes formative when it is used to plan the next steps in learning to meet their needs. (QCA, 2004)
Diagnostic purposes of assessment links to formative purpose of assessment and leads to a particular set of circumstances. Diagnostic assessment should be systematically built into the curriculum and identify the next steps for the pupil (HCECS, 2009). The TGAT (1998) proposed that the diagnostic purposes of assessment should be recognised, through which learning difficulties might be classified so that suitable help and guidance can be provided.
Using observation as a strategy for assessment can provide practitioners with a holistic overview of a child’s development and learning needs if used regularly and frequently. Generally, assessment is a frequent and ongoing process throughout the Early Years Foundation Stage. Islington, (2009) believes that observation is the principle strategy for assessing young children’s development and learning. Based on the knowledge and understanding learned from observations, practitioners respond appropriately and plan for children’s next steps. It would appear that Nutbrown (1999) agrees with Islington (2009) as she states that teacher’s ongoing assessment begins with careful observation. Observation can aid teachers to identify not only children’s learning needs but also their achievements. Once children have been observed and their needs identified, practitioners are able to provide children with worthwhile curriculum, appropriate to their learning needs. Assessment which makes use of detailed and focused observations of children should be an ongoing and wide process which highlights children’s thinking and their capabilities. ‘Close and systematic observation can identify the threads of children’s thinking, their patterns of development and interest.’ (Nutbrown, 1996:124)
Griffin-Beale (1984) asserts that the purpose of an observation depends on the judgments as well as the skill of the observer. This point is arguable as it is felt that observations should be non judgmental until the observation is at the point of evaluation. For example, it could make the observation bias and non inclusive as the observer will be putting their own opinions into the observation. However if carried out effectively, ‘Observation and assessment can illuminate the future as well as provide information with which to improve the quality of the present.’ (Pugh and Duffy 2006:99)
Whilst on placement in an early years setting, observations occurred on regular and frequent basis; whether it be to apply with the requirements of early years foundation stage, or to celebrate a child’s achievements. The setting used a wide variety of different observational strategies that promoted inclusive practice in assessment because the setting ensured that the observations were not bias by taking into account gender, culture such as is the observed activity something that the child would do at home or is it new to them), and ensuring that socio-economic differences were taken into account.
Crisp et al (2005) argue that in the absence of a formalised assessment framework, assessors may develop their own subjective assessment criteria and fail to include core information. The common assessment framework (CAF) can prevent this from occurring as it is a shared assessment tool for use across all children’s services and all local areas in England. It aims to help early identification of need and promote synchronized service provision.
According to CWDC (2009) CAF consists of a three topics the first being a straightforward pre-assessment checklist to help practitioners make up their mind as to who would benefit from a common assessment. The second is a three-step process (prepare, discuss, deliver) for carrying out a common assessment, to help practitioners assemble and understand information about the needs and strengths of the child, based on consultation with the child, their family and other practitioners as appropriate. The third and final is a standard form to help practitioners record, and, share with others (if appropriate to do so), the findings from the assessment in terms that are supportive in working with the family.
According to CWDC (2009) there are four important reasons as to why common assessment is needed. These reasons are to provide practitioners with a holistic device for identifying a child’s needs before they reach crisis point and enables them to discuss and address that child’s needs. Common assessment ensures that important needs are not overlooked and that the child does not have to be subject of too many unnecessary assessments. It provides a frequent structure to document information and provides the facilities for practitioners to share information between themselves. The last reason that CWDC (2009) found was important as to why the common assessment was important was that it gives evidence to facilitate requests to involve other agencies, reducing unnecessary referrals and enabling specialist services to focus their resources where they are most needed.
The dcfs (2004) declare that common assessment is used where a referral between agencies or a multi-agency approach is likely. This means that information can be shared between agencies making the validity of the assessment more reliable because the professionals involved have knowledge in specific areas of expertise.
As stated previously in the essay, one of the many purposes of assessment can be to set targets. ‘Setting targets makes you focus on what children are actually learning, not what you think you are teaching’ (OFSTED/DfEE, 1996).
Common Assessment framework can be considered by some professionals as more reliable and valid as opposed to observations, the reason being that observations can become subject of bias because it can be carried out freely by the professional, whereas CAF is a structured assessment that has been prepared for the professional to carry out alongside the child’s parents and any other specified professionals.
Within settings practitioners set targets for their children on a daily basis and this can be part of their planning process. According to Briggs et al (2003) targets are specific learning objectives focusing on different groups for a variety of purposes but all working towards progression in learning and improving standards. They can be used at pre-school, school, individual levels and group levels. On an informal basis however, children are set targets, perhaps subconsciously, from the moment they are born e.g. parents setting targets for them to crawl by a certain age.
Clarke and McCallum (2001) stated that the Gillingham Partnership Project was significant in establishing ways forward for target setting that focused on developing children’s writing, they also stated that it seems clear that individual writing targets for some children both motivate and give clear focus for achievement . The clearer and better quantified the individual target, the easier it is for a child to recognise achievement. Clarke and McCallum (2001) set out some ways in which teachers appear to have had the most success. A few of these are, making sure the target is crystal clear and matches the child’s ability; making sure the child knows how to go about meeting the target. (Clarke and McCallum, 2001)
On a visit to a child setting, massive emphasis was placed on target setting. It gave practitioners a goal to aim towards and guidelines to teach and some practitioners said that it ‘breaks down the curriculum for them.’ This meaning that it gave them specific topics to aim at in their teaching, topics that they felt needed further addressing. They assessed children and through the assessment were able to identify targets to set them. When the practitioners had set out targets they could plan these into teaching and learning. An example seen in a setting that was visited was a target board that was situated on a wall next to the interactive board. On the target board were class targets for the week. Targets would be discussed throughout and act as a support/assistant for all children.
Harlen (1983) believed that assessment in education has been criticised for interfering with the process of learning, the analogy being that of a gardener constantly pulling up his plants to see if the roots are growing. There is some truth in this, particularly if there is too much assessment of the wrong kind, but also distorts reality to make a point. Teachers need to see if children are progressing but not by uprooting them but by careful observation with a well-informed eye (Wynne Harlen, 1983). Cameron (2009) who agrees with Harlen’s point, has raised a current issue in assessment, asserting that in some cases assessment can produce a sense disempowerment and aggravation and that assessments are being carried out for no other purposes other than they must be done. Furthermore, Cameron (2009) also stated that assessments endorse an agenda of inappropriately forcing children up the development scale.
To conclude the Common Assessment Framework emphasised the importance of collaboration between not only professionals but also the parents of the child as well. It brought about a well structured strategy for assessment that promotes multi-agency working. It was found that through critical analysis of the strategy that it promoted inclusive practice in assessment. Through observation, practitioners are able to monitor children’s development in natural environments; however it was found that the observational strategy of assessment may not be as valid and reliable as CAF as they can become bias as it is more than likely that the practitioner will know the child that they are observing. Assessment has developed greatly over the years and teachers are now allowed more recognition of their professionalism. Through assessment practitioners are able to monitor a child’s progress and identify areas of strength but also recognize if any additional support is needed. Assessment also provides practitioners the opportunity to critically reflect on their own skills as a professional.
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