When is a tracker not a tracker?

Chris Scarth

The last twelve months have seen the world of assessment data in primary education change beyond recognition. The removal of National Curriculum levels, Average Points Scores and changes to the curriculum structure entirely, has thrown many schools and providers into a spin over what data means.

With the government deciding that they would not be prescribing a specific assessment system for schools, and that in effect freedom would be given back to schools themselves, data was subsequently seen as dead.

Understandably so, this has led many people to assume that this is the death knell for tracking systems as well. However, any modern tracking system worth its salt is much more than just number crunching. It seemed the main feature of trackers between 2011 and 2014 was to merely create pretty graphs demonstrating progress, alongside slices of data in nice Venn diagrams, but the most effective ones have always had more going on under the bonnet.

Assessment has moved on, and rightly so. The emphasis in the new National Curriculum is on using assessment to feed straight into class, individual, and whole school planning. This is of much greater value than data alone, and tells you more about each individual child than simply labelling them with a level. Indeed, the more often we look at the data in numbers, the less reliable those numbers become, as the nature of learning is not linear in such small segments.

So a school’s tracking system should now be linking that formative assessment to all aspects of curriculum management, including: teaching and lesson planning, collecting evidence of learning, testing, moderation and reporting. It now becomes a hub for managing all of the many disparate things that teachers do on a day to day basis. Ultimately it should help streamline them, make them more effective and provide teachers with a genuine insight into the learning that is going in the classroom.

Technology plays a key part in this, and with many schools embracing mobile devices such as tablets in the classroom, this gives teachers the opportunity to record achievement and assess ‘on the go’. The recent Primary Assessment Survey run by Classroom Monitor suggests that 38% of schools already use tablets for admin and teaching, and almost half are going to start investing in them or add to their existing stock.

Linking mobile technology in with tracking systems means schools can do so much more with the information that’s gathered in the classroom. It should be easier for teachers to record evidence and assess in real-time, and more regularly, in order to spot gaps in attainment as early as possible. The ability to store and share that information more efficiently is great for moderation. It then becomes easier to ensure that only the most relevant evidence is being recorded, and that all staff are interpreting, setting and judging objectives in the same way.

If a system can also create things to share with pupils, so that they’re actively engaged with their learning, then so much the better. This could involve sharing pupils’ targets with them on a regular basis, so they understand their next steps and how to reach them. This is most effective when linked to assessment and learning materials in the classroom. Taking it one step further, this information might be shared with parents too.

Of course, data is still useful, and is integral to a good tracker. Schools will still need to use data for tracking and comparing certain cohorts, and will need to report high-level stats to governors and senior leaders. This is true both within individual schools, and now across multi academy trusts and school groups at the higher level. But that data can come in so many different forms.

Where the most innovative trackers add huge value is by enabling highly effective formative assessment in the classroom first and foremost, with data simply a by-product of that process. So when you’re comparing progress of certain groups, or measuring the impact of interventions, you’re getting the real story behind the numbers.

The start of the new academic year is always a good time for schools to take stock of their assessment systems. If they’re not being used regularly and confidently across the school now, then they won’t build up the feedback that will be needed throughout the year. The Primary Assessment Survey revealed that 40% of respondents are still relying on paper and basic MIS for tracking and assessment. But this won’t give a holistic view of what’s happening in a school, and it won’t provide the ongoing narrative that’s needed to drive improvement. This is especially important now that schools are choosing their own curriculum frameworks independently and adapting to change. Yes, it’s a challenge, but also a great opportunity. And a good tracker will help any school to make the most of it.

*The Classroom Monitor Primary Assessment Survey, July 2016

Chris Scarth is one of the founders of Classroom Monitor. Alongside his partner David Francis, Classroom Monitor was originally formed as a ‘spin out’ company from Nottingham Trent University in 2004, and is now used by over 2,500 schools both within the UK and Internationally.

Classroom Monitor is an award winning online progress tracker and curriculum manager. It will unify a school’s curriculum with the needs of learners, targeted planning and meaningful assessment. Classroom Monitor ultimately saves teachers time with one click assessment, driving effective moderation, identifying gaps in knowledge, informing planning and raising standards through high quality, curricula led formative assessment. Classroom Monitor’s website features both a weekly blog and free white paper resources exploring all aspects of the education industry, alongside best practice and new developments.

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