Costs and benefits of assessment: Reflections on Analysis Day

In this guest post, Dr Jenny Argyle (Maths teacher and MidYIS & ALIS coordinator at RGS Newcastle) shares her thoughts on Day 3 of our Assessment Academy program. She has been pleasantly surprised by how little time it has taken her to analyse, evaluate and improve classroom assessments, and here she talks about using assessment in another way: as an opportunity to create learning.

In regular day-to-day teaching, assessments are written, students sit the test, the test is marked and a score is recorded in a mark book and the test is returned to the student. In participating in the Assessment Academy programme it has made me reflect on the process of testing students and what could be done differently. Across year assessments in mathematics are often viewed by students and parents as ‘high-stakes’ tests as they will influence their future set placement. Class tests on the other hand are often perceived by students to be of little value as they are written by the teacher. The latter are often used in my practice as a teacher to identify gaps in students’ knowledge and address misconceptions.

A lot of time is invested in the writing, supervising and marking of assessments in school by teachers. Students will have put variable amounts of time into preparing for the assessment through reviewing notes and practising questions. After doing the test, they are only really interested in their score and how well they have done in relation to their peers. However, the assessment process could be viewed as a learning opportunity for both the student and the teacher.

For the student, we already encourage self-evaluation in school after assessments. For the teacher, the assessment tool introduced on day 3 provides the opportunity for the teacher to evaluate the test. It was relatively quick to enter the binary outputs for each student into the Excel spreadsheet. The assessment tool returns an evaluation of the internal consistency of the test via Cronbach’s alpha (‘reliability’). The item-level analysis allows you to identify which questions discriminated. It also identifies which questions worked less well and hence provides the opportunity to improve items within the assessment.

Taking a cost-benefit approach to the process of assessment – given the hours invested in one assessment by teachers and students – it makes sense to evaluate and improve assessments. So, for me, the real value of day 3 was seeing how little time was needed to evaluate an assessment and with relative ease. Within the context of the group of teachers participating in Assessment Academy, there was additional value in seeing how other assessments had been evaluated. If the range of questions was too broad or too easy, then the reliability was questionable. Furthermore, it was interesting to see how the reliability of one assessment changed with the age group tested.


Read our earlier post, “Testing to the teach”, to see thoughts from some more of our participants on the process they have gone through.

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