Personalised Assessments: Assessment for learning not accountability?

Published 07/01/2019   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

On Tuesday (8 January 2019), the Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams AM, will make a statement in Plenary on the ‘Introduction of Personalised Assessments’. This article aims to provide background information to inform Assembly Members’ preparations for the Cabinet statement and may also be of interest to education stakeholders more widely.

Phased replacement of the National Reading and Numeracy Tests with Personalised Assessments

The Welsh Government is phasing the introduction of online, adaptive Personalised Assessments to replace the current paper-based National Reading and Numeracy tests taken by pupils in Years 2 to 9; that is ages 6 to 13 (age at start of year).

There are currently three types of national tests taken by pupils in Years 2 to 9 – Reading, Numeracy (Procedural) and Numeracy (Reasoning). These were introduced in 2013 as part of the Welsh Government’s prioritisation of literacy and numeracy within a ‘twenty point plan’ to respond to Wales disappointing PISA results. For some historical background, see our 2013 publication, Literacy and Numeracy in Wales (PDF, 570KB).

Numeracy (Procedural) is the first to move to a personalised online version in 2018/19. Reading will follow in 2019/20 and then Numeracy (Reasoning) in 2020/21.

What will Personalised Assessments look like?

In its action plan, Education in Wales: Our National Mission (September 2017), the Welsh Government said it would ‘begin the phasing-in of adaptive personalised assessments (to replace paper-based reading and numeracy tests)’ ‘during Autumn 2018’. Within the context of the new Curriculum for Wales and its four purposes, the Welsh Government said it would

design and implement new assessment arrangements, with more emphasis on formative assessment; this will include developing personalised assessments that are computer-based and adaptive to provide improved diagnostic capabilities for all our learners, including the most able, and also ensure that new accountability arrangements are fit for purpose and effectively support curriculum and assessment reform.

A few months earlier, the Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams, had explained the purpose of Personalised Assessments in Plenary on 24 May 2017:

As you will be aware from my recent written statement [2 May 2017], perhaps one of the most exciting developments schools will see coming in the years ahead is the transition from the traditional paper reading and numeracy tests that learners sit each year, to an online, adaptive, personalised assessment. The new assessments will adapt the difficulty of the questions to match the response of the learner, adjusting to provide appropriate challenge for each individual. This means that all learners will be presented with questions that match and challenge their individual skills in reading and numeracy. Schools will receive high-quality, tailored information about each learner’s skills that they can use as additional evidence to plan the next steps for teaching and learning. The tests will be self-marking and compatible with schools’ information management systems. Teachers and learners will have high-quality, immediate and specific feedback, giving them a better picture of how they can address each learner’s strengths and weaknesses.

Policy context: Assessment for Learning not Accountability?

Personalised Assessments are part of a move towards the greater use of assessment for learning rather than for accountability purposes, as advocated by both the OECD (see its 2014 Review and 2017 Rapid Policy Assessment) and Professor Graham Donaldson (Successful Futures, 2015 and A Learning Inspectorate, 2018). (Note all links are to PDFs.)

Assessment for learning means that teachers’ assessments of pupils should primarily be formative rather than summative, i.e. they inform the ongoing teaching of learning associated with that pupil rather than measuring the outcome of a period of learning against a standard or benchmark. Assessment for learning techniques are therefore used throughout a programme of study rather than simply at its conclusion. We blogged about the topic in May 2017 ahead of Kirsty Willliams’ Plenary statement at that time.

The Welsh Government has already ceased the publication of teacher assessment outcomes of pupils at primary school level. The main reason is that the Welsh Government wants their main purpose to be seen and adopted as influencing what goes on in the classroom rather than how a school measures up against its counterparts. There have also been some concerns about the reliability of teacher assessment within a high stakes accountability system, with Estyn reporting back in 2013/14 that they are ‘not always robust or reliable enough’.

The Welsh Government says that by introducing online Personalised Assessments, it is responding to Professor Donaldson’s recommendation (43) in Successful Futures that:

Innovative approaches to assessment, including interactive approaches, should be developed drawing on the increasing potential contribution of digital technology.

In its recent report, Developing Schools as Learning Organisations in Wales, the OECD described the Welsh Government’s ongoing development of adaptive online personalised assessments as a ‘promising step forward’.

How to follow the debate

The Minister’s statement is scheduled for Tuesday 8 January 2019 at approximately 2.45pm. The Plenary session will be broadcast on Senedd TV and a transcript will be available on the Assembly’s Record of Proceedings.

Article by Michael Dauncey, National Assembly for Wales Research Service