Regardless of a school’s chosen approach, the process of assessment results in comparable outcomes. Put simply, with a pool of meaningful assessment information, schools are able to explain the impact of their teaching. They can classify pupils by attainment. They can evaluate progress.

But there is a nuance to this process that can be overlooked by a cursory glance. Schools adopt assessment methods shaped by ideas about teaching and learning. These ideas are used to evaluate the performance of different groups within the school. Both the values and the methods of assessment evolve to become unique to each setting.

When it comes to using an assessment system, these values need to be translated into teachers’ activity in the software. Thus, the clicks and numerical entries entered into a tracking system become the way that teaching staff encapsulate the learning process pupils have gone through. Little wonder that methods of assessment are an emotive issue.

Assessing against age-related expectations and showing pupils’ ability relative to the curriculum has grown in popularity since the levels system was removed. Age-related expectations have become the favoured method of assessment for many schools. They look towards point-in-time assessment as a way to understand pupil attainment. They are also able to compare assessments from different terms as a means to measure progress.

When faced with an unfamiliar assessment tool, features of that system give the impression that it dictates a certain method of teaching and a certain philosophy of education. In Target Tracker, for example, the system is underpinned by summative judgements described by our Steps system. The system was always designed to support many versions of best practice and, in particular, an entry made by a teacher based on the progress through the curriculum content and predicted likely outcomes; in this way, age-related assessment forms part of the system’s assessing and reporting process.

For many, making assessments against age-related expectations represents a contrary position to selecting a labelled assessment point to describe pupil attainment. The assessment system choice then appears to be binary; either pupils are ‘on-track’ or they are ‘at’ a certain assessment.

Which takes me back to a statement I made at the very beginning. Although the two methods of assessment would be very different, there is a homogeneity to the judgements being made. Schools are using either one of these methods to show how successful pupils have been at coping with the curriculum. So, a judgement that a pupil is a little below the expected standard for the current term might trigger an intervention to take place. Similarly, if that pupil’s learning is called (for example) ‘emerging’, so it will have the same effect on their provision. The school will look at where the pupil needs extra support and then act to provide it.

Whatever the value assigned to an assessment when it is recorded, it should lead to the same outcome for pupils. This could be either a summative value or an age-related judgement, this is not particularly important in terms of shaping provision. However, the method of assessment must match how the school approaches teaching and learning. Even more important is that the tracking system the school uses to assess has the capability to reflect the school’s approach to teaching and learning. Find one that provides flexibility in assessment to match your school’s approach to teaching and learning. Teacher’s time should not be spent plotting ways through a tracking system in order to record useful judgements, rather assessing their pupils in an effective way. Wishing you all a great last half-term of the year.