Making Waves: Building a Better Future for Assessment – final report

In partnership with Pearson


1st December 2020

Download the report here

Assessment is the central pillar of teaching. Without effective assessment learning remains a ‘black box’ with little or no reliable information about needs, progress and misconceptions.  

If we are serious about ensuring all students get the opportunity to excel in the classroom, we must ensure that teachers have the tools to develop and deploy effective assessment practices in the classroom.  

To this end, in 2017, CFEY and Pearson published ‘Testing the Waters’, a report showing that teachers had been left overwhelmed by the workload associated with assessment, and lacking the assessment expertise they needed. 

Making Waves is the follow-up to this initial report. Focusing on the key issues of teacher workload and expertise.

The project began with a crowdsourcing exercise to understand how practitioners were responding to these challenges. From an initial shortlist of 40 innovative approaches, 10 were selected for closer study. Fieldwork took over a year, tracking teachers’ initiatives as they developed and adapted. The findings have been distilled into the new ‘Making Waves’ report which launches today.

The report shows that teachers can take action to take control and build a better future for assessment, through responsible innovation and makes a number of practical suggestions for teachers, schools and countries who want to follow in their footsteps.

Research shows that effective assessment is a vital part of improving outcomes for pupils. However, as highlighted in ‘Testing the Waters’, excessive workload and insufficient teacher expertise prevent teachers from developing and deploying effective assessment techniques in the classroom. These problems also lead to issues in teacher retention, which remains one of the biggest problems facing the school sector.  

Subject-specific assessment expertise should be recognised as a critical element of professional development and competence for middle leaders. #MakingWaves Share on X

The solution 

Teachers are well placed to identify and respond to the challenges they face in their setting. However, they need to be given appropriate freedom, backed up with principles of responsible innovation, in order to implement solutions to these challenges.  

Teachers therefore need to be supported to: 

  • Build up their technical knowledge of assessment  
  • Develop clarity regarding the purpose of different assessments 
  • Implement change at the appropriate level (classroom, department, whole school, school network, state) 
  • Balance flexibility and fidelity as part of the innovation process. 

The report concludes with four top tips for schools and teachers who want to implement new approaches to assessment:

  1. Prepare for innovation: Those looking to make waves in assessment should grow their repertoire of potential solutions by learning more about assessment, building up their technical knowledge and forming new partnerships and collaborations.
  2. Be explicit about what purpose assessment is serving in this instance: Assessment innovators, particularly at a classroom or department level should focus sharply on a specific challenge that they are seeking to address. They can then tailor their response to this, rather than seeking one approach which they hope will tackle all their pain points in one go.
  3. Consider the best level to innovate at: Subject-specific assessment expertise should be recognised as a critical element of professional development and competence for middle leaders. Schools could then explicitly recognise that research-informed, assessment innovation is one of middle leaders’ responsibilities.
  4. Decide how tight or loose to be with your approach: Innovators should maximise opportunities to gather and act on feedback fast, rather than waiting until and end-point evaluation. The appropriate level of flexibility versus fidelity will depend on the approach that is being used and the degree to which the approach is established.

In partnership with: