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A systematic review of the evidence of the impact on students, teachers and the curriculum of the process of using assessment by teachers for summative purposes. Press release

Teachers can build up a picture of their pupils' performance across a range of key goals of education if they assess them over a period of time rather than by one-off tests, a research survey conducted for the Government-funded EPPI Centre has shown.

This also enables them to use their assessment to adapt their teaching to meet pupils' needs, says the study, conducted by Professor Wynne Harlen of Bristol University.

Following an earlier study by the group on the reliability and validity of summative assessment by teachers, published in the summer, this review found that assessment by teachers can have positive effects on both pupils and teachers, without the negative impact of external tests and examinations.

But for this to happen teachers should help pupils understand the criteria by which their work is assessed and make the basis of the marks and grades they assign crystal clear to pupils, parents and colleagues.

And teachers should explain to pupils the purpose of the assessment and what skill or understanding is being assessed, rather than just stressing the importance of getting a high grade, which leads to 'shallow learning'.

Widespread worry about excessive external testing of British pupils has led to growing interest in government circles in giving a greater role to teacher assessment in both primary and secondary schools. (In Wales, ministers have already decided to phase out national external testing of pupils at ages 7, 11 and 14.)

The study showed that concerns about adding to teachers' workload and about the reliability of their assessments can be overcome by proper training and preparation. Anticipated worries that playing the dual role of teacher and assessor could undermine their relationship with pupils were not borne out in the research.

This is the fourth study conducted for the Assessment and Learning Research Synthesis Group, carried out as part of a programme of research reviews funded by the Department for Education and Skills.

It was based on an in-depth review of 23 studies, systematically selected from an initial 343 research articles considered. Twelve of the selected studies were conducted in England, nine in the United States and one each in New Zealand and Hong Kong. Only seven provided evidence of high weight, which suggests an urgent need for more research, says the group.

Their earlier survey on teacher assessment found that teachers often showed a subconscious bias against badly behaved pupils in their marking. But it said that this could be overcome by proper training and clearly defined criteria, which teachers should be involved in setting. Teacher assessment was both cheaper and more valid than external testing.

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