HOW to assess in Religious Education
In religious education, just as in other subjects of the curriculum, there is a variety of ways in which assessment of pupils’ attainment and progress might be undertaken. These will be linked to the broad aims of RE and to the content that pupils study.
In deciding HOW to assess pupils’ work it is important to distinguish between:
a) Assessment for Learning and
a) Assessment for learning involves the use of classroom assessment to improve learning.
Such assessment is diagnostic, where it identifies strengths and weaknesses in pupils’ performance, and formative, where it is used to helps pupils understand how they can progress. It involves:
- gathering and interpreting evidence about pupils’ learning; and
- learners and their teachers using that evidence to decide where pupils are in their learning, where they are going and how to take the next steps.
QCA and the Assessment Reform Group, 2001
An important part of assessment for learning is pupils’ self-assessment. As Black & Wiliam say, ‘Pupils should be trained in self-assessment so that they can understand the main purposes of their learning and thereby grasp what they need to do to achieve’.
‘Inside the Black Box’, 1998, Kings College, London
b) Assessment of Learning.
b) Assessment of learning simply measures what learners know or can do. This is often termed summative assessment, particularly where it occurs at or towards the end of a particular piece of work and a judgement is made of pupils’ performance against set criteria. Once such assessment has taken place, a new process of learning can be started when teachers and learners reflect on the results.
Both types of assessment are important; it is not a case of doing one or the other. Pupils need feedback that is built into the learning process (‘assessment for learning’) as well as through more formal tests, examinations or set assessment tasks (‘assessment of learning’).
The following notes are intended to help the teacher make reliable judgements about pupils’ progress in RE and to help pupils improve their knowledge, understanding and skills in the subject.
How do you do Assessment in RE?
Assessment may be done with whole class(es), smaller groups or individual pupils:
a) as an integral, ongoing and informal part of teaching, through, for example:
- conversations with pupils about what they know and can do;
- questions differentiated to provide opportunities for pupils of differing abilities to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding;
- gathering information from pupils’ self and peer assessment activities.
b) as a formal, planned activity, through, for example:
- an initial assessment of what pupils already know and can do, e.g., through a mind-map;
- differentiated tasks linked to the ‘levels’ in your RE syllabus;
- summative tests or examinations;
- pupil interviews.
Evidence of pupils’ attainment in RE can be gathered from the whole range of learning experiences, for example, writing, art work, oral responses to reflective experiences, hot-seating, ‘diamond nines’, checklist activities, role plays, mind maps, circle-times and debates, surveys, matching activities and so on.
How do you make Assessment in RE manageable?
The first point to be made about making assessment manageable is not to overdo it! Rather, teachers would be better advised to spend time giving feedback to pupils about the acquisition and development of knowledge, understanding and skills in RE.
Other ways of making assessment more manageable include:
- conducting interviews with a sample of pupils representing different ability levels to assess their learning over a longer period of time;
- ensuring that learning objectives are clear in advance of each assessment activity, so that pupils’ responses can be easily related to those objectives;
- being very focused on what it is you are assessing, e.g., by limiting the number of objectives to be assessed
- being flexible about classroom organisation so the majority of the class may be working while you assess a small group or individual pupils;
- instead of recording every pupil’s achievement, recording only those which failed to meet or which exceeded the expectation;
- being aware that there is a variety of ways in which pupils can demonstrate their skills, knowledge and understanding and teachers can record their achievements.
When do you do Assessment in RE?
Ongoing assessment is part of every lesson and helps to build a picture of pupils’ abilities and the appropriate challenges that need to be set.
Planned assessment can take place at any time. Schools could consider:
- an initial assessment at the beginning of a unit to establish a baseline;
- a formal assessed task towards the end of the unit to provide information about progress and standards being achieved. This will allow time for pupils to reflect on what they have learnt and for teachers to adjust their planning appropriately;
- temporary changes to the timetable so that sufficient time is given to a particular RE assessment activity, e.g., ‘blocking’ time.
How do you record pupils’ achievements?
In RE, pupils can show that they are achieving in any of the ways listed above, so more ways have to be found to record their achievements and progress than a simple grade in a mark book based on a piece of writing.
Methods of recording pupils’ work and progress include:
- using pre-prepared evaluation sheets to record names of pupils at either end of the attainment spectrum (rather than names of all the pupils who achieve the ‘majority class expectation’);
- using a mark-book with learning objectives listed in the columns;
- providing pupils with self- and peer-assessment sheets;
- making digital records, e.g., photos of a drama presentation, or a scribed record of key contributions to a discussion. These could be put on the school website;
- making ’floor books’, using flip chart paper, to scribe comments from pupils as they contribute to a discussion or debate. These can then be laminated and displayed;
- making ‘comment books’, as ‘floor books’ above. These can be bound and displayed in the library or resource centre.
It is a good idea to keep portfolios of pupils’ best work – carefully selected by both teacher and pupil and retained as evidence of progress.
How do you use the assessment information?
Providing feedback to learners is absolutely crucial if assessment information is to be used effectively.
Activities which are designed to be assessed should provide information about what further experience pupils need and what they need to practice, as well as what they can do already. Remember that feedback giving guidance on how each pupil can improve, plus time to do so, is of more value than grading or giving marks.
(cf. Black & Wiliam, op. cit., 1998).
Methods of helping pupils to understand how well they are doing and how they can improve include:
- providing feedback on aspects of learning through marking, questioning of individual pupils and plenary sessions;
- listening and responding to pupils, encouraging and, where appropriate, praising them;
- recognising and handling misconceptions, building on pupils’ responses and steering them towards clearer understanding, for example, by helping them to apply new learning to different situations;
- encouraging pupils to judge the success of their own work and setting targets for improvement;
- regularly sharing information about pupils’ needs and achievements with parents / carers;
- taking full account of the targets set out in individual education plans for pupils with special educational needs.
(Adapted from the Ofsted Primary Handbook, 2003, p.73)
More formally, assessment information might also be used to:
- plan the next stage of a class’s work, taking account of the mix of ability within the class, and of the need to challenge all pupils to make progress;
- Report on pupils’ attainment and progress using a bank of comments to guide pupils’ learning. There are various points of reference for such reports. Some syllabuses continue to use ‘can-do’ statements (for example Can-do_assessment_sheet_1-4; Can-do_assessment_sheet_5-8). Other models are emerging, for example the draft ‘Learning Outcomes’