WHY do Assessment in Religious Education?
In religious education, just as in other subjects of the curriculum, it is important to let pupils know how they are doing and what they must do next to make progress. As well as knowledge and skills, it is a key part of religious education that pupils’ positive attitudes to study should be encouraged and praised.
A Rationale for Assessment in RE
The justification for assessing pupils’ attainment and progress in RE is largely the same for any curriculum subject, with benefits for pupils (for example, in letting them know how well they are doing in relation to expected standards) and their teachers (for example, in helping them plan to meet pupils’ learning needs), as well as providing information for parents / carers and the wider community (for example, in reporting on standards being achieved).
In religious education it has been argued by some that it is inappropriate to assess pupils’ progress. The argument here depends on a certain view of the aims of RE. If the subject is thought to be primarily about pupils’ spiritual, or even ‘religious’ development, then it may be inappropriate for ordinary mortals to be making judgements about degrees of other people’s spiritual progress. Such progress, it may be argued, is largely hidden from view and not open to ordinary educational assessment criteria.
It is therefore important to link assessment of attainment and progress in RE to those aims of the subject that relate to pupils’ developing knowledge of the key subject matter and of their ability to understand and evaluate it. And, as with all subjects, teachers will want to encourage positive attitudes to study. For RE, attitudes of curiosity in exploring the ideas of religion and belief and willingness to listen to and consider others’ points of view in a spirit of fairness, should also be part of the assessment of learning.
In RE, as for other subjects, assessment can only be made of what pupils actually communicate. There may be all sorts of progress going on in pupils’ minds, and a self-assessment exercise may bring out some of this, but unless newly gained knowledge and understanding is in some way communicated, teachers and pupils’ peers will not be able to comment.
Assessment in religious education, therefore, should be linked to the key aims of the subject (see Why teach RE – Aim and Rationale). Although the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC)’s 2013 non-statutory National Curriculum Framework for RE (NCFRE) omits reference to two attainment targets, most current syllabuses still make assessments in terms of what pupils learn ABOUT religion and belief (attainment target 1) and what they learn FROM religion and belief (attainment target 2). And it continues to be important that pupils know how they are doing in relation to these aspects of the subject so that (a) they see the value of RE to their own development as individuals living in a complex society, helping them to make the most of their lives and cope with life’s difficulties and (b) they get a sense of empowerment in being able to grasp something of the influence of religions and beliefs on the people and world around them.
That is why it is a vital part of the rationale for assessment in RE that pupils are given feedback on how well they are acquiring and applying the knowledge, understanding and skills they need to reach such targets.
Feedback for learners
When done well, assessment should provide encouragement, since it will provide clarification on the strengths and weaknesses of pupils’ application to set tasks.
Clear feedback with explanations of strengths and weaknesses can help direct pupils’ attention towards the gaps in their knowledge, understanding and skills that are worth developing in order that they can grow in (a) their awareness of themselves and the world around them, (b) their sense of the most important questions they need to face in life and (c) the depth of their reflection on the values and commitments that they live by.