Students in primary and lower secondary schools are enthusiastic, open to new experiences, and less conditioned to think in a certain way. They are naturally curious, enjoy sharing their ideas with others and are keen to demonstrate what they can do. For all these reasons, the introduction of classroom-based assessments at this age can be an exciting and positive experience.
At the same time, it is important to remind ourselves that nothing is more important than the wellbeing of students. When schools create the right teaching and learning environment by developing emotional literacy and introducing assessments as an integral part of the teaching process, then learners develop resilience and do not see tests as anything other than part of their learning journey. Encouraging students to view assessments positively – as opportunities to demonstrate their skills and knowledge, and to discover how they are progressing – allows them to develop and improve. This continuous progress is highly motivating and rewarding for students.
There are many ways to assess children at primary and lower secondary stages, but a good balance of continuous (formative) assessments and end course (summative) assessments are generally considered to be effective.
Formative assessment takes place regularly in the classroom – it's how teachers evaluate understanding and monitor progress, whether that's through questioning students and providing ongoing feedback, or testing regularly throughout the year.
If tests are used, they should be designed and presented to be accessible for the learners to help minimize unease around taking tests. At Cambridge International we provide assessments for 5 to 14-year-olds called 'Cambridge Progression Tests'. These tests are taken in the classroom environment – so they are seen as part of the normal teaching and learning process.
Cambridge Progression Tests are marked by teachers and the marks are entered onto a portal that provides the school with useful performance data. teachers then use the data to identify the strengths and limitations of their students, allowing them to have meaningful discussions with students and their parents.
The goal of summative assessment is to evaluate a child's performance at the end of the course. At Cambridge International, we offer summative assessments for 5 to 14-year-olds called 'Cambridge Checkpoint'. They are taken at the end of primary and end of lower secondary, providing a clear picture of each student's performance before they move onto the next stage of education.
A continuous learning journey
Learning, teaching and assessment should be a journey in which the teacher and student are continuously discovering where they are so that they can be challenged to take the next steps.
Formative assessment provides a continual and positive interaction between the teacher and the learner – helping ensure that young learners don't develop anxiety around testing. Young learners also respond well to the opportunity to assess their own progress in the classroom, and this can be used to good effect.
External summative assessments serve as a validation of the teaching and learning that has occurred. They complement teachers' own evaluations, allowing them to feel more confident in the expectations for each age group and in their own abilities to assess their students effectively and reliably.
It is important to use both forms of testing because students, particularly those at primary and secondary levels, are often capable of much more in the classroom than they are allowed to display in one assessment format.
What can parents do to support their child's wellbeing?
While tests support and guide the educational development of students, the recent impact of the pandemic has highlighted the equal importance of developing good social skills. Promoting open and supportive conversations around mental health issues is vital at both school and the home, but what can parents do to support their child on this journey back to normality?
Acknowledge – that these times are unprecedented can be helpful in making sure you are not pushing your child too hard.
Listen – It may not be realistic to expect your child to settle straight back into the rigorous timetable of the school day, so allow them to pause, speak to their friends and refocus their attention gradually.
Share – a good home-school relationship and is even more important at this time. A good way to help your child to feel more prepared is to share the school's plan for the rest of the term or semester. Children often find it more helpful to know the order of topics so that they can seek out good resources to prepare and revise content.
Reflect – Ask them to tell you about what they liked or do not like about learning from home during the pandemic, and ask them to share how they felt. Reflect with them on whether any techniques seemed to work more effectively and why this may be.
Parents may also want to consider the newly launches Cambridge Wellbeing Check. Developed using published research by the University of Cambridge, schools worldwide are using the student-led assessment to equip teachers with the tools to evaluate, explore, teach and promote wellbeing.
By assessing learners responsibly at a young age and providing them with the right mental health support, together we can help them to develop a lifetime passion for learning and give them the opportunity to fulfill their potential at every stage.