Journal  Club – Assessment

This time, we were discussing Tom Sherrington’s article (available here:, which argues – at times quite provocatively – for a move away from summative macro data (for example, tracking numerically-graded data via large spreadsheets) and for a greater focus on using the data a teacher collects throughout their interactions with students to plan for development. The key ideas we discussed are summarised below.


Macrodata and data collection

We felt that, despite Sherrington’s distaste for it, macrodata is not inherently too simplistic to be useful and has applications beyond the academic (for example, it helps a pastoral team to notice anomalies in student achievement/engagement which can then be investigated). Choosing criteria for grading is challenging and, in order for data to be effective, all those using the grades need to be absolutely clear on what each one means. For example, ‘if student x took the final exam tomorrow, this is what they would get’ allows progress over time to be tracked; however, there are issues involved in using summative tests ‘formatively’ – being useful to the teacher in terms of further planning but detrimental to student morale. Contributing to this is the tension between giving students a holistic grade or troubling them with the minutiae of how the grade has been selected.


[Deliberately channelling Sherrington’s incendiary tone here:]

What’s the point of mocks?

 We discussed a number of key benefits of mock exams, and had the following questions:

  • If the main focus is to give students a dummy run for timing, then might they be more useful later on?
  • If the focus is enforcing learning early enough so students can adapt and catch up if necessary (or for teachers to plan the final term’s lessons), might there be other ways of achieving this?

Experience in recent feedback lessons tends to suggest that openly discussing the benefits and challenges of mocks (and the idea that a summative assessment is effectively being given a summative grade, but used formatively) helps students to approach the mock grade and further work in a positive manner. Austin’s Butterfly was also a helpful idea in articulating this to students (see also:


The Pursuit of Excellence

Austin’s Butterfly is concerned with getting a student to recognise what an excellent piece of work looks like so that they can redraft their own work until it matches those criteria. Modelling excellence, particularly in the Sixth Form can, however, be very challenging, for example in the Pre-U, where originality is rewarded and exam board materials state that there are many different ways of creating a piece of excellent work. This is not only problematic for students, but also for staff when gaining experience and confidence in grading. On the other hand, it was felt that a ‘paint-by-numbers’ approach to student work can be joyless and that, in some respects, this lack of a paragon is liberating.


Philosophical thought for the day

Somewhere there is an intersection between criteria and standards – at what point do high standards (eg ‘this is an excellent piece of work because it synthesises different ideas’) become criteria in themselves (‘ergo, to get a top mark, a piece of work must demonstrate synthesis’)?


Useful tactics for this term

  • Ensure that you are continually growing those who are already above the required standard – individual feedback is really important – not just exam-specific feedback.
  • We felt that student engagement is lower if there isn’t individual feedback. Not enough time to do all this in writing or verbally for a whole class? Experiment with different forms of feedback (lots of links in Sherrington’s article for great ideas).
  • ‘The 5 R’s of ‘action’ feedback’ may help students who have much room for development this term to focus on how they approach different skills and areas of knowledge.

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