The arrival of the subject of Computing and the removal of levels as descriptors of performance led Naace to develop an approach to assessment using examples of pupil work classified in the strands of Computing and then age related. By this means, a teacher could look at examples of work classified by the Naace community as representing the national expectation of performance at that age and decide whether or not their pupils were actually producing work of a similar standard. This was published as the Naace Standards Library, and was welcomed widely. It has now been embedded in a more comprehensive and sophisticated assessment process based upon the concept of Key Performance Indicators. Thanks to our partners Frog Education, and the Life after Levels Team, this is available here, and provides the means for summative assessment of Computing, which allows teachers to make comparable judgements of performance.
The examples also show teachers the range of possibilities of topics and tasks appropriate for Computing. It is important to remember that Computing the subject puts computational thinking at its core, but does not remove the opportunities we had in the past, to be creative in all sorts of ways; making videos and podcasts, models of processes and so on, without programming.
The nature of Computing as a subject is very practical. Hands on learning in embedded contexts which provide opportunities for the explicit development of knowledge skills and understanding can bring its own challenges for the assessment of what pupils have learnt in Computing. Sometimes it is difficult to separate out the learning in Computing from the learning that has happened in the subject that provides the context. Or it can be difficult to separate out the learning of individual pupils who have worked collaboratively on a project. However, the context for learning is incredibly important. Formative assessment should be in those contexts where Computing has a clear purpose and where knowledge, skills, understanding and critical analysis are developed explicitly and intentionally, rather than in a context where pupils are assumed to be learning by osmosis simply because they are using technology. Contexts in primary and secondary schools will differ somewhat, as opportunities for extended cross-curricular projects are often taken at primary but pose different challenges within a secondary curriculum.
Formative assessment, or assessment for learning, will use many of the techniques common to teaching across other areas of the curriculum and the guidance from the Naace assessment panel focuses on the practicalities of assessment, especially for areas of the subject, such as programming, where many teachers have much less experience of teaching, learning and approaches to formative assessment.
It is not always helpful to use checklists when evaluating a piece of Computing work. Getting an overall picture of piece of work is more akin to looking at the overall impact of a piece of writing. In Computing, work that demonstrates a higher level of knowledge, skills and understanding is both effective AND efficient. There may be able pupils who find very creative solutions to the problem they are working on that do not fit the pattern expected by a class teacher. Assessing their understanding is often most effectively done through effective questioning. It is important to remember that effective teaching uses a facilitative “guide on the side” approach rather than the “sage on the stage”. So as teachers who may be developing their own subject knowledge and confidence seek to recognise, assess and provide next steps for learning when they are possibly at the upper limits of their own knowledge, skills and understanding, approaches to assessment used in other areas of the curriculum are relevant for Computing, such as using self-and peer-assessment so pupils are appropriately assessed and challenged to develop their learning further.
Open-ended questioning techniques or “technical interviews” encourage pupils to explain and justify their approaches to solving a problem. Technical interviews/conferences may be between:
- a pupil and teacher
- a pupil and their peer(s)
- a pupil and an expert from outside the class (as mediated and facilitated by the teacher)
Possible questioning/discussion approaches:
- “Compare and contrast”
- What have you done?
- Why have you done it?
- Why have you chosen this way?
- What other way could you have done this?
- How could you improve what you have done?
Pupils can be taught how to give constructive and meaningful feedback – this should be modelled by the teacher, as can the culture of sharing that computing enables/benefits from. Don’t be afraid to ask questions during the lesson, get children up to explain, “stop and share”/mini plenaries throughout lessons support learning and formative assessment.