New digital technology for formative assessment and moderation has proven its ability to improve the quality of writing and overall attainment of students, whilst aiding Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and helping to reduce teacher workload.
Fourteen schools in Oxfordshire took part in the research project using RM Compare, a new digital assessment solution from e-assessment technology experts, RM Results.
RM Compare is designed to improve formative assessment and collaborative learning, especially in subjects where work is more open-ended, such as English or Art. This Adaptive Comparative Judgement (ACJ) technology is based on the Law of Comparative Judgement, which proves that people are better at making comparative, paired judgements, rather than absolute ones.
This new approach to moderation has been pioneered by Steve Dew, head teacher at Church Cowley St. James School in Oxford, who brought together a group of previously unlinked schools to work together on assessing writing tasks by Year 6 children. Steve explained:
“We had previously led local partnership moderation and were looking for a valid way of assessing writing, whilst also hoping to cut down on the time it would take to get everyone involved. RM Compare and the power of Adaptive Comparative Judgement gave us the ability to work and achieve our goals in a completely different way. It’s such a simple process and had really positive feedback from all the teachers and head teachers involved. Each teacher receives a comprehensive overview of all of the children’s work, so we are collectively raising standards in a very collaborative way.”
During the trial, children in each school were set the same task – a piece of writing based on a video – which was then uploaded to RM Compare. All of the teachers were then invited to assess the work, which is anonymised, as part of the moderation process.
RM Compare showed teachers two anonymous pieces of work side-by-side on a screen, and the teachers judged which of those best met the simplified assessment criteria. By the end of each assessment at least 20 teachers across the schools had viewed each child’s writing, creating a collective professional consensus of what “good” work looked like across the 14 schools taking part.
The ACJ technology uses a unique algorithm that continuously updates in order to intelligently select and pair pieces of work based on previous judgements, displaying similarly ranked work side-by-side. This intelligent pairing reduces the time it takes to accurately place a piece of work on the “professional consensus rank order”.
Schools received the resulting data, which allowed them to see, for the first time, not only where children sat within their own school, but within the whole cohort of schools taking part. In addition, RM Compare’s versatile reporting enabled the creation of reports for sub-sets of schools within the cohort, providing schools with further insight. This new method of assessment and moderation allowed teachers to forensically understand the detail of children’s performance in each writing task, across various genres, so that raising attainment was more achievable.
Teachers could compare their own judgements with that of other teachers from other schools to see whether they were in line with the professional consensus. Teachers were also able to see best practice in other schools and compare this with work from their own children. These outcomes helped to inform their strategic lesson planning, whilst also aiding teacher CPD.
Steve Dew added:
“Due to the inherently more natural comparison process, rather than marking each piece of work against a mark scheme, we found that the time spent assessing the work was reduced, creating a more manageable workload. RM Compare gave us a much more reliable assessment and far greater insight into each child’s strengths and weaknesses. The assessment method is also fairer, helping to combat common assessment biases and reducing the impact of any unintentional preference caused by the assessor knowing the child."
Following the success of the trial, Church Cowley St. James School has now implemented the technology for formative assessment of writing across all year groups. Instead of using a traditional, formal mark scheme and marking papers weekly, RM Compare is used ten times a year.
Steve Dew elaborated on the outcomes of the trial:
“It helps to boost the attainment of learners and improves the teacher’s judgements, as they have a clearer view of what good quality writing looks like, leading to better professional conversations between teachers at school. The tool is very flexible, so it has been straightforward for us to implement it however we choose. I think any literacy leader or head teacher who is keen on reducing the amount of time teachers spend marking would benefit from the use of RM Compare.
“It allowed us to moderate and benchmark writing across a group of schools. RM Compare made it easy for us to connect. Whilst we undertook the trial with 14 schools that were geographically close, there is no reason why we couldn’t use this on a larger scale, nationally and even internationally.
“It’s reduced the teacher workload hugely – most of our teachers now leave school at half past four and don’t take any books home. The time that we used to spend marking, we can use more strategically – planning and delivering the highest quality of learning in the classroom.”