Formative Assessment - the real progress your pupils are making

Steph Reddington, 14th November 2016

Pupil Asset users have access to in-depth formative assessment analysis tools such as the 'Ghost Rows' on the DNA Ticks page, which means that some of the pitfalls associated with analysing summative data alone can be avoided.

Pitfall 1: two 'levels' of progress?

Remember when 2a to 4c and 2c to 4a were both counted as 2 levels of progress - even though the pupils had actually made very different amounts of progress? Whether you are using a linear or a flat model, progress through levels or bands may not be a true reflection of the actual progress that the pupils have made.

Linear model:

  • Both pupils meet the school criteria for WT (15-30% weighted percentage) in Autumn 1
  • Both pupils meet the school criteria for WT+ (31-45% weighted percentage) in Autumn 2

Flat model:

  • Both pupils meet the school criteria for Working Towards for both Autumn 1 and Autumn 2

Therefore, in either model, according to the summative data, these two pupils have made the same progress. However, these pupils have actually made very different amounts of progress:

  • Doris has gone from 29.2% to 32.5% = +3.3%
  • Tarell has gone from 16.7% to 43.3% = +26.6%

It would be a shame not to recognise the amount of progress Tarell has actually made or - even worse - assume Doris was making good progress on the basis of her summative grades and do nothing about it!

Pitfall 2: higher attaining children can 'coast'

Some of our highest attaining children exceed age-related expectations and, unlike in the previous curriculum where pupils were pushed to the next level, they are continually deepening and broadening their understanding of the current year's curriculum. However, how much are they really embedding or mastering? Are they simply coasting through the remainder of the year? How can you demonstrate that a pupil is actually 'mastering' the curriculum?

Both children could be considered as working at a level of Greater Depth on the basis that they have met all age-related expectations and are deepening their understanding of the curriculum.

However, these two children have actually made very different amounts of progress:

  • Shion has mastered 5 more skills over the last term (number of skills achieved at the level of GD)
  • Gryff has mastered 22 more skills over the last term (number of skills achieved at the level of GD)

Neither are likely to be flagged up during a pupil progress meeting if viewing summative grades alone, as both would be reported as working above age-related expectations; however, it is very clear that Shion is not making good progress - she is coasting and may not be reaching her full potential.

Pitfall 3: are lower attaining children really narrowing the gap?

Some of your pupils may not be accessing the current year's curriculum and have been assessed as working on previous years' age-related expectations. In terms of value added, summative progress, these pupils could still be reported as making progress - after all, a 1c to a 3c was still 2 levels of progress - and this will continue to be the case with whatever linear model is now in use. The issue is even more problematic when using a flat model, as potentially pupils could remain within the Well Below Expected band for a number of terms, yet still make progress in terms of value added.

Both Luke and Giles are Year 6 pupils working on the Year 2 curriculum and both have been assessed as Well Below Expected; however, over the last half term, Luke has made some progress within the Year 2 curriculum (+18.5%) whereas Giles has made very little progress at all (+2.2%).

Pitfall 4: pupils either side of a 'boundary' can have more in common than those within one

This was an age-old issue with National Curriculum levels, but just because they"re no longer being used doesn"t mean it"s no longer true. Whether you have opted for a linear or a flat model of assessment, there will undoubtedly be pupils who are 'almost there, but not quite' and those who have 'just started working in the next phase/stage/level etc.' that will have more in common than pupils working at either end of a 'boundary'.

Formative analysis can demonstrate how far within a phase/stage/level a pupil is and how far they have come.


In a world without National Curriculum Levels, schools have been given an opportunity - it"s no longer necessary to collect and analyse reams of summative data. Instead, they can focus on what really matters - individual pupil progress. Using formative data can help ensure that children are not moving through the curriculum with huge gaps in their understanding, and it can provide valuable information to support with consolidation or mastery of key skills.

So, next time you prepare for a pupil progress meeting, ask yourself this - is this summative report really providing the data I need to demonstrate pupil progress? Is it really highlighting areas for discussion or flagging up pupils who are causing concern? Is it really going to help target resources to the right pupils at the right time?

If the answer is no, maybe try a different approach.

For more information on formative analysis tools on Pupil Asset, see the Formative section in our How-to-Guide.

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