Tuesday, June 02, 2015


General Principles

Assessment is “clear seeing, rich understanding, respectful application.” 18

Assessment, in that sense, is implicit in the whole Waldorf approach. Steiner Waldorf schools aim to manage the education so that the development of the child takes place holistically, in the round, and thus assessment is a means of gaining knowledge of, insight into and understanding for the child: the more accurate and comprehensive the observations, the richer the understanding, the better able staff are to support and promote positive development.

Good practice occurs when the self-reflective teacher assesses his or her own teaching and its results for the children and shares their evaluation with colleagues on a regular basis. Thus individual insights are tested collegially and flow back into the classroom. Where this happens, the outcome of assessment is that meaningful help is offered and new developmental opportunities are created. Good assessment can lead to transformation in both teaching and learning.


Assessment serves two essential functions: supporting learning (assessment for learning) and providing evidence of attainment in order to monitor the quality of education and the children’s response (assessment of learning). Assessment for learning identifies areas that need attention, helps in setting appropriate tasks for the pupil, focuses on improvement, and is most concerned with the progress of the individual pupil with their peculiar strengths and weaknesses (i.e. it is “formative”). Assessment of learning is usually aimed at providing quantifiable data; it is retrospective to a learning process, related to a pre-determined set of achievements, for example through external tests or examinations, summing up a course of study or period of instruction (i.e. it is summative). Both types of assessment have a place, and either applied inappropriately, can be limiting: formative assessment if it is overly intrusive or insufficiently personalised; summative assessment by encouraging a “closed mindset”[i], avoidance of activities that seem difficult or that require practice and fixation on “token” or grade, rather than effort and progress.

Any form of assessment depends upon the curriculum that underpins it and the developmental Steiner Waldorf curriculum naturally takes formative assessment as its core focus, alongside “ipsative assessment”, to which it closely relates and which is evaluation of the progress of an individual pupil in their own terms, against a personal starting point[ii] (for example, instead of “I ran faster than x today”, “I ran faster than yesterday or the day before”). Formative assessment is an expression of the essential ethos of the Kindergarten or class teacher, who provides long-term continuity for the child’s development. Each teacher works on the assumption that the child before them possesses greater reserves of potential than can reveal themselves in the present. A child’s entire biography is a path of progressive individualisation and realisation of potential. This potential expresses itself in the way a child works through key developmental stages, how a child learns and encounters the difficulties which life presents. Observing this developmental path, and responding to it, is the prime objective of ipsative and formative assessment.

Summative assessments, which include standardised, or “normative” assessments, such as tests for “reading age” or other attainment, act as staging posts along the path of the development of a young person. Their role becomes more prominent as the time for external examinations draws nearer. Ideally, of course, these would be acknowledgement of achievement related to a wide multi-layered curriculum and of the resulting enthusiasms, strengths and cumulative effort of the individual young person. In that sense, assessment of learning could become a springboard for life-long learning. Unfortunately, very few exam systems get close to providing that and “swot up and forget afterwards” remains the commonplace in most. Proposals, such as those for various types of “diploma”, along with assessment made continually over time, are attempts to establish means to identify and give credit to a wider range of attainment. In spite of frequent calls from organisations like the Campaign for British Industry[iii] for more emphasis on personal, creative and co-operative skills for school leavers, the trend from the political side of education remains uneasy with concepts like ”soft skills”, and uncomprehending of the concept of person-centred assessment. Sweeping pronouncements about educational quality, and over-simplified truisms appealing to competition and intellectual survival of the fittest, rule the day. The failure of resulting policies, however, can hide itself behind continuous & continuously more rapid reform and reorganisation.   

While excessive and excessively bureaucratic assessment stifles teacher initiative and intuition and turns results and therefore pupils into the “fodder” of education as a system, too little of any assessment carries the danger of subjectivity and arbitrariness. It is the duty of every school to find ways to acknowledge and celebrate the active work, human contribution and broad accomplishments of its students and to set them on a path of what the psychologist Abram Maslow called, “self-actualisation” and “self-transcendence”[iv]. 

This can be represented in the following way:

  • Ipsative level – biographical – development (a picture of the emerging “I” of the young person)
  • Formative level – exploratory/individualising – (qualitative and related to an aesthetic feeling for the craft of learning )
  • Summative level – summing up progress made over a period of time (consolidating and comparing according to criteria)
  • Normative level – comparison based on typical cohort (quantative) – (measurable/objective/”physical”)

 BIOGRAPHICAL - works                                                         
into & informs all assessment............>

                                                                                      <..........Sumativve & normative
                                                                                      contextualise & orientate
                                                                                       ipsative & formative

Not all assessment can, or should, be recorded. Record-keeping should support and inform teaching, not divert attention from the reality of working with young learners towards exercises in paper-work. Where records are made, they consist of two types: on-going observations made by the teacher on a daily or weekly basis, which  include, attendance/punctuality, completion of classroom or homework tasks given, grades given (where appropriate), behavioural evaluation, unusual occurrences (untypical behaviour, domestic or social crises, illness/injury) and the child’s level of participation in lessons. Such records may be kept in a variety of forms, electronic and otherwise, but always with due diligence, in the recognition that this is “sensitive data”. Depending on need and the nature of what is being recorded, what is retained may be narrative/descriptive, in list form, or summarised as symbols with or without notes as necessary. On a monthly or termly basis records are kept on each child’s progress in subject-specific skills, numeracy, literacy, gross and fine motor co-ordination and social skills.

Guidelines for attainment levels in language, literacy and numeracy in the form of checklists are included in the subject curricula in the following sections of this volume and some schools have amended and developed these farther.

Records are expected to be kept on the following in the pupil’s file:

           Early Years Foundations Stage developmental records (profile)

·             summaries of child studies done in the teachers’ meetings;

           school doctor’s reports;

          learning support reports

·              results of screening, or other normative tests;

          record of pupils “settling-in” periods;

           notes on disciplinary situations and outcomes and reviews;

          pastoral care reports;

           copies of termly, annual reports, student profiles;

           copies of documentation from previous schools, as relevant

It is essential that schools have a clear policy and procedures for maintaining records, including having the form of and access to such records.

[i] See Dweck, C.S.Self Theories, Their Role in motivation, Personality and Development, Philadelphia 1999 and (same author) Mindset, Random House, 2006. Black, P. William, D. Inside the Black Box, Nelson, 1999 and (same authors et al) B. Assessment for Learning: Putting it into Practice, OUP, 2003
[ii] Hughes, G. Et al, Implementing Ipsative Assessment, Institute of Education, 2011
[iii] See for example:  http://www.cbi.org.uk/business-issues/education-and-skills/in-focus/employability/ Employability covers a broad range of non-academic or softer skills and abilities which are of value in the workplace. It includes the ability to work in a team; a willingness to demonstrate initiative and original thought; self-discipline in starting and completing tasks to deadline.
[iv] See, e.g: Kolitko-Rivera, M. Rediscovering the later version of Maslow's hierarchy of needs: Self-transcendence and opportunities for theory, research, and unification, http://www.academia.edu/3089048/Rediscovering_the_later_version_of_Maslows_hierarchy_of_needs_Self-transcendence_and_opportunities_for_theory_research_and_unification

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