Covid-19, the current assessment policy and the possibility of biases.

Context – to discuss the issues that could arise from educators being instructed to assess their learners, using the assessment policy that has arisen from the covid-19 crisis due to the cancellation of formal examinations. As this is a massive area and time was very limited, I focused on early years and primary assessments in relation to policy and possible areas where biases could arise, and gave a brief insight into proposed (not exclusively NEU) action that is being discussed and is taking place. 

In Early years we use an assessment tool called target tracker. At the end of reception pupils are expected to achieve a good level of development (GLD) within communication and language, physical development and personal, social and emotional development. Some children are still 4 years old. Teachers and in some cases HILTA’s are asked to predict where children will be unlike GCSE/A levels there’s considerable evidence, however still room for educator bias. This is notable for our black pupils, whose families may be new to the country, new to the education system and unfamiliar with school boundaries. This can lead to incorrect diagnosis of SEND, most notably autism, ADHD & SMEH, and therein sits the foundation for a career of mis-education. 

Phonics screening in year 1 is openly bias and disadvantageous as more pupils from black and non-English speaking backgrounds may not be offered the screening because they have recently arrived or because English is not their home language meaning that it may take them longer to acquire the 44 sounds that represent the 26 lettered alphabet in order to determine the real from nonsense words that make up the screening test. 

KS1 expectations of pupils to emerge, expect or exceed at the end of year 2 is (silently) governed by them achieving GLD two years’ previous and by teacher assessment. In turn, the prediction of KS2 SATs results by schools uses the same principle. At this point, it’s important to note that if discrimination and inequality is prevalent at early years – when a child is aged 3,4,or 5- the foundation is cast for a learning career that will be coated with bias (which is not always unconscious) and also that barriers including but not exclusive to social, emotional and financial may be additional to this. 

The covid-19 crisis enables opportunities for questions to be asked, statements made and for scrutiny of the current assessment procedure, teaching methods and pupil-teacher relationships to be examined. It also gives, however, gives grave concern to black and working class parents/carers and pupils who may or many not have had previously negative (some limited and some vast) experiences within education. 

In order to begin to mitigate against some areas where bias may arise, some black educators have formed working groups. The aim of these groups is to

bring an awareness of the barriers black/working class pupils will face specific to this crisis and in some instances beyond. The groups are working on the areas of assessment, exclusions, SEND, decolonizing, parents, families and communities and COVID and it’s impact. For some recipients the reports will be uncomfortable reading. 

The working group’s work needs to be shared in schools with leaders, educator colleagues, in union branches and districts, with local politicians, in universities, colleges, 6th forms, schools and nurseries and everywhere where black and working class children are educated. It’s now time for education to be more equal, less discriminatory and more socially encompassing, and this crisis gives that us opportunity. We cannot return to how things were! 

References for further reading around this topic are listed below. 

References: not in chronological order. 

TES, ‘Coronavirus: Williamson warned over grading injustice (2020) 

The Guardian, (2020) 

David Gillborn (2008) Racism and Education: Coincidence or Conspiracy?, DOI – 10.4324/9780203928424 

The Centre for Education & Youth (2018) 

Institute of race relations (2015) 

David Gillborn (2014) Racism as Policy: A Critical Race Analysis of 

Education Reforms in the United States and England, The Educational Forum, 78:1, 26-41, DOI:10.1080/00131725.2014.850982 

Racial Justice Network and Kids of Colour joint statement on the cancelling of GCSE and A-level examination 

Sutton Trust (2017) 

Teachers biased against black pupils and white boys from underprivileged backgrounds, report says – The Independent

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