Friday, March 07, 2014


Evaluation and Assessment
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 )
These provide context & meaning
 as competence

  • 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”)
These provide means to serve intention
specific skills 

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.

Annual or other regular formal reports are written for the parents (see below). In some schools Student Profiles are written (see below).

Monitoring and tracking progress 19
Class teachers regularly monitor and record the children’s progress in literacy, numeracy, co-ordination and social skills, using checklists, records and screening.

Teachers plan their lessons and record the performance of the children. These plans are shared and integrated into the whole school curriculum through the regular teachers’ meetings. Children’s on-going work is evaluated and reflected to the children and used as a guide to lesson planning and for determining whether there is need for extra support, additional work, or other intervention.

School Reports
A summary of these evaluations is given to parents in the form of an annual school report, which is often personalised by the teacher in style and design. This document normally includes:
·         characterisation of the student as a whole person, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses
·         evaluation of participation (attention and engagement), progress and ability in the various subjects (including comprehension, verbal and written attainments), age-appropriate ability to work independently, social behaviour (listening, working with others, co-operations and leadership), activity (presentation of work, tidiness, completed tasks), level of involvement and affective-aesthetic response
·         brief summary of the curriculum for the year
·         record of attainments in all subjects
·         indication of how the pupil might improve and way in which the parent might be able to support that improvement
·         for younger children, a part of the report may be addressed personally to them, offering praise, guidance and challenges for the coming year
·         older pupils at some schools may receive Student Profiles for each subject and bi-annual reports
·         students graduating from Steiner Waldorf schools may receive a detailed Leaver’s Report, sometimes called a Record of Achievement, alongside a European Portfolio Certificate, where relevant 

Student Profiles
In some Upper Schools (ages 14-19) Student Profiles are written at the end of each main-lesson block for each arts/crafts/life skills course and termly for on-going subjects. These profiles summarise both formative and summative aspects and include some element of student self-evaluation. As well as a description of the course and outline of its objectives, there usually follow two sections: one covering behaviour and engagement, the other covering subject-specific attainments. Judgement according to these criteria may be given in descriptively or through a grade, depending upon the age of the students or other relevant considerations. Some schools make use versions of the “taxonomy of learning domains” developed by psychologist, Benjamin Bloom[i] Each subject requires own specific “success criteria”, which may older pupils may have had some hand in designing, collectively or individually. The Profile concludes with a summary by the teacher highlighting possible areas of future development.

A “fully-fledged” system of pupil profiling thus includes the entire range of student (holistic) assessment recorded in the most appropriate way and with regard for data security. Such a profile would include:

·         Child’s Name, DOB, family details (contact &c) & essential medical information (serious allergies, or other)
Significant relationships: (include important pets, depending on age)
Items child might wish to add about themselves: e.g. “I’m the best tree climber in the class” – things important to child, similar to “One-Page Profiles”[ii]
·         Annual or periodic records including -
Achievements.....Challenges.....important events in the life of the child......
Examples of best work: (photographs or copies: free writing/maths/painting/book page – some chosen by pupils, as appropriate)
·         Formative Profile including -
Record of key observations/records as significant indicators...pencil grip (e.g. before & after photo) & student response (Class 5 or 6 up?) bench-marked against on success criteria and/or the individual pupil’s (ipsative) progress
·         A moderated view of expectations across time carried out with the assistance of advisers or visiting colleagues (generational cohorts)
·         Evaluation based on curriculum checklists for this age/class and records of any tests conducted at the conclusion of a lesson block (as appropriate)
·         Results of any normative screening: Reading age, standardised attainments etc as relevant

Leaving certificates
In addition to usual public examinations and alongside Student Profiles or the Portfolio Certificate, some Steiner Waldorf schools are adopting alternative forms for accrediting the

Class and child studies
Class studies are formatted reviews of the progress, challenges and diversity of a whole group of children, involving characterisation, examination of sample work across the ability range and narrative examples of response to the curriculum and subject areas. These enable the teaching team as a whole to “look through the window of a classroom” over a period of time and for colleagues to refine their expectations and maintain standards. Class studies can be especially helpful at nodal points e.g. end of Classes 3, 6, 8, after a new teacher has taken on the class, or if there is a consensus among subject teachers that a class is in need of a specific focus of attention. Class studies can also focus on different aspects such as levels of attainment or social dynamics. Major reviews are carried out for a class entering the Upper School.

Child studies take the form of development reviews of children who will be shortly entering the main school from kindergarten, along with any new applicants. These review are informed by the early years profile and, where possible by a school doctor. Other types of child study are usually conducted for students in need of special consideration e.g. learning or behavioural difficulties, exceptional qualities, or who typify a condition. These studies involve all the teachers who teach the child and may involve specialists such as a school doctor or therapist. Parental involvement and support is important and their knowledge of the child helps to give a more complete picture.

Observations are made of physical constitution, movement, behaviour in class and outside (home), results of any tests done, artistic work, social interaction with other children and adults, work habits, home circumstances, school and homework, willingness, participation, the child’s relation to different subjects and school activities. Staff members involved exercise their imagination in trying the build a picture of the best qualities and potential of the student.

These Child Studies are often shared by the whole teachers’ group. Sometimes it is enough that the heightened awareness of a particular child has a beneficial effect on the child, though usually the study leads to some action and always requires regular follow-up.

[i] Bloom, B. S.; Engelhart, M. D.; Furst, E. J.; Hill, W. H.;  Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York, 1956
[ii] See, Erwin, L. Sanderson, H; One Page Profiles with children and young people,

[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: 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,