Reading time: 2 minutes

There is such controversy surrounding assessment in the current educational climate that it is hard to see the wood for the trees. Inspectors will expect each student to know their own targets and current levels of progress but many teachers find that this can demotivate those whose progress is perhaps at a lower level than that of their classmates.

Competition within a class can be motivational for those at the top but for those at the bottom it has the opposite effect. One method that can help to combat this issue is using an ipsative form of assessment and feedback.

Ipsative feedback is when progress is monitored against personal progress rather than against levels. A clear example would be in a reading age test. Normal practice would be to assess a student against their chronological age, whereas ipsative feedback would focus on the number of months the student improved by at each successive testing.

This enables the student to only compete with themselves and encourages the engagement with feedback given by the teacher as you can tailor your comments to the next step in the section of the attainment target they are working on. This then means that progress is directly linked to your marking, making the process so much more meaningful for all concerned.

This can also be transferred onto classwork when using APP style grids to monitor progress. Rather than focus on the level that the child is working at, focus on being able to cross off another achievement with each assessment. This requires a lot of initial work on the part of the teacher to tabulate the student’s current abilities, but pays off when the system is in place.

The ability to pinpoint a student’s current position within a level as well as track their rate of progress with evidence to back up your assessment is invaluable. If the time required to create the tracking systems isn’t feasible, then there are commercial packages available, but it is possible to create your own grids based on the APP grids available by separating the level descriptors out into an ‘a’, ’b’ & ‘c’ for each level.

It is easy to focus on the external benefits of ipsative feedback, but the person that will really benefit is the student. Students at any level of progress can be motivated by removing the sense of failure that can be perceived by students who are not working at as high a level as their peers or even those who consistently perform at the ‘top of the class’ and so do not have anyone to compete with. In a world where so many of the young people we work with play computer games in one form or another, beating your own high score is often the best motivation available to increase the pace of progress within your classroom.

So give ipsative feedback a try. It is one of the few strategies that will keep both kids and OFSTED happy!