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Outstanding Lessons, Redesigning Classrooms

Assessment is Like Pig Racing Not Pig Weighing

You might not make a pig fatter by weighing it but assessment is more like pig racing.  So went the entertaining analogy by Tim Luenig (@TimLeunig) Chief Analyst & Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department for Education and Associate Professor of Economic History at the London School of Economics.

Racing Pigs

Apparently a successful racing pig requires four strong legs, or it tends to veer off in the wrong direction, and so does great assessment.  These legs are linked to what a student should/shouldn’t know and what they actually did/didn’t know when assessed.  The talk put the following assessment matrix into my head:

Assessment Matrix

The original matrix is in Visible Learning (2009) by John Hattie

Some of the thinking is quite intuitive and makes for easy retelling.  We expect a student to know something and when assessed s/he does.  There are certain things within an assessment that a student shouldn’t know and when assessed they prove us right and this is something for future learning.  These are the green boxes in the diagram above but I want to return to the issue of assessing what a student shouldn’t know later, as this is important but feels counter-intuitive when designing assessments.  If a student doesn’t know what they should we need to look to re-teaching an area of the scheme or providing feedback and the opportunity for a student to respond to it.  Tim described this element as the “low hanging fruit”, the easy pickings.  It is but I’d add that it is easier if we respond to this lack of knowing close to the point of teaching rather than waiting to Year 2, 6, 11 or 13 to fill massive gaps in knowledge which have consequently undermined other learning.


Photo Credit: Mookitty via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Mookitty via Flickr cc

The Importance of Shouldn’t Know

The importance of shouldn’t know is making sure the level of challenge is high enough.  Designing assessments, with tasks or questions which haven’t yet been covered in our teaching, allows us to test whether we have set our sights too low.  If students, across a class, already knows something that hasn’t yet been taught  we need to raise our expectations.  We need to reset our sight and redefine what we consider curriculum excellence should be.  I would suggest that you might want to have a little look at your curriculum in Year 7.  The faff and fiddle Year 7 or Key Stage 3 curriculum can’t be allowed if children are to make great progress and remain engaged.

The other place where assessing what students shouldn’t know can be powerful is assessment of prior learning.  We are aiming to make this a much more systematic part of our teaching in the years ahead.  I wonder whether it might be as simple as giving students the end of topic assessment at the beginning of the topic to: check what they already know, teach them what they don’t rather than what they do and make sure there is sufficient stretch in the scheme of learning.

Now What?

The final part of the presentation covered, now what?  I’ve blogged recently that the primary purpose of assessment within the class room is to close the gap between current and expected learning Also about the evaluative dimension of assessment in terms of feedback to teachers and subject leaders as to what is working.  Assessment helps teaching and learning most when it is analysed and acted on.  When we do this we become world class racing pig trainers.

Here are some posts which contain more detailed thinking around assessment which are hopefully of use.  If you’re struggling to imagine life without levels, I certainly was, they might help clear the fog:

Assessment: Teaching’s Hidden Gem

Life After Levels – An Assessment Revolution

The #5MinAchievementPlan (co-authored with @TeacherToolkit)

Assessment Without Levels Is Built on Trusting Teachers

Please click the image below to share how assessment is like pig racing not weighing:

Pig Racing

Photo Credit: Brent Moore via Flickr cc




2 thoughts on “Assessment is Like Pig Racing Not Pig Weighing

  1. Fantastic post and just the right time for me as I move on to thinking about what ‘good assessment’ looks like.

    Thanks for sharing.


    Posted by Helen | September 3, 2015, 5:36 pm


  1. Pingback: Assessment is Like Pig Racing Not Pig Weighing | rwaringatl - June 29, 2015

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