Assessment in PE
An exciting way to support ‘whole child’ development?
Assessment in PE has come a long way in the last 30 years. Could it go further without detracting from the enjoyment of sport? Mat Heaume thinks so.
The ever-evolving landscape of assessment in education is often a minefield for educators to navigate. What works best for staff and students in one school is not necessarily the most effective method in another. Sociocultural, political and even current affairs can have an impact on the efficacy of an assessment system. I have no doubt many assessment and tracking systems were put on hold or hastily adjusted as we all adapted to online learning.
Special challenges for PE
Physical Education often has another hurdle to leap, in that some schools and students still don’t see the subject as having a core value to their education. Promisingly, I feel the tide is turning in this regard. Significant spells of online learning around the globe have begun to open the eyes of students, parents, senior leaders, heads and policy makers alike. The value of being physically active and the multitude of skills and wider ‘lessons’ that can be learnt through PE are now being prioritised. This refreshed engagement in the subject prompts a remodelling, or at least an adjustment of the assessment framework, reflecting where our students are now and where they would like to be in the future.
Developments in PE assessment
Assessment in PE has changed significantly over the past 30 years, offering teachers and students a host of data points both to review their own progress and understand the curriculum being taught. Equally, there have been, and always will be, different opinions about the extent to which we should assess, with many PE departments exercising caution when implementing an assessment framework. Go too far and students can feel confused by the complexity of data collection, while teachers can feel overwhelmed by constant recording and tracking. It is important to manage data in a way that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of sport – for everyone.
Being a multi-disciplinary subject, with most schools covering a large range of activities in their curriculum, tracking progress in PE often doesn’t fit neatly into the school’s standard assessing or reporting structure. A student who performs well in badminton may not be so proficient at football, which can make reporting and goal-setting difficult across the year. However, where once a termly average grade was given, we now have the opportunity to make student development truly individual.
As with other subjects, both formative and summative assessment are seen as important.
Developing a sport-specific assessment model
Sport specific assessment, however, is not a new concept in PE and can certainly offer a useful framework which students and teachers can positively engage with if managed appropriately and sympathetically. The first step is always about getting your team onboard. A department who can get behind a new initiative will lead to better implementation. Secondly, the students need to understand what it’s all about, the terminology, the assessment cycle, and how they can get involved. One of the key drivers in a sport specific assessment framework is the potential for students to take ownership of their learning and feel empowered about improving themselves and their ability.
The success criteria which students are judged against must be easy to understand and the progressions should be obvious. If a department takes the opportunity to construct a framework and criteria with their students, possibly the most important perspective becomes part of the system. Student-voice is a powerful tool.
Going further: assessing conceptual understanding and ‘soft skills’
But does a sport specific assessment model go far enough? Again, conceptual learning in PE is not new; teaching games for understanding, transferable skills, sports leadership, physical literacy, FMS (Functional Movement Screen) and sports education have an established place in PE, offering depth and value to any curriculum.
There is now also greater appreciation of the importance of social skills, people skills, communication skills, character, problem solving and personality traits for assessing the whole child – the so-called ‘soft skills’. PE once again provides the perfect platform for students to develop these skills in an environment that can challenge and develop them in ways that other subjects might find difficult.
So, is it worthwhile to assess these skills in a similar style to a student’s sporting ability? If our common goal is to develop well-rounded and successful students who will be able to transition into the workplace with the social skills to be effective communicators and assertive team players, the answer has to be ‘yes’. With only slight adjustment to schemes of work a combination of soft skills can be incorporated into learning which students can seek to develop. PE then becomes a vehicle for identifying and enhancing crucial people skills that will undoubtedly expand the horizons of young people.
Using the data
So, what do we do with this data? I have often seen departments collect enormous amounts of data on their students, but fail to use it in a worthwhile way. Students and staff consequently lose enthusiasm. However, data analysed effectively will reveal areas of strength and weakness in certain sports, year groups, and even classes. Specific students who require deeper support can be developed at their own pace across sports and phases, rather than always being judged against their peers who may progress at a different rate. The key here is developing a system that is flexible enough to move with the times while ensuring it is robust enough to be reliable, valid and objective. With fresh calls for a review into the PE curriculum it is certainly an exciting time to consider all the possibilities and need not impinge at all on the enjoyment of a very popular subject.
Mat Heaume is Head of Whole School PE at Bromsgrove International School in Thailand
All photos and images supplied here have been given permission to be published in the International Teacher Magazine.