Published on: 02 Feb 2017

Teachers need to create environments that allow all children to experience success – not just the high achievers

When things just don’t add up: The importance of triangulating data

Gemma was referred to our service by her class teacher who felt that she couldn’t get to the bottom of why Gemma wasn’t doing as well as perhaps she could. There were a number of little ‘niggles’ that didn’t add up.

Gemma was working within age related expectations and making slow and steady progress but her class teacher was concerned that she was coasting (the word ‘plodding’ was even whispered) and seemed to have to ‘work harder’ than her peers to secure this. I like the challenge of an enigma so got stuck straight in with the British Picture Vocabulary Scale which explores receptive language. 

Gemma’s job for this assessment was to respond to a word by showing me the picture which best shows the word’s meaning. She achieved a standardised score of 98 which places her within the ‘average’ performance descriptor (100 is always the mean score on a standardised assessment). Getting an average score could mean that we can all down tools and go home - case closed so to speak - but I wasn’t so sure. 

I am always fascinated by watching a child complete a standardised assessment. The scores are always helpful in determining how well the child is doing and determining next steps for teaching and learning, but I usually find the way in which they approach the assessment and the careful analysis of their responses to be the most illuminating. It was this observation and analysis triangulated with her class teacher’s concerns which helped us to unpick what was really going on in the classroom for Gemma.

Gemma breezed confidently through the first few sets of pictures but, as the assessment items became more challenging, she needed to change her approach to ensure that she was successful. When given the word ‘trowel’ Gemma sat for a while before thinking aloud: ‘That one is a whisk, my dad has got one of those and he doesn’t say trowel and that looks like scissors so it’s not that one….I think it’s that one then’.

Her clever process of elimination took some time but ensured that she got the correct answer. Gemma also proved to be adept at applying her own real-life experiences. When responding to the word ‘rough’ she commented that ‘that looks bumpy like my brother’s skin. He has got eczema and my mum told the doctor that his skin was rough so that one please.’ Gemma was working hard to get the answer which fitted perfectly with what her class teacher had said about her classroom performance. When analysing her responses it became clear that Gemma knew lots of nouns but not as many verbs. I wondered if this was also impacting upon her ability to access the teaching in the classroom when instructions were given. 

Once I had discussed my own ‘niggles’ with her class teacher we formed a hypothesis. It was possible that Gemma was working harder than her peers to make sense of the classroom language. Although she had some well-developed strategies, they took time to deploy which meant that she possibly wasn’t always keeping up effectively. To test our hypothesis we are currently tweaking the way in which language is supported in the classroom and plan to reassess and observe closely to measure impact. Gemma has taught us all a valuable lesson about not accepting average performance and how important it is to go that one step further.

Beccie Hawes ‎is the Head of Service at Rushall's Inclusion Advisory Service, one of GL Assessment’s Centres of Assessment Excellence. Follow Beccie on Twitter @riatws4

The British Picture Vocabulary Scale is part of GL Assessment’s SEN Assessment Toolkit.

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