Walking the Assessment Tightrope

The Pitfalls of Unmoderated Data in Education

Author: Mel Prasad

Within the dynamic landscape of education, data serves as a guiding beacon for understanding learner achievement and tailoring teaching methodologies to enhance learning outcomes. Yet, a cautionary tale emerges from educators who warn against the perils of relying solely on unmoderated data, particularly when reporting against age-related benchmarks without simultaneously tracking individual progress.

There is an inherent risk of using age-related benchmarks as the sole metric for assessing student achievement. This one-size-fits-all approach fails to account for the unique pace and learning trajectories of individual students. Consequently, it can lead to inaccurate assessments and hinder the ability to identify areas where students may need additional support or enrichment. However, by engaging in robust moderation practices, educators can identify potential biases or discrepancies in assessment practices and make adjustments accordingly. 

Moderation in education is crucial in ensuring balance and fairness in evaluating student progress. It involves a critical examination of assessment methods to identify potential biases, and ensure accuracy in measuring achievement. Rather than relying solely on standardised benchmarks and summative assessment data, moderation encourages educators to consider an individual's learning needs to ensure a comprehensive understanding of their progress and growth over time. By embracing moderation, teachers can foster a more inclusive and equitable learning environment, where every student's unique journey is valued and supported. This approach not only enhances the reliability of assessment data but also allows teachers to accurately and effectively design personalised learning experiences that cater to the diverse needs of students. Ultimately, moderation empowers educators to make informed decisions that prioritise student growth and well-being.

Effective moderation emphasises the importance of personalised, differentiated learning journeys. From their findings, educators stress the need to complement benchmark assessments with ongoing tracking of each student's unique learning journey. Platforms like SchoolTalk were praised by principals1 for providing insights into individual student growth, and supporting teachers to create flexible, differentiated groupings based on learner needs.  This then allows educators to gain a deeper understanding of student growth over time, enabling more targeted interventions and support strategies.

Furthermore, the pivotal role of formative assessment in the education sector cannot be neglected. Unlike summative assessments, which provide a snapshot of student achievement at a specific point in time, formative assessment focuses on providing continuous feedback to inform teachers' learning design. When teachers embed great formative assessment practices into their workflow, it can be a transformational experience for them as practitioners and, more importantly, for their students. 

In parallel, educators caution against the undue influence of standardised tests on educational practices2. While these assessments have their place, they should not overshadow the importance of holistic assessment and personalised learning experiences. It is only when these standardised assessments are used in conjunction with formative assessment that there is truly a noticeable positive shift in learner outcomes.

Ultimately, as educators, we need to advocate for a balanced approach to data-driven decision-making in education. By combining age-related benchmarks with ongoing progress tracking and formative assessment practices, teachers can cultivate an environment where every student's unique journey is honoured and supported. In this collaborative endeavour, educators play a pivotal role in shaping an inclusive and equitable education system that empowers all students to thrive.


If you are interested in a tool that can support you to ensure all learners make progress, that progress is shared and celebrated with the learner and their whānau, that gaps and strengths are easily identified, and learners can take control of their learning journey; Check out SchoolTalk!