Assessing progress in geography


It is helpful to consider the three familiar levels of assessment thinking:

AfL practices such as peer and self-assessment, immediate feedback, helping pupils understand where they are in their learning, where they are going and how to get there and other activities to directly support progress
Focus: short term, formative assessment/Assessment for Learning

Broader view of progress for teacher and learner
Making interim judgements by applying geography benchmarks in the classroom; opportunities to improve
Focus: mainly medium term, formative/summative

Making summative judgements, formal recognition of achievement, based on geography benchmarks
Reported to parents/carers and next teacher/school
Curriculum review
Focus: long term, summative/Assessment of Learning

Short term: day-to-day assessment

The benchmark expectations are not for sharing directly with students and are of no use in making day to day assessment. However an understanding of the progression shown in the expectations is essential underpinning for assessment for learning practices. Progress can be shown on a day-to-day basis, even if assessment information is more informal and ephemeral in nature. Formative strategies such as better questioning (challenging questions, rich questions); feedback, (including formative marking, with opportunities for students to respond and improve their work) effective self- and peer- assessment require teachers and students to understand progress in these terms.

In this Think Piece, Paul Weeden discusses the purposes of formative assessment, its relationship with other forms of assessment and ways in which geography teachers might promote formative assessment in their classrooms.

Medium term assessment (periodic)

Pupils should have the chance to demonstrate their achievement through more formal periodic assessment, typically towards the end of a unit of work. Here the criteria for the unit can be used formatively to identify broad progress, strengths and weaknesses and to identify curriculum targets, as well as summatively to monitor progress towards the benchmark expectations.

A ‘mixed economy’ of assessment opportunities can be built-in to test a range of pupils’ capabilities and different aspects of achievement in geography. This might include short tests of specific knowledge, more developed enquiries to assess conceptual understanding and skills, and perhaps occasional synoptic assessment such as problem solving or decision-making exercises at the end of a year or key stage. These can focus on the extent to which pupils can apply skills, link ideas together and move from the particular to the general, so demonstrating their progress as geographical thinkers. These assessment opportunities will draw upon the benchmark expectations.

Assessment is most effective when it takes into account a broad range of evidence that shows what pupils can do independently. Assessment evidence could include:

  • geographical enquiries
  • extended or shorter focused pieces of writing in a variety of different forms for a range of purposes
  • analysis and interpretation of a variety of maps at different scales as well as other geographical data
  • text annotation or visual organisers such as thought mapping, storyboards, concept mapping or timelines
  • oral work such as pupil presentations to the class, contributions to class discussions, drama activities or discussions with teachers
  • drawing of sketch maps, diagrams, field sketches
  • pupils’ self-assessment.

Long term assessment (transitional)

The benchmark expectations help set a national standard so that schools can be secure in their judgement for monitoring and reporting purposes. Using the expectations benchmarks, schools could:

  • collect small samples of work which exemplify quality work at each benchmark and/or for each aspect: annotate them
  • include longitudinal work which exemplifies progress for a small number of individual pupils at your school
  • share/moderate this portfolio which exemplifies and evidences your standards and progress with colleagues, pupils, governors, inspectors, other schools
  • use the benchmarks as a backdrop for annual reporting
  • apply the NAHT system of ‘working towards’ ‘meeting’ ‘exceeded’ to make judgements about attainment in the long term, and support recording and reporting
  • differentiate expectations by looking at the benchmark above or below.

The following table illustrates how progress can be monitored at different time scales:

Scale/focus Practice, e.g. Progress and standards
Short term:
Day to day
Assessment for learning classroom practice, e.g. questioning, formative feedback/response etc Evident in teaching and learning, in pupils' ongoing work, response to feedback etc
basic knowledge/skills
Short test, identified piece of homework
More in-depth marking
Progress check (confidence vs concern?) this can give you a number
conceptual, procedural knowledge
Short research task , problem-solving exercise etc
Access to work at particular standards - e.g. display
Peer/self assessment
Criterion marking and feedback
Linked to pitch/age- related expectations
Long term:
Year/Key stage:
substantial, conceptual development
A major piece of work - e.g. enquiry, decision making exercise, extended writing,
End of year: perhaps synoptic, drawing learning together
As above, plus
opportunity to develop portfolio of geography work exemplifying and sharing standards and illustrating progress

GA members can download free resources to support CPD sessions in your school: Assessment without levels - practical steps to support progression and attainment in geography

Graham Butt (School of Education, University of Birmingham) helps you explore assessment with trainee teachers, in terms of the background - what we understand by assessment, recent developments in assessment, assessment planning, and the fundamental question of making judgements using criteria and/or norm referencing.


Assessing progress in primary geography

Assessing progress in key stage 3

Assessing progress in GCSE geography

Assessing progress in A level geography