Assessment for Learning

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It is widely recognized that the form and content of student assessment strongly influence students’ attitudes to study and quality of learning (Ramsden, 1997; Shepard, 2000). For most students, assessment requirements literally define the curriculum. Current research suggests it is assessment used in the right way, as part of teaching to support and enhance learning that has the most significant impact on learning (Elwood and Klenowski, 2002). James and his colleagues (2002) argue that carefully designed assessment is therefore a powerful tool for educators and caution that equally, “poorly designed assessment has the potential to hinder learning or stifle curriculum development”. New forms of assessment

The realization of the significance of assessment to student learning has brought about reforms in assessment that shift the emphasis from the traditional measurement model to newer forms of assessment that value the process as much as the finished product and offer a more ‘authentic’ representation of practice (Palmer, 2004). Shepard (2000) suggests that traditional assessment practices are no longer compatible with teaching or with learning in present-day classrooms which encourage the development of intellectual abilities, construction of knowledge (rather than the reproduction of knowledge) and formation of students’ identities. Assessment is now defined as ‘assessment for learning’ and seen as an integral aspect of the teaching and learning cycle rather than being ‘assessment of learning’ which is an event that describes students’ typical performance at the end of a course. This paradigm shift has resulted in a range of alternative forms of assessment to capture evidence of best performance across time, such as practical and oral demonstrations, classroom-based assessment, portfolios of work, reflective journals, case studies utilising problem based learning and peer or self assessment. It is claimed that alternative assessment is more valid and reliable, more closely matches today’s educational goals, better accommodates cultural diversity, is consistent with cognitive learning theory, and measures deep understanding (Frank and Barzilai, 2004). They outlined eight necessary characteristics of alternative assessment, of which the most critical are that the assessment is formative, relating to the learning processes not just to the final result, as a continuous process embedded in instruction and that assessment of this nature seeks to assess knowledge, understanding, skills, attitudes, values, motivation, higher-level cognitive skills and affective outcomes in a real life context. Also important, it indicates that the student is responsible for the learning process. Engaging students in the assessment process helps them to be self-reflective and self-regulated learners. Formative assessment

If there is an opportunity for students to improve on the same task then the assessment is essentially formative. The main purpose of formative assessment is diagnostic and enables students to obtain sufficient information to identify their own strengths and weaknesses in terms of current knowledge and skills (Morgan, 2004). Formative assessment not only provides useful feedback to the student, but also gives important feedback to the teacher about how to modify teaching and learning activities. Elwood et al (2002) argue that to include and promote alternative assessment practices that are formative in both function and purpose requires a major shift in how learning is viewed, how students’ own learning is understood and how assessment is integrated into teaching practices. In a review of current thinking on student learning and formative assessment in higher education, Taras (2002) concludes that “the current accepted theory no longer separates formative-summative assessment and requires all assessment to be primarily formative in nature”. She emphasizes the centrality of the learner and suggests that feedback cannot be a...
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