Understanding and Using Assessment for Learning

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Understanding and using Assessment for Learning strategies

Introduction

What does assessment mean?

The word ‘assessment’ can mean almost anything if we are not careful, and therefore it is imperative that we are careful when attempting to define its boundaries. Lambert and Lines (2000) define assessment as “the process of gathering, interpreting, recording and using information about pupils’ responses to educational tasks”. While this is an acceptable definition of assessment (as regards an educational definition), Graham Butt (Into Teaching: Part 2) expands on this definition by proposing that assessment has four main roles within teaching and learning. Firstly, it provides feedback to teachers and students about each child’s progress in order to shape their future learning (a formative role). This is very similar to the diagnostic role of assessment in pin-pointing the precise cause of a child’s difficulty. The second role of assessment is that it provides information about the level of students’ achievements at a particular point, for example at the end of a school year or at the end of a Key Stage (a summative role). The third role of assessment is as a tool by which selection by qualification can be achieved (a certification role). Finally, assessment helps people to judge the effectiveness of the education system as a while (an evaluation role). Prior to the work of Black and Wiliam (1998) very little was known about the formative role of assessment within teaching and learning, and it was clear that by 1997 the assessment emphasis within England and Wales was clearly focused on summative assessment practices such as end-of-key-stage levelling rather than an ongoing understanding of pupil learning and understanding. The work of Black and Wiliam (1998) was crucial in raising the profile of formative assessment, or ‘Assessment for Learning (AfL)’, in UK schools, and it is this formative role of assessment that shall form the basis of the work that follows.

What is ‘Assessment for Learning’?

When attempting to put AfL techniques into practice one must first have a clear understanding of what is meant by AfL. Assessment for Learning was defined in 2002 by the Assessment Reform Group (ARG) as “the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers, to identify where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there”. This definition links closely to the constructivist model of learning, whereby the learner is responsible for the learning and the construction of knowledge by the attribution of personal meaning to what is being taught based on prior experience, knowledge and interests. The work of Black and William (1998) indicated that improving learning through assessment relies on five key factors:

• The provision of effective feedback to students;
• The active involvement of students in their own learning; • Adjusting teaching to take account of the results of assessment; • A recognition of the profound influence assessment has on the motivation and self-esteem of students, both of which are crucial influences on learning; • The need for students to be able to assess themselves (and each other) and understand how to improve

The broad ideas put forward by Black and Wiliam regarding the value of AfL were formulated into a series of 10 principles by the ARG in 2002, and are summarised below:

Assessment for learning:

1. is part of effective planning;
2. focuses on how pupils learn;
3. is central to classroom practice;
4. is a key to professional skill;
5. is sensitive and constructive;
6. fosters motivation;
7. promotes understanding of goals and criteria;
8. helps learners know how to improve;
9. develops the capacity for self (and peer) assessment;
10. recognises all educational achievement

(Adapted from ARG 2002)

Four types of action...
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