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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Assessment for Learning: professional development for teachers

Noni Morrissey
Project Manager Assessment Services, Curriculum Corporation

Assessment for learning, or formative assessment, is now internationally acknowledged for its significant contribution to the improvement of student learning and achievement. Formative assessment has been endorsed and promoted by education systems in England, Scotland, New Zealand, Canada, Hong Kong and, more recently, Australia. In the USA, the Assessment Institute focuses its professional development activities on the promotion of assessment-for-learning principles. The OECD describes formative assessment as one of the most effective strategies for promoting high student performance.

One of the most effective ways to promote the application of formative assessment is to show it in practice.

Teachers react against ideas and materials that are theoretically sound but do not function in the classroom. They seek proof that other professionals with whom they identify are making new methods work. Such ... proof – the fact that others can do it – gives them moral support and challenges them.

Source: Black & Atkin 1996, cited in Classroom Assessment and the National Science Education Standards, National Academy of Science 2000.

The Assessment for Learning project seeks to address this issue by providing materials that offer teachers practical applications of the theories surrounding formative assessment for student learning.

The project has recently released two DVDs, Effective Feedback and Peer Feedback and Student Self-Assessment, supporting the first DVD in the series, Strategic Questioning. The DVDs show teachers in the classroom implementing the findings of the research on formative assessment. This involves a cycle of identifying student achievement and needs, providing feedback and teaching programs to address those needs, and using well-designed assessment to measure improvement and identify further needs. Different schools, year levels and environments are filmed in as many subject areas as possible.

The Assessment for Learning project is being undertaken by Curriculum Corporation and is funded by State and Territory and Australian Government education ministers.

Inside the ‘black box’

The resources provided through the project build on the work of Professors P. Black and D. Wiliam in formative assessment in the classroom, identified in their seminal work, Inside the Black Box (1998).

Black and Wiliam found that ideas, theories and applications about assessment circled around the classroom, but what actually happened inside the classroom was a complete mystery. They argued that unlocking what went on inside the classroom was the key to learning – the classroom was the black box.

They sought to explore classroom assessment by posing three questions:

  • Is there evidence that improving formative assessment raises standards?
  • Is there evidence that there is room for improvement?
  • Is there evidence about how to improve formative assessment?

Their research supported affirmative answers to each question. Black and Wiliam then mounted a case for implementing formative assessment in schools.

The work of Black and Wiliam was part of a growing trend to recognise and apply assessment for learning. The OECD, for example, identified formative assessment as one of the most effective strategies for lifting student performance. (Black & Wiliam 1998).

The principles of formative assessment

Britain’s Assessment Reform Group applied the research of Black and Wiliam to develop ten research-based principles for assessment for learning. These principles have been used to inform the Curriculum Corporation DVDs. According to these principles, assessment for learning should:

  • be part of effective planning of teaching and learning
  • focus on how students learn
  • be recognised as central to classroom practice
  • be regarded as a key professional skill for teachers
  • be sensitive and constructive, because any assessment has an emotional impact
  • take account of the importance of learner motivation
  • promote commitment to learning goals and a shared understanding of the criteria by which they are assessed
  • recognise the full range of achievements of all learners
  • give learners constructive guidance about how to improve
  • develop learners’ capacity for self-assessment so that they can become reflective and self-managing.

In the DVDs, teachers talk about their classroom objectives in relation to these basic principles of assessment for learning, and we also hear what students have to say about their own learning. The use of the DVD suite as a professional development tool is proving extremely effective. The level of uptake of the DVDs also illustrates teachers’ willingness to implement change that has been proven to work.

Assessment for learning is not a quick fix. Rather, it is an innovation that requires gradual, but ultimately fundamental, change. In recognition of this fact, the suite of DVDs includes a wide spectrum of professional development tools, including suggestions for workshop activities, model worksheets and examples of feedback to students. Professional development modules also include facilitators’ notes and PowerPoint presentations, assessment tasks, rubrics, annotated work samples and suggested follow-up learning and activities.

All elements developed on the DVDs are designed to augment the Assessment for Learning website. The website is tailored to State and Territory curricula and aims to provide teachers with ready-to-use materials for their teaching and professional development.

The fourth DVD in the series, Putting it All Together, is due for release mid-2008. It will concentrate on the use of key assessment-for-learning strategies in classrooms through units of work across levels 4, 6, 9 and 12.

The DVDs are available free to all Australian educators through the Curriculum Corporation Assessment for Learning website.


Assessment Reform Group (1999) Assessment for Learning: Beyond the Black Box. University of Cambridge, Faculty of Education

Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B & Wiliam, D (2003) Assessment for Learning – Putting it into Practice. OUP, Berkshire

Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998) Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards through Classroom Assessment. School of Education, King’s College, London

UNESCO (2005) Formative Assessment: Improving Learning in Secondary Classrooms. OECD Publishing, Paris


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