The Assessment for Learning Project
'Assessment for learning' is a term which replaces the more familiar 'formative assessment', and describes very clearly the purpose of that particular kind of assessment: i.e. to use the information derived from assessment practices employed in the classroom to improve the quality of student learning.
It is a term better known in the UK than anywhere else, although it has a presence in a number of countries, including the USA and New Zealand. Its profile in Australia is increasing.
Assessment for learning has been embraced and endorsed by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in the United Kingdom. The responsibilities of the Authority include curriculum, assessment, examinations and qualifications, and it is worth noting that unlike other similar authorities, where the focus is often very firmly and exclusively on the summative aspects of assessment, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority consciously seeks to promote the formative aspects of assessment as well. The official website offers a wide range of materials to support teachers in their classrooms.
In 1998, the Assessment Reform Group (set up by the British Educational Research Association) commissioned Professors Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam of Kings College, London, to examine the research literature on the links between assessment and learning.
The conclusions they reached as a result of their research review were published in the seminal work, Inside the Black Box, 1998. The 'black box' in the title is the classroom into which, as Black and Wiliam point out, a number of inputs are poured - pupils, teacher, resources, management rules and requirements, tests etc. - and out of which are expected a variety of outputs: pupils who are more knowledgeable and competent, better test results, satisfied teachers and so on.
But what happens inside the black box?
Black and Wiliam sought to explore that issue and, in particular, to seek answers to these questions:
At the same time they acknowledged that formative assessment, or assessment for learning, was not to be regarded as a quick and easy fix for those seeking to raise standards, but rather that 'fundamental educational change can only be achieved slowly - through programs of professional development that build on existing good practice.'
The Principles of Assessment for Learning
The insights, obtained as a result of the research, formed the basis for the development of ten principles of assessment for learning, designed to guide classroom practice. These assert that assessment for learning should
The Assessment for Learning Project
These ten principles inform the approach adopted by the UK Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, and have shaped the development of the Curriculum Corporation's Assessment for Learning website which was developed on behalf of the education departments of the Australian States and Territories.
Teachers who visit the website are able to access four assessment tasks - two targeted at an audience of primary teachers and two at secondary teachers - for each learning area. If the descriptions of necessary prior learning are deemed relevant, teachers can make use of the assessment tasks, the accompanying resources, rubrics and worksamples to apply the principles of assessment for learning. They can:
To facilitate their use, each module consists of a Powerpoint presentation with accompanying speakers' notes and an outline for a follow-up workshop, with suggested activities and resources. They could be used on a whole-department basis, or in smaller groups of teachers who are teaching at the same Year level.
To promote assessment for learning so that it will in fact be recognised as central to classroom practice and regarded as a key professional skill for teachers, the Assessment for Learning site also provides links to a number of relevant online articles and websites.
Curriculum Corporation is pleased to be able to offer interested schools further professional development opportunities related to assessment for learning and the key formative assessment strategies. For further information please contact Toni Glasson (email@example.com).
An earlier version of this article appeared in EQ Australia Autumn 2004.