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The Assessment for Learning Project

Toni Glasson

'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:

  • 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?
As a result of their research, the authors arrived at affirmative responses for each of these questions, and were confident enough in their findings to assert that they had made 'a case that government, its agencies, and the teaching profession should study very carefully if they are seriously interested in raising standards in education.'

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

  • 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.

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:

  • use the assessment tasks to provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate their learning
  • use the student rubric to make explicit for the students what will be assessed and how it will be assessed
  • use the student rubric to provide a basis for feedback, both written and oral, and formal and informal
  • use the student rubric to encourage peer- and self-assessment
  • use the worksamples to provide students with models and further explicit information about the expected performance, or to assist in feedback
  • use the worksamples to provide opportunities for students to practise peer assessment
  • use the diagnostic grids to identify strengths and weaknesses in student performance on a given task
  • use the suggested teaching and learning activities to assist them to modify the teaching and learning program in response to student needs.
In addition, the Professional Development modules provided on the site can be used by teachers from all learning areas, within or across schools, to develop further their understandings of:

  • student self-assessment
  • strategic questioning
  • effective feedback
  • designing and using rubrics
  • using the worksamples.
These modules reflect some of the major emphases of assessment for learning - ones which were further developed by Black and Wiliam in their publications Beyond the Black Box (1999) and Working inside the Black Box (2002).

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 (toni.glasson@curriculum.edu.au).

An earlier version of this article appeared in
EQ Australia Autumn 2004.


Subject Headings

Great Britain
Professional development