What Might Be?
The Future of Assessment Systems
I think we need to define
first what we mean by ‘learning’ in the 21st century. Historically (with roots in ancient times),
what was studied was not important, it was doing better that others which
mattered. Our current ‘high stakes’
examination system is based on the same assumption.
More recently Dore (1976)
argued that getting qualifications, especially in the developing countries, was
more important than learning for its own sake. Therefore, for selection
purposes, Dore favours aptitude tests, which are independent of preparation and
free from ‘cramming’.
Little’s research (1984)
showed that parents and children in developing countries, or particular
cultures, “believe very strongly that effort is the prime-determinant of academic
success and failure” and therefore find it difficult to accept that pupils cannot
improve just through effort and practice.
Stobart (2008) sees achievement
as a continuum and “the issue is where on the continuum a particular test
should sit”. Regarding assessments, the
questions, according to Stobart, we should be asking are:
is the principal purpose of this assessment?
this assessment fit for purpose?
are the consequences, intended and unintended of this assessment?
We need to find answers to these
questions before giving a test can be justified. The aim should be to make the assessment good
enough to encourage effective teaching and learning (Stobart).
Effective teaching occurs
when it is focused on ‘principled’ understanding: the shift from “when you...? to “what
High stake testing used for
accountability purpose can show rapid improvement, but only short-term
benefits. According to Goodhart (Goodhart’s
law), “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure”.
Since the aim of assessment
is to get results and show improvement in learning, Assessment for Learning, with its focus on the learning processes, rather than on learners’
abilities and with focus on task,
rather than self has a central role
to play when discussing future assessment systems, and what might be...
Effective use of
Assessment for Learning (AfL) for Improved Learning and Progress: Challenges
for Educational Institutions
My concern is
the use of assessment for learning in educational settings for improved
learning, progress and developing learning sustainability.
Over recent years, much has been written about the
role of Assessment for Learning (AfL) in improving progress and how schools
should use it to maximise achievement and learning sustainability. At the
national level, following the findings of the Assessment Reform Group (ARG) on
the positive impact of formative assessment on improving learning, the idea of
AfL was embraced by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) who
defined it as “the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by
learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning,
where they need to go and how best to get there” (ARG, 2002).
Since then, schools have been trying to implement
AfL into their everyday practice with different degrees of success regarding
the various stages of implementation, while higher education institutions have
their own challenges regarding effective use of AfL strategies for improved
students’ outcomes. Indeed, recently
Dylan Wiliam (TES, 2012) articulated his disappointment with in-depth
understanding of principles involved and regretted using the term ‘assessment’ because
of its association with measuring:
are very few schools where all the principles of AfL, as I understand them, are
being implemented effectively," Professor Wiliam told TES. "The
problem is that government told schools that it was all about monitoring
pupils' progress; it wasn't about pupils becoming owners of their own learning.
big mistake that Paul Black and I made was calling this stuff
'assessment'," he said. "Because when you use the word assessment,
people think about tests and exams. For me, AfL is all about better
Learning Sustainability: Focus on Effective use of Formative Assessment for
Developing Learning Autonomy
This paper is my
contribution to the Symposium on the concept of assessment.
My ideas are based on
my qualitative research into the use of assessment in the classroom, which was
conducted in an independent school in England, and my observations as a
practitioner, and school inspector, with about 30 years of experience in
education in different types of schools in England.
framework is mainly based on the findings by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam, and
King’s College London Assessment Group, into the use of assessment for learning
for substantial learning gains. I
examine ways of overcoming the current situation of teacher misinterpretation
of assessment, evident amongst teachers in UK schools. I explore ways of widening the current
concept of assessment by interpreting assessment in terms asking questions
about learning and the process of gathering information related to learning and
educational outcomes, rather than just seeing assessment as a measuring device.
In this expanded view of assessment, the
learners’ interests are in the centre, therefore it could be argued that this
concept of assessment moves closer to recognizing assessment as a tool for
enriching children’s learning and development, and as such could be viewed more
in terms of a dialogic interaction between teachers and students, leading to
improved progress through active student engagement at every stage of the
I also consider the
reasons for the reluctance on the part of the teaching profession to embed the
formative assessment practice as part of everyday classroom practice.
assessment, feedback, learning autonomy, learning sustainability, assessment
for learning (AfL)
and Learning within the Framework of Self-regulation
empirical qualitative research was conducted in an English independent school
where I examined assessments practices in place and explored to what extent the teachers there engaged with formative
assessment. Although my study explored
the philosophy of independent education and I examined the impact of the school
culture on assessment practices in place, in this paper, I focus mainly on
theoretical framework and attempt to define assessment, which is seen as an
integral part of learning.
different forms of assessment are explored, the importance of effective
feedback is emphasized and, in particular, its impact on future learning. The concept of self-regulation, as a
theoretical framework, is highlighted because this concept is considered an
important aspect of achieving learning independence. In this sense, self-regulation is seen as
self-discovered learning where learners are able to assume a sense of
responsibility for their learning, resulting in increased motivation to learn
and leading to the mastery of greater learning autonomy. Therefore, I also explore the impact of
self-regulation on pupil motivation, an essential aspect of learning, and
discuss why proficiency in self-regulatory skills can be crucial to achieving
this learning autonomy. I use the
theoretical framework of ‘self-regulation’ to support the effectiveness of
formative assessment practices in improving progress because at the heart of
such practices is active involvement of students in their learning through peer
or self-assessment, for example.
discussing the use and impact of assessments in schools, and in particular
assessment for learning, I also make references to business and sports coaching
for improved performance as there seem to be similarities between the techniques used in coaching for improved
business or sporting performance and assessment for learning aimed at improving
progress. These parallels are drawn on
the assumption that sports or business coaching is seen in terms of helping
others to learn through unlocking individuals’ potential for improved performance,
rather than teaching them. As such, both
sports/business coaching and assessment for learning, are based on specific
guidance to feed forward, leading to developing learning independence.
I conclude that a failure to provide pupils with opportunities to become
independent learners can be disadvantaging some pupils’ educational achievement
and can lead to pupils’ reliance on external forms of regulation, which could
be counterproductive to motivation and learning sustainability.
Key words: formative
assessment, feedback, self-regulation, motivation, learning autonomy
reference list will be provided with my paper and it will include:
Black, P. and Wiliam, D.
(1998). Inside the Black Box: Raising
Standards through Classroom Assessment. London: GL Assessment.
Black, P., and Wiliam, D. (1998b). Assessment and
classroom learning. Assessment in
Boekaerts, M. (1995). Motivation in Education. The British
Boekaerts. M. (2002). Motivation to Learn. Educational
Practices – 10. International Academy of
Education. UNESCO booklet.
Boekaerts, M. and Corno. L. (2005).
Self-regulation in the classroom: a perspective on assessment and intervention.
Applied Psychology: An International Review, 54 (2): 199–231.
Stobart, G. (2008). Testing Times: The uses and abuses of
assessment. Oxon: Routledge.
Whitmore, J. (2002). Coaching for Performance. London:
Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
progress through AfL
Over recent years, much
has been written about the role of Assessment for Learning (AfL) in improving
progress and how schools should use it to maximise achievement and learning
At the national level, following the findings
of the Assessment Reform Group (ARG) on the positive impact of formative
assessment on improving learning, the idea of AfL was embraced by the
Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA, 2006) who defined it as “the
process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their
teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to
go and how best to get there”.
Since then schools have
been trying to implement AfL into their everyday practice, with different
degrees of success regarding the various stages of implementation. At first, as with any new initiative, the
idea of AfL met with some scepticism from the teaching profession as the lack
of in-depth understanding of the theory and principles underpinning AfL, and
often inadequate training, meant that teachers often felt that it would mean
more work for them, especially regarding the expectations of giving feedback in
terms of comments for improvement. My
practical experience, lessons observations and academic research into the use
of AfL in everyday practice confirm that still in some settings today, where
AfL is being implemented, there appears to be only ritualised understanding of
the processes behind it and the principled understanding can be harder to grasp.
information for schools, the QCA (2006) adopted the main AfL principles, as
mentioned above, based on research-based evidence (Black and Wiliam). These principles recognise the importance of
assessment for learning to classroom practice and advocate that AfL should
become part of effective planning of teaching and learning, and a key
professional skill for teachers, because at the core of it is the involvement
of learners in their own learning processes.
should provide pupils with constructive guidance on improvement to enable them
to become reflective and self-managing.
These principles are important because they summarise the essence of
assessment for learning and bridge the gap between educational research and the
actual practice by identifying for teachers what is crucial to assessment for
learning and why it is important to strive to make it part of effective
classroom practice. This type of
assessment is imperative for learners, because through their involvement, it
helps them to manage their own learning, which is a skill for life rather than
just for passing examinations (Stobart).
In order to have a better
understanding of principles which encourage pupils to learn and why some pupils
are more successful than others, extensive studies into the psychology of
learning focused on motivation and, in particular, on the association between
motivation and learning outcomes (Boekaerts, Dweck). Research indicates that motivational beliefs,
which act as a frame of reference for pupils’ feelings and actions in a given
subject or task, result from learning experiences and act as favourable
contexts for learning, where students are not motivated to learn in the face of
failure, but students who have positive beliefs about their capacity to learn
have higher achievements.
Learners who are
well-motivated are capable of using their self-regulatory skills effectively
for higher achievement, whereas learners who are not skilled, or not inclined,
to use self-regulatory skills, are poorly motivated and over-reliant on
teachers. Therefore the involvement of
students in their learning, e.g. through self-assessment, peer-assessment or
self-reflection, is a key element of the AfL practice, which can be overlooked
where learner autonomy becomes procedural, rather than an aim in itself, for
example through explicit learning objectives and time for self-evaluation.
Schools thus face a crucial
challenge of developing strategies of working successfully within the system of
high-stake tests, for certification and accountability purposes, and developing
self-regulated learners through formative practices.
Developing Sustainable Education
As the proposed changes
regarding the quality of standards and qualifications, the proposed new
National Curriculum and the new ways of assessing achievement, just to name a
few, flash by almost daily, it is important to reflect on the long-term aims of
the suggested changes and to consider their sustainability. Education must be sustainable for the successful
outcomes of the growing school population and future generations. Any reform or innovation must be
sustainability-proof for worthwhile, long-term effects, and it is precisely
that sustainability of the proposed reforms that we should be concerned with.
Education and schools
face many challenges and therefore in order to be well prepared for the demands
of the modern era, schools have an important role to play in developing
independent, self-regulating pupils ready for the challenges ahead in the 21st
century. Within the globally integrated
economy and the rapid development of technology, pupils will be required to develop
the ability for making informed choices, for which they will need independence
and self-regulatory skills. Weeden et
al. (2002) argue that in order to make effective choices in the 21st
century, pupils will need to be self-reliant: “…new opportunity requires each
individual to develop the capacity to chart their own route, their own learning
map, their own individual targets for learning” (p.9).
thus face a crucial challenge of developing strategies of working successfully
within the systems of high-stake tests, for certification and accountability
purposes, and developing self-regulated learners through formative
practices. Hence the purposes, for which
assessment outcomes are used, are key to developing a system focused on
learning advancement and on developing sustainable learners. Independent schools, which are free in their
curriculum choices, could be well placed to develop their assessment systems
relevant to the learners of the 21st century. Boud (2000) refers to this idea of schools
working within the constraints of summative and formative assessment frameworks
as ‘double duty’. Within these
constraints, Stobart (2008) emphasizes the importance of assessment aims: “It
is what is done with this information [assessment outcomes] which will
determine whether it becomes formative – does it lead to further learning? So
the difference is about purpose rather than timing” (p.159).
(1989) also recognizes the value of self-monitoring as an essential skill for
improvement, “… for students to be able to improve, they must develop the
capacity to monitor the quality of their own work during production” (p.119),
which means that students need to be taught how to self-evaluate their work for
successful progress. Since pupils need
to be actively engaged in their learning processes, rather than be passive
receivers of information, to be effective learners in the 21st
century, it would seem almost certainly that pupils should be equipped with
self-regulatory skills for making sense of and managing their own learning.
theorists agree that learners who are able to self-regulate their learning use
these skills to affect positively their learning and motivation (Boekaerts and
Corno, 2005) and are efficient at managing their own learning (Boekaerts et al.
2000; Butler and Winne, 1995; Stobart, 2008).
(1998) affirms that well-regulated classroom environments with focus on the
learning outcomes before any learning occurs and adjusting teaching to pupils’
responses, assist with the regulation of learning. Importantly, Boekaerts and Corno (2005)
assert that “all theorists assume that there are no direct linkages between
achievement and personal or contextual characteristics; achievement effects are
mediated by self-regulatory activities that students engage to reach learning
and performance goals” (p.201).
Therefore appropriate teacher intervention is crucial to train students
to regulate their own behaviour so students develop their self-regulatory and
motivational skills allowing them to be less teacher-dependent. As research suggest that learners who use
these meta-cognitive skills (thinking about learning) obtain better grades
(Boekaerts, 1995), Boekaerts concludes that “all learners should be equipped
with multiple forms of self-regulatory skills” (p.17) and that “teachers should
make these self-regulatory skills explicit educational targets” (ibid.) in
order to make pupils effective independent learners capable of regulating their
own behaviour and learning.
one of the goals of any educational institution is to achieve the highest
academic results possible for their students (fulfilment of students’
potential), the importance of the research findings into the psychology of
learning, and in particular into motivation (Schunk and Zimmerman, 1994; Dweck
and Legett, 1988) – a crucial element of classroom success – are important
considerations for teachers. Since the learners’ autonomy, where pupils can
take charge of their learning (Dornyei, 2001) can increase motivation and be
beneficial to learning, assisting pupils in becoming independent learners could
have positive effects on their motivation to learn. Rogers (1991) argues that: “The only kind of
learning which significantly affects behaviour is self-discovered, self-appropriated
learning” (p.276), which emphasizes the importance of one’s involvement in
one’s own learning. Stobart (2008) also claims that it is the learner’s
responsibility to become independent and it is the teachers’ task to use
appropriate methodology to enable learners to become autonomous: “Part of being
a self-regulated learner is to accept responsibility for learning, just as
teachers must take responsibility for creating a context which helps learning”
(p.179). This view stresses the value of
the quality of interactions between teachers and learners and the importance
for teachers to create purposeful learning environments where students can be
effectively supported in developing their independent learning skills.