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Saturday 27 April 2013

What Might Be? The Future of Assessment Systems

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:

What is the principal purpose of this assessment?

Is this assessment fit for purpose?

What 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 if...” approaches.

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...

Thursday 25 April 2013

ESLIN 2013


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:

There 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.

"The 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 teaching."

ELSIN 2013

Developing Learning Sustainability: Focus on Effective use of Formative Assessment for Developing Learning Autonomy

Dr Joanna GOODMAN (Independent Educational Consultant, UK) – joanna.goodman@cromwell-consulting.com


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.

My theoretical 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 learning process.

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.

Key words: formative assessment, feedback, learning autonomy, learning sustainability, assessment for learning (AfL)


Thursday 11 April 2013

Tuesday 9 April 2013

ELSIN 2012

ELSIN 2012

Assessment and Learning within the Framework of Self-regulation

Dr J. Goodman



My 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.

As 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.

In 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.

Thus 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


Full 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

Education, 5(1): 7-74.

Boekaerts, M. (1995). Motivation in Education. The British Psychological Society.

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.



Improving Progress through AfL

Improving 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 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, 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. 

In providing 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. 

Effective teaching 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.

 Dr J Goodman

Educational Consultancy: information about services and publications


Webcast on assessment for learning

Discussing some AfL strategies:


Sustainable Education

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).

Schools 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).

Sadler (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.

Educational 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). 

Perrenoud (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. 

As 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.