Assessment Is for Learning: Formative Assessment and Positive Learning Interactions

Article excerpt

Wherever the challenge of promoting effective learning exists in our classrooms there also exists the opportunity for better formative assessment. The time has passed when educational policy makers should support practitioners and embrace the preponderance of relatively recent research which recommends formative assessment interventions in the classroom. One such programme has been gathering increasing momentum in recent years and has become known as Assessment for Learning (AfL). AfL uses formative assessment methods to inform, support and enhance the learning process. The focus of this system is placed on: the quality of learning, the provision of advice and feedback for improvement and a strong emphasis on cooperative learning groups. AfL is founded upon five fundamental principles, all of which revolve around the hub of positive interactions in the classroom: students must a) be able to understand clearly what they are trying to learn, and what is expected of them; b) be given feedback about the quality of their work; c) be given advice about how to go about making improvements; d) be fully involved in deciding what needs to be done next, and e) be aware of who can give them that help.

Keywords: Assessment; Learning; Quality; Efficacy

Assessment for Learning: Formative Assessment and Positive Learning Interactions

'An AfL school is a place where everyone is learning together. It is a place where assessment is part of learning and teaching without dominating them ... Assessment for learning is about supporting classroom learning and teaching. It connects assessment and learning/teaching.' (AAG/APMG 2002-2008).

This article engages with two closely related themes: a) the theoretical arguments which justify the implementation of Assessment for Learning (AfL) on a wide scale and b) the results regarding the implementation of AfL in practice. Both aspects of this article are drawn from a wide spectrum of research literature and the continuing experience of Scottish schools in partnership with the British government. There are two distinct phases of the AfL programme in the UK: Firstly, the development phase (2002-2004) of the programme was strategically directed by the Assessment Action Group (AAG) and operationally managed by the AfL Programme Management Group (APMG). Secondly, the implementation phase (2005-present) is currently being overseen by the APMG; the main forum for liaison and cooperation amongst partners and networks with the mission of building informed communities of practice.

The first section of this article introduces the research of Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam of King's College, London who outline the problem of ineffective learning interactions in classrooms. This will be followed by a brief discussion on the issues surrounding the operationalization of AfL interventions in classrooms before moving on to introduce some of the general findings of the AAG and APMG. The remaining majority of the article concerns itself with a detailed investigation into the wider research on cooperative learning and in-service experiences of the AAG/APMG pertinent to the discussion on the implementation of formative assessment interventions. Finally the closing summary of this article will discuss the insights and findings of the Assessment Reform Group (ARG) at Cambridge University's School of Education.

The 'Black Box'

The crisis of ineffective learning interactions in schools is expressed by Black & Wiliam (1998b, p.1) when they observe, 'in terms of systems engineering, present policies in the U.S. and in many other countries seem to treat the classroom as a black box.' The 'black box' is an object for vital criticism because it functions primarily as a receptive system where, 'certain inputs from the outside--pupils, teachers, other resources, management rules and requirements, parental anxieties, standards, tests with high stakes, and so on--are fed into the box,' (Black and Wiliam 1998b, p. …