Principles of assessment for learning

This post discusses and suggests key principles of Assessment for Learning, part of Block 4 of the OU Master’s module H817 Openness and Innovation in elearning

walking ladder

Assessment for Learning (AfL) is not Assessment of Learning. Assessment of Learning broadly equates to grading, marking and comparing students with each other and is usually done (by learners) at the end of of a course. I suppose that is what most people might understand as ‘assessment’, drawing on their own experience of school and higher education, where the final exams and tests are what really matters, at least in terms of the results.

This week’s readings covered the motivations of the Assessment for Learning movement, which was a response to the assessment of learning approach and drew upon research that AfL can help improve learning outcomes (ARG 1999). Assessment for Learning

is 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)

In an  AfL, assessment is ’embedded in a view of teaching and learning of which it is an essential part’ (ARG 1999) – where learners know what they are aiming for and may take part in self-assessment. Other characteristics include believing that every learner can improve and that the type of feedback learners get empowers learners to understand how to take the next steps in the learning journey.

Some key principles of assessment FOR learning might be that the assessment:

  • Is integrated as part of the learning activity
  • Is formative (informed feedback to learners)
  • Gives learners clear goals
  • Involves learners in self-assessment
  • Is adaptive – teaching adjusts in response to it
  • Motivates and raises the self esteem of learners
  • Enables teachers and learners to reflect on the evidence collection.

The AfL paper was written in 1999, and over a decade later I recognise many of the AfL practices and principles, although they may not necessarily be recognised as ‘assessment’ but as good teaching practices. However, assessment of learning still seems relatively entrenched, although there might be more of a blurring of boundaries between the two. For example a project-based activity may have an end grade but milestones along the way may involve feedback, peer assessment and formative feedback.

References

Assessment Reform Group (ARG) (1999) Assessment for Learning: Beyond the Black Box [online], http://assessmentreformgroup.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/beyond_blackbox.pdf(accessed 25 June 2013).
Assessment Reform Group (ARG) (2002) Assessment for Learning: 10 Principles [online], http://www.assessment-reform-group.org (accessed 25 June 2013).

Image courtesy of chanpipat / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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