Assessment for learning
In classrooms where assessment for learning is practised, students are encouraged to be more active in their learning and associated assessment. The ultimate purpose of assessment for learning is to create self-regulated learners who can leave school able and confident to continue learning throughout their lives. Teachers need to know at the outset of a unit of study where their students are in terms of their learning and then continually check on how they are progressing through strengthening the feedback they get from their learners. Students are guided on what they are expected to learn and what quality work looks like. The teacher will work with the student to understand and identify any gaps or misconceptions (initial/diagnostic assessment). As the unit progresses, the teacher and student work together to assess the student’s knowledge, what she or he needs to learn to improve and extend this knowledge, and how the student can best get to that point (formative assessment). Assessment for learning occurs at all stages of the learning process.
Researchers whose work has informed much of this assessment reform include Ken O’Connor, Grant Wiggins , Jay McTighe , Richard Stiggins , Paul Black, Dylan Wiliam, Chris Harrison, Bethan Marshall, Gordon Stobart, Caroline Gipps, Joanna Goodman, Thomas Guskey, Damian Cooper , Philippe Perrenoud, Royce Sadler, Bronwen Cowie, Margaret Heritage and Ronán Howe.
In past decades, teachers would design a unit of study that would typically include objectives, teaching strategies, and resources. The student’s mark on this test or exam was taken as the indicator of his or her understanding of the topic. In 1998, Black & Wiliam produced a review that highlighted that students who learn in a formative way achieve significantly better than matched control groups receiving normal teaching. Their seminal work developed into several important research projects on Assessment for Learning by the King's College team including Kings-Medway-Oxfordshire Formative Assessment Project (KMOFAP), Assessment is For learning (Scotland), Jersey-Actioning-Formative Assessment (Channel Islands), and smaller projects in England, Wales, Peru, and the USA.
There are a number of assessment terms that will appear in any discussion of assessment. Listed below are common interpretations of some of these terms:
Assessment A working definition of Assessment for learning from a widely cited article contends:
"the term ‘assessment’ refers to all those activities undertaken by teachers, and by their students in assessing themselves, whichprovide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged.
Since this seminal article, educators have differentiated assessment according to its purpose:
Assessment for learning
- comprises two phases—initial or diagnostic assessment and formative assessment
- assessment can be based on a variety of information sources (e.g., portfolios, works in progress, teacher observation, conversation)
- verbal or written feedback to the student is primarily descriptive and emphasizes strengths, identifies challenges, and points to next steps
- as teachers check on understanding they adjust their instruction to keep students on track
- no grades or scores are given - record-keeping is primarily anecdotal and descriptive
- occurs throughout the learning process, from the outset of the course of study to the time of summative assessment
Assessment as learning
- begins as students become aware of the goals of instruction and the criteria for performance
- involves goal-setting, monitoring progress, and reflecting on results
- implies student ownership and responsibility for moving his or her thinking forward (metacognition)
- occurs throughout the learning process
Assessment of learning
- assessment that is accompanied by a number or letter grade (summative)
- compares one student’s achievement with standards
- results can be communicated to the student and parents
- occurs at the end of the learning unit
- judgment made on the basis of a student’s performance
Diagnostic assessment (now referred to more often as "pre-assessment")
- assessment made to determine what a student does and does not know about a topic
- assessment made to determine a student's learning style or preferences
- used to determine how well a student can perform a certain set of skills related to a particular subject or group of subjects
- occurs at the beginning of a unit of study
- used to inform instruction:makes up the initial phase of assessment for learning
- assessment made to determine a student’s knowledge and skills, including learning gaps as they progress through a unit of study
- used to inform instruction and guide learning
- occurs during the course of a unit of study
- makes up the subsequent phase of assessment for learning
- assessment that is made at the end of a unit of study to determine the level of understanding the student has achieved
- includes a mark or grade against an expected standard
Principles of assessment for learning
Among the most comprehensive listing of principles of assessment for learning are those written by the QCA (Qualifications and Curriculum Authority). The authority, which is sponsored by England’s Department for Children, Schools and Families, is responsible for national curriculum, assessment, and examinations. Their principal focus is on crucial aspects of assessment for learning, including how such assessment should be seen as central to classroom practice, and that all teachers should regard assessment for learning as a key professional skill.
The UK Assessment Reform Group (1999) identifies 'The big 5 principles of assessment for learning
- 1. The provision of effective feedback to students.
- 2. The active involvement of students in their own learning.
- 3. Adjusting teaching to take account of the results of assessment.
- 4. Recognition of the profound influence assessment has on the motivation and self-esteem of pupils, both of which are critical influences on learning.
- 5. The need for students to be able to assess themselves and understand how to improve.
The purpose of an Assessment for Learning (AFL) task is to provide feedback to both the teacher and learner regarding the learner's progress towards achieving the learning objective(s). This feedback should be used by the teacher to revise and develop further instruction. An effective AFL method is to use a performance task coupled with a rubric. This type of assessment is fundamental in illustrating how and why such principles need to be adhered to.
- Black, P.J. & Wiliam, D. (1998) Inside the Black Box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. King’s College, London.
Alberta Assessment Consortium (AAC) 
Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B. & Wiliam, D. (2003) Assessment for learning: putting it into practice (Maidenhead, Open University Press).
Black, P. & Wiliam, D (1998). Assessment and Classroom Learning. Assessment in Education 5(1) pp. 7–71.
Cooper, Damian. (2006). Talk About Assessment: Strategies and Tools to Improve Learning. Toronto, ON: Thomson Nelson.
Government of British Columbia 
Goodman, J. (2012). Improving progress through AfL. Dr Joanna Goodman reflects on the role and application of Assessment for Learning. SecEd, 304:13.
Manitoba Education, Citizenship, and Youth. (2006) Rethinking Assessment with Purpose in Mind: assessment for learning, assessment as learning, assessment of learning Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: MECY 
O’Connor, Ken. (2002). How to Grade for Learning. Arlington Heights, IL: Skylight.
Stobart, G. (2008). Testing Times: The uses and abuses of assessment. Oxon: Routledge.
Wiggins, Grant. (1998). Educative Assessment. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.