Assessment for learning

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In classrooms where assessment for learning, commonly called formative assessment,[1] 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,[2] Jay McTighe,[2] Richard Stiggins,[3] Paul Black, Dylan Wiliam, Chris Harrison, Bethan Marshall, Gordon Stobart, Caroline Gipps, Joanna Goodman, Thomas Guskey, Damian Cooper,[4] Philippe Perrenoud, Royce Sadler, Bronwen Cowie, Margaret Heritage and Ronán Howe.

Historical perspective[edit]

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.

Complex assessment[edit]

A complex assessment is the one that requires a rubric and an expert examiner. Example items for complex assessment include thesis, funding proposal, etc.[5] [6] The complexity of assessment is due to the format implicitness. In the past, it has been puzzling to deal with the ambiguous assessment criteria for final year project (FYP) thesis assessment. Webster, Pepper and Jenkins (2000)[7] discussed some common general criteria for FYP thesis and their ambiguity regarding use, meaning and application. Woolf (2004)[8] more specifically stated on the FYP assessment criterion weighting:‘The departments are as silent on the weightings that they apply to their criteria as they are on the number of criteria that contribute to a grade’. A more serious concern was raised by Shay (2004) who argued that the FYP assessment for engineering and social sciences is ‘a socially situated interpretive act’, implying that many different alternative interpretations and grades are possible for one assessment task. The problems with the FYP thesis assessment have thus received much attention over the decades since the assessment difficulty was discussed by Black (1975).[9]


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, which

provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged.[10]

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 the next steps
  • as teachers check on the 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


  • judgement made on the basis of a student's performance

Diagnostic assessment (now referred to more often as "pre-assessment")

  • the assessment made to determine what a student does and does not know about a topic
  • the 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

Formative assessment

  • the 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

Summative assessment

  • the 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


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 the 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.

In the United States, the Assessment For Learning Project has identified four "core shifts" and ten "emerging principles" of assessment for learning.

Core Shifts

  1. Purpose of Assessment: From exposing inequity to enacting equity
  2. Process of Assessment: From an isolated event to an integrated process
  3. Priorities of Assessment: From evaluating students to encouraging reflection and feedback
  4. Product of Assessment: From averages and scores to bodies of evidence of learning

Emerging Principles

  1. Meaningful Tasks, Worthy Evidence, and Authentic Validation
  2. Coherence Among Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
  3. Clear and Transparent Learning Targets
  4. Accessible and Inclusive Design for All Learners
  5. Active Student Participation with Structured Reflection
  6. Specific, Actionable Feedback
  7. Support of Positive Mindsets and Identities
  8. Community-engaged Readiness Definitions
  9. Professional Expertise, Collaboration, and Calibration
  10. Systems of Assessments Designed from the Student Out


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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-05-29. Retrieved 2019-10-05.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ "Assessment Training Institute".
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^ Ho Sung Kim, Quantification for complex assessment: uncertainty estimation in final year project thesis assessment, European Journal of Engineering Education, 2013, pp 1-16
  6. ^ Ho Sung Kim, Uncertainty analysis for peer assessment final year project, European Journal of Engineering Education, Vol 39 (1), 2014, pp 68-83
  7. ^ Webster, F., D. Pepper, and A. Jenkins. 2000. “Assessing the undergraduate dissertation.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 25 (1): 71–80.
  8. ^ Woolf, H., 2004. “Assessment criteria: reflections on current practices.” Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 29 (4): 439–493.
  9. ^ Black, J., 1975. “Allocation and assessment of project work in the final year of engineering degree course at the University of Bath”. Assessment in Higher Education, 1 (1): 35–54.
  10. ^ 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: Principles, Policy & Practice. 5 (1): 7–74. doi:10.1080/0969595980050102.
  • 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.
  • QCA
  • Stobart, G. (2008). Testing Times: The uses and abuses of assessment. Oxon: Routledge.
  • Wiggins, Grant. (1998). Educative Assessment. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.