MET:Assessment for Learning

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Assessment for Learning

Assessment for learning focuses on engaging students in classroom assessment in support of their own learning and informing teachers about what to do next to help students to progress. Assessment for learning is assessment for improvement not assessment for accountability as can be the case with summative assessments (Stiggins, 2002).

The keys to Assessment for Learning (AFL) is to use a variety of assessment tools and methods in order to provide ongoing evidence to students, teachers and parents that demonstrates how well each student is mastering the identified outcomes. This evidence is used to provide descriptive feedback to the students and to enable the teacher to differentiate the instruction to meet the needs of individual students or groups.

Black and William clearly indicate that formative assessment (AFL) will raise performance standards and improve overall student success (Black & William, 1998).

In his book, Talk About Assessment: Strategies and Tools to Improve Learning, Damian Cooper (2007) defines Assessment for Learning as "assessment designed primarily to promote learning. Early drafts, first tries, and practice assignments are all examples of assessment for learning", and describes Assessment of Learning as "assessment designed primarily to determine student achievement at a given point in time. Report card grades should be comprised of data from assessments of learning".

Cooper's (2007) first chapter introduces the educator to Eight Big Ideas about assessment:

Big Idea 1 Assessment serves different purposes at different times: it may be used to find out what students already know and can do; it may be used to help students improve their learning; or it may be used to let students and their parents know how much they have learned in a prescribed period of time.

Big Idea 2 Assessment must be planned and purposeful.

Big Idea 3 Assessments must be balanced, including oral, performance, and written tasks, and be flexible in order to improve learning for all students.

Big Idea 4 Assessment and instruction are inseparable because effective assessment informs learning.

Big Idea 5 For assessment to be helpful to students, it must inform them in words, not numerical scores or letter grades, what they have done well, what they have done poorly, and what they need to do next in order to improve.

Big Idea 6 Assessment is a collaborative process that is most effective when it involves self-, peer, and teacher assessment.

Big Idea 7 Performance standards are an essential component of effective assessment.

Big Idea 8 Grading and reporting student achievement is a caring, sensitive process that requires teachers' professional judgement.

Six Big Strategies that Matter

Black and Wiliam's work led to the development of five performance strategies for assessment for learning; these five have since been re-structured by Dr. Linda Kaser and Dr. Judy Halbert into six big strategies that matter and are described below (Koehn, 2008 p. 2).

1. Providing learners with clarity about and understanding of the learning intentions of the work being done (learners are presented the learning intentions at the beginning of the lesson, throughout the lesson, and refer to the learning intentions in their reflections and responses so teachers can see that connections between tasks and what is supposed to be learned are made)

2. Providing to and co-developing with learners the criteria for success (what will the finished task look like, how will you share your understandings with others?)

3. Providing ongoing descriptive feedback that moves learning forward for each learner (using feed forward in language the students understand; how can the next task improve upon the previous?)

4. Designing and using thoughtful classroom questions to lead discussions that generate evidence of learning (allowing the students to participate and interact amongst each other in meaningful oral discussion – talk is student to student(s), not a dialogue between teacher and one student)

5. Putting learners to work as learning/teaching resources for each other using self and peer assessment (student coaching, students understanding learning intentions so well that they can teach a younger student or peer)

6. Doing everything we can think of to make sure that learners have ownership of their own learning (empowering each student to succeed).

Assessment for Learning vs. Assessment of Learning

Gregory, Cameron, and Davies (1997) outline some distinct differences between Assessment for Learning and Assessment of Learning. Educators are using these terms to help distinguish between the teacher's role as a learning coach versus the teacher's role of judging the extent of a student's achievement in relation to an established standard. This assessment is considered summative and is done at the end.

1. Assessment for learning is the big deal, while assessment of learning is the done deal.

2. Assessment for learning is formative, while assessment of learning is summative.

3. Assessment for learning is supportive, while assessment of learning measures.

4. Assessment for learning uses descriptions, while assessment of learning uses scores.

5. Assessment for learning happens day by day, moment by moment, while assessment of learning happens at the end.

The assertion is that neither one is better than the other, but both need to be used within a students learning so that the student is able to understand not only the work that is being asked of them, but also how their own learning occurs. Assessment for learning is intended to be both diagnostic and formative to help students improve their learning.

File:Comparing 'OF' and 'FOR'.png

(chart from Anne Davies website:

Role of the Student

Students are involved in identifying achievement expectations from the beginning of the learning by studying exemplars of strong and weak work. It is very important that students have a clear understanding of the learning intentions and expected outcomes of the work they are being asked to do. Assessment for learning will make the student’s learning visible and will enable both the teacher and learner to reflect and adjust the learning process. The learners play an important role in developing and understanding the scaffolding they will be climbing as they approach those outcomes. Students partner with their teacher to continuously monitor their current level of attainment in relation to agreed-upon expectations so they can set goals for what to learn next and thus play a role in managing their own progress. Students are asked to communicate evidence of learning to one another, to their teacher, and to their families, and they do so along the entire learning journey, not only at the end. the learning, students are inside the assessment process, watching themselves grow, feeling in control of their success, and believing that continued success is within reach if they keep trying.

Role of the Teacher

Assessment for learning not only provides reflective feedback to guide the learning process, but empowers students to control and dictate the direction of their learning. Purposeful use of AFL will enable students to experience metacognition where they engage and reflect on their learning experience. “Intelligent thought involves 'metacognition' or self monitoring of learning and thinking" (Shepard, 2000. p. 8).

Although much of assessment for learning is about empowering the student to understand and take control of their learning, the teacher plays a critical role in chosing the appropriate assessments and using them to differentiate instruction to meet the individual needs of the students. The teacher is responsible for aligning instruction with the targeted outcomes, selecting and adapting materials and resources and identifying specific learning requirements of students or groups or students. Once the teacher has collected begun collecting information through assessment their focus becomes creating differentiated teaching strategies and learning opportunities in order to assist individual students move forward in their learning. This is partially accomplished by providing immediate feedback and direction to students and then completing the cycle again.

   File:FeedbackKD.jpg  File:Peer Evaluation.jpg  File:Presenting.jpg  Spotlight2.jpg 

In Rethinking Classroom Assessment: Assessment for Learning, Assessment as Learning, Assessment of Learning there are four critical questions that the teacher must ask when planning for assessment for learning:

Why am I assessing?

If the intent of assessment is to enhance student learning teachers use assessment for learning to uncover what students believe to be true and to learn more about the connections students are making, their prior knowledge, preconceptions, gaps, and learning styles. This information is used to inform and differntiate instruction to build on what students already know and to challenge students when their are problems inhibiting progression to the next stages of learning. Teachers use this information to provide their students with descriptive feedback that will further their learning and not as a sumamtive assessment or to report a grade.

What am I assessing?

Assessment for learning requires ongoing assessment of the outcomes that comprise the intended learning. In most cases these are the curriculum outcomes. Teachers create assessments that will expose students’ thinking and skills in relation to the intended learning, and the common preconceptions.

What assessment method should I use?

When planning assessment for learning, the teacher must think about what assessment is designed to expose, and must decide which assessment approaches are most likely to give detailed information about what each student is thinking and learning. The methods need to incorporate a variety of ways for students to demonstrate their learning. For example, having students complete tasks orally or through visual representation allow those who are struggling with reading or writing to demonstrate their learning.

How can I use the information?

The information collected in assessment for learning is used to report to the student and by offering descriptive, on time feedback and to provide the teacher with information to allow for changes in instruction for individual students or groups of students.

Feedback for the Student

Black and Wiliam (1998) suggested that feedback was a key component in assessment for learning. Cooper (2007) and Davies (2000a) assert that the quality of the feedback matters, as well as the timing. Quality feedback is descriptive feedback. Descriptive feedback makes it clear for the learning what is working and what needs to be worked on. Allowing students to adjust or change what they are doing through descriptive feedback, students are more likely to be successful (Davies, 2000a). In her book Making Classroom Assessment Work, Anne Davies (2000b) tells us that descriptive feedback that supports learning, and:

- comes during, as well as after, the learning

- is easily understandable and related directly to the learning

- is specific - so performance can improve

- involves choice on the part of the learner as to what and how to receive feedback

- is part of an ongoing conversation about learning

- is in comparison to models, exemplars or descriptions

- is about the performance or the work, not the person

Feedback for learning is an integral part of the teaching process. It is the vital link between the teacher’s assessment of a student’s learning and the action following that assessment. Immediate feedback is key maximizing student learning. Cooper (2007) and Gregory et al (1997) provide many examples of feedback that is easy and fast. In their book Setting and Using Criteria, Gregory et al (1997) provide ten quick ways that a teacher can give immediate feedback to guide the student's learning, without putting a mark in the gradebook. One such example is Met/Not Yet/I Noticed. This technique gives the student immediate feedback when the criteria is set up in a ruberic and the teacher is simply checking off Met or Not Yet and giving descriptive feedback in the I Noticed column.

Descriptive feedback makes explicit connections between students’ thinking and the learning that is expected. It addresses misinterpretations and lack of understanding. Feedback should help identify the next steps and an example of what good work looks like (Davies, 2000b). Feedback for learning will support or challenge an idea that a student holds. It allows the teacher to provide recognition for achievement and growth, and to give precise directions for improvement. Good descriptive feedback should also cause students to think about, and allow them to respond to, the teacher's or peer's suggestions.

Criterion-Referenced Assessment

With a criterion-referenced standard the student's performance is measured against a predetermined set of performance indicators. We commonly see this type of assessment outside of the school setting. For example, when a coach is teaching a new skill to an athlete and a driver's road test. Performance standards and ruberics are becoming more and more common is the educational setting, as teachers see the merit in allowing the students to know what the criteria is before they begin the task (Cooper, 2007). Another technique that is often employed is including students in setting the criteria. This increases student buy-in and makes them accountable to the standards they have set themselves.

Assessment for learning provides information about what students can already do and what they are not able to do (Gregory, et al 1997). It is measured using a predetermined set of exemplars. This must be shared with the students before they begin the work. After the students have done their work, their tasks can be measured using the criteria that was set our for that task. This provides the necessary information for the teacher to create the next steps in instruction. Students will be in various places in their learning and by using assessment for learning the teacher can compare the student progress with the intended objectives and adjust the pace of instruction, the resources, or the amount of work required in order to lesson confusion and frustration on the part of the student (Davis, 2000b). By focusing on what the student does know and moving forward the learner is being supported rather than criticized. By knowing the criteria ahead of time, frustration is decreased and the student has a sense of ownership over their own work. Using performance standards and exemplars also decreases the frustration level of the students because they are able to understand how the criteria is being presented (Gregory, et al, 1997).

File:Met-Not Yet-I Noticed.png (rubric adapted from Gregory et al, 1997, pg. 35)

Setting and Using Criteria

In Setting And Using Criteria, Gregory et al (1997) outline some effective approaches to establishing criteria in the classroom. Teachers can set criteria on their own, or include students in deciding what will be valued for that particular task. Criteria should always come out of the learning outcomes set for that grade. Criteria should be set for projects and assignments and does not have to be set for day to day tasks. By setting the criteria, the teacher is outlining how the task will be valued or judged. Gregory et al (1997) have found that the "following four step process for creating criteria with students encourages student participation, understanding, and ownership".

Step One: Brainstorm

Step Two: Sort and catagorize

Step Three: Make and post a T-chart

Step Four: Add, revise, refine

This process can be done with the student's using something very familiar to start with, so that they learn how to set criteria. After some amount of practice, the students become faster at pulling out the major ideas or skills that you want them to know or do.

Planning with Assessment in Mind

Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (1998) coined the idea of backward design planning with their book, "Understanding by Design". The focus of their work was to state that if learning was to be effective for the students, the teacher must begin with the final destination in mind, and that the programs or activities must be 'backward in design' (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998). Designing curriculum this way has been described as backward because teachers traditionally start curriculum planning with interesting activities and textbooks in mind, rather than starting with the big ideas or goals they want the students to master (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998). Teachers should be clear about what learning targets or goals will be set for the students and what formative and culminating assessments will be used to provide evidence that the students have mastered those targets or goals. The students need to be informed what the assessments will be along the way and for the final culmination, so that they have a clear sense of what their goals need to be. Students should also be given the reasons why each assessment will be looked at, so that they will understand what is being asked of them and when (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998).

Flow Chart.png

Teachers begin with the end in mind, and set the task to reflect the learning. Teachers should inform the students about the big ideas and essential questions, the performance requirements, and the evaluative criteria at the beginning of the unit or course. The students should be able to describe these goals (big ideas and essential questions) of the unit or course. This helps to ensure that the students are aware of the expectations and optimal learning takes place.

"To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now so that the steps you take are always in the right direction." (Covey, 1990)

Stop Motion

Created by Kirsten O'Coin (2016)


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Cooper, D. (2010). Talk About Assessment: High School Strategies and Tools. Nelson/Thomson, Canada Ltd., Toronto.

Cooper, D. (2007). Talk about assessment: Strategies and tools to improve learning. Nelson/Thomson, Canada Ltd., Toronto.

Covey, S. (1990). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Fireside.

Davies, A. (2000a). Feed Back...Feed Forward: Using assessment to boost literacy learning. Online Journal © 2003 Classroom Connections International - (Originally published in Primary Leadership. Vol.2 No. 3 Spring Issue (2000) p.53-55).

Davies, A. (2000b). Making Classroom Assessment Work. Courtney, BC: Classroom Connections.

Gregory, K., Cameron, C. & Davies, A. (2000). Self-Assessment and Goal-Setting. Merville, BC: Connections Publishing.

Gregory, K., Cameron, C. & Davies, A. (1997). Setting and Using Criteria. Merville, BC: Connections Publishing.

Koehn. (2008). Together is better (BCTF Teacher Inquirer). Retrieved February 18, 2009 from Website: 53

Rethinking Classroom Assessment: Assessment for Learning, Assessment as Learning, Assessment of Learning - new publication of the Western and Northern Canadian Protocol (WNCP). Retrieved March 1, 2009 from:

Shepard, L. A. (2000). The role of assessment in a learning culture [Electronic version]. Educational Researcher, 29(7). 4-14. 32

Stiggins, R. (2002). "Assessment Crisis: The Absence of Assessment FOR Learning.” Phi Delta Kappan, 83 (10), 758–765

Stiggins, R. (2005). "From Formative Assessment to Assessment FOR Learning: A Path to Success in Standards-Based Schools." Phi Delta Kappan, 87,(4)

Wiggins, G. (1993). Assessing Student Performance: Exploring the purpose and limits of testing. San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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