Assessment FOR Learning
Teachers do not simply assess students’ learning so they have marks to put on report cards. The main purpose of classroom assessment is to support student learning, not simply to measure it. Constantly assessing the learning of students in their classroom allows teachers to monitor progress and adjust their teaching accordingly.
Assessment generally, whether it is classroom assessment or large-scale assessment like the Foundation Skills Assessment, has a strong impact on student motivation and learning, and on curriculum and instructional practice. The impacts can be positive or negative depending on the type of assessment. When there are negative effects from assessment, the negative effects are greatest for low achieving students, the students who most need effective assessment that will help them learn (Black and William, 1998). It is therefore important to choose assessment strategies that have positive impacts on student learning.
The type of assessment that helps students learn is formative assessment. In formative assessment, teachers observe students, pose open-ended questions, set tasks that require students to use specific skills or apply ideas, and ask students to communicate their learning in a variety of ways. The results of this type of assessment are usually communicated in the form of descriptive feedback (written or oral) rather than in the form of marks. Students are given specific feedback about where they are in their learning, where they need to go, and how best to get there.
Teachers sometimes call this type of assessment, assessment for learning to distinguish it from the summative judgments that are simply assessments of learning.
It is necessary from time to time to do summative judgments of student learning; for example, in order to report to parents on report cards. However, teachers know from their classroom experience and from research that summative assessments do not improve student achievement, they only measure it.
We know, from research, that effective assessment for learning can improve student achievement substantially, and that improved classroom assessment helps low achievers the most (Black and William, 1998). This is very good news for teachers. It is why teachers put so much time and energy into reflecting on and refining their assessment practice. It is why so much of teachers’ professional development time is devoted to assessment topics.
It is also why teachers are frustrated that the government, ministry, school boards, the media, and sometimes parents, seem more interested in large-scale assessment than classroom assessment. Classroom teachers have worked hard to enhance the positive effects of assessment, e.g., diverse ways of showing learning, self-assessment, descriptive feedback, emphasis on goals rather than deficits, etc. Teachers do not want external testing to wipe out their efforts.
May 15, 2006