How Fundamental Is Assessment to the Learning Process

Topics: Formative assessment, Educational psychology, Summative assessment Pages: 8 (2305 words) Published: March 6, 2011
How fundamental is assessment to the learning process?

Section 1: Introduction

Before embarking on a reflective journal assignment about assessment, it is important first of all to define what is meant by both formative and summative assessment. Following the extensive research I have done into assessments over the last half term, the best definition I have found for formative assessment 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”. (Assessment Reform Group 2002)

It is essentially a different process than assessment of learning, which is the process of summative assessment, in which pupils are assessed and told their mark, which can then be used as quantifiable data which will allow teachers and students measure progression and performance in comparison to other pupils in their class. Obviously this type of summative assessment is important for various reasons: checking the understanding of pupils of a topic, finding out the possibilities for different ability groupings etc. However, as Gardner stated in 1986, “we should spend less time ranking children and more time helping them to identify their natural competences and cultivating these” (Gardner, 1986).

Formative assessment allows teachers and pupils to find out, “where learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there.” (As above) This idea of helping a pupil find out how they can improve is something that summative assessment fails to address. Such a dialogue between teacher and pupil is at the heart of formative assessment, and is strongly backed up by Robin Alexander (2004). In his “Towards Dialogic Teaching”, he mentioned how a strong teacher-learner interaction is key to the formative assessment. (Alexander 2004: 12) Essentially, teachers and pupils must be honest and transparent with each other to help pupils progress to their full potential.

Section 2: Assessment Theory and Policy

The main features of Assessment for Learning came about following the release of the Assessment Reform Group’s, “Principles of Assessment for Learning”. These were released in 2002 and set out certain guiding principles which reflect the essential features of Assessment for Learning. In terms of summative assessment, the recently introduced APP system in some ways eases the question of how to assess progression in English at KS3. It breaks each strand of the curriculum into various sub-strands (8 for writing, 7 for reading and 4 for speaking and listening), looking at specific elements of the reading, writing and speaking and listening of pupils. (National Strategies Website: Department for Education). This is a useful way for us to measure where each pupil is sitting in comparison to their peers within school and on a national level. Nevertheless, it is up to the teacher to then use this information in order to further allow the pupil to progress in his or her learning.

Until recently, there was very little information available to teachers regarding how best they could improve the progression of their pupils. This was until Black and William published their, “Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards through Classroom Assessment”, which has been a key document in recent assessment reform. (Black & William 1998). They wrote in 1998 when the policy of the time treated the classroom as a “black box” (ibid: 1). By this, they meant that what actually happened inside a classroom on a day to day basis what not being scrutinised closely enough. They focused their study on “formative assessment”, and it was revolutionary in the sense that it brought to light how “this feature is at the heart of effective teaching”.

In a follow up to “Inside the Black Box”, the Assessment Reform Group published a paper entitled, “Assessment for Learning: Inside the Black Box”, which found...

Bibliography: Alexander, R. (2003). Towards Dialogic Teaching: Rethinking classroom talk. Dialogos.
Black, P.J and Wiliam, D. (1998) Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment.  London.  Kings College School of Education 
Capel, S, Leask, M
Gardner, H. (1986) in Beard, C.M and Wilson, J.P. (2002) Experiential learning: a best practice handbook for educators and trainers London: Kogan Page Limited
Moon, Jennifer A
National Strategies: Department for Education: APP Overview: (Accessed on 14/2/2011)
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