Paul Black and Dylan William’s work on assessment for learning has had a significant impact on transforming international education. Their research, which focused on the use of formative assessment, has highlighted the importance of ongoing feedback, questioning, and self-assessment in promoting student learning and achievement. Their approach to assessment for learning involves creating a classroom culture that values and encourages ongoing feedback, and that supports students in developing a growth mindset. Teachers are encouraged to use a range of assessment strategies that are closely linked to the learning objectives, to help students to identify their strengths and weaknesses, and to set goals for improvement. One key aspect of Black and William’s approach is the use of questioning to promote deeper thinking and engagement with the learning material. Teachers are encouraged to use a range of open-ended and probing questions, to encourage students to explain their thinking and to explore the connections between different concepts. Another important aspect of their approach is the use of self-assessment, which encourages students to reflect on their own learning, to set goals for improvement, and to take responsibility for their own progress. Black and William’s work on assessment for learning has had a transformative effect on education, by encouraging teachers to shift their focus from grading and summative assessments to ongoing feedback and formative assessment, which can help students to develop a deep understanding of the material and to achieve their full potential.
John Hattie’s research has built on and extended the work of Black and William on assessment for learning, by providing a comprehensive synthesis of research studies on the effectiveness of different teaching and learning strategies. One of Hattie’s key contributions to the field has been the development of the “Visible Learning” approach, which involves using evidence-based practices to make learning visible to both teachers and students. This approach is closely aligned with Black and William’s focus on formative assessment and ongoing feedback, as it encourages teachers to use a range of assessment strategies to help students to identify their strengths and weaknesses and to set goals for improvement. Hattie’s research has also highlighted the importance of teacher feedback in promoting student learning, and he has developed a model of feedback that emphasizes the importance of providing specific, actionable feedback that is closely linked to the learning objectives. This model is closely aligned with Black and William’s focus on ongoing feedback and questioning, as it emphasizes the importance of using feedback to promote deeper thinking and engagement with the learning material. In addition, Hattie’s research has contributed to the development of a deeper understanding of the role of assessment in promoting student learning. He has highlighted the importance of using assessment to promote metacognition and self-regulated learning, which are key components of Black and William’s approach to assessment for learning.
Assessment for learning has continued to develop in recent years, with ongoing research and practice contributing to new insights and approaches. Some of the key developments in assessment for learning in recent years include:
- Increased use of technology: Advances in technology have enabled new approaches to assessment for learning, such as the use of digital tools for formative assessment and feedback. For example, online quizzes and interactive whiteboards can provide instant feedback to students, while learning management systems can track student progress over time.
- Greater emphasis on student agency: There has been a growing recognition of the importance of involving students in the assessment process, and encouraging them to take ownership of their learning. This has led to the development of new approaches, such as self-assessment and peer assessment, which aim to empower students and promote their engagement with the learning process.
- Greater focus on inclusive assessment practices: There has been a growing recognition of the importance of ensuring that assessment practices are inclusive and equitable, and that they do not disadvantage students from diverse backgrounds. This has led to the development of new approaches, such as culturally responsive assessment and universal design for learning, which aim to create more inclusive and accessible assessment practices.
- Integration with competency-based education: Assessment for learning has become increasingly integrated with competency-based education, which emphasizes the development of specific skills and knowledge. This has led to the development of new approaches to assessment, such as performance-based assessment and project-based learning, which focus on assessing students’ ability to apply their knowledge and skills in real-world contexts.
- Increased emphasis on formative assessment: There has been a growing recognition of the importance of formative assessment in supporting student learning and achievement, and many educators have shifted their focus from summative assessment to ongoing feedback and formative assessment. This has led to the development of new approaches, such as formative assessment for learning, which aims to embed formative assessment into the everyday practice of teaching and learning.
It is worth stressing that the principles of Understanding by Design (UbD) and Assessment for Learning (AfL) are closely linked, as they both focus on student-centered learning and aim to promote deep understanding of the material. The UbD approach, developed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, involves designing instruction that is focused on helping students to develop a deep understanding of the key concepts and ideas. The approach involves a three-stage backward design process, in which teachers first identify the desired learning outcomes, then design assessments that measure students’ achievement of those outcomes, and finally develop instructional strategies and materials that are closely aligned with the assessments. Assessment for Learning involves using a range of formative assessment strategies to support student learning and promote deeper understanding of the material. The approach involves ongoing feedback, questioning, and self-assessment, and aims to encourage students to take ownership of their learning and to engage in the learning process in a more active and reflective way. The principles of UbD and AfL are closely linked because both approaches emphasize the importance of:
Clearly defining learning outcomes: Both approaches prioritize the importance of defining clear and specific learning outcomes, to ensure that students understand what they are expected to learn.
- Aligning assessments with learning outcomes: Both approaches emphasize the importance of aligning assessments with the learning outcomes, to ensure that the assessments measure students’ achievement of the desired learning outcomes.
- Using formative assessment: Both approaches prioritize the use of formative assessment to support student learning and promote deeper understanding of the material.
- Encouraging student-centered learning: Both approaches aim to encourage student-centered learning, by promoting active and reflective engagement with the material, and by encouraging students to take ownership of their learning.
When implemented properly Assessment for Learning is one of the most effective strategies for promoting student learning and academic success. School leaders do have to be careful not to confute the National Strategy on Assessment for Learning, that arguably transformative in English education two decades ago, and the work of Black and William and subsequent researchers. The National Strategy led to giant steps forward in English education, but it’s implementation was somewhat robotic and many schools quickly learned how to implement the strategy in a manner that was pleasing to OFSTED Inspectors. To my mind, this led to schools developing templates for the implemetation of AfL that were not faithful to the work of Black and William, and a corruption of the philosophy that underpins AfL. School Leaders in the modern era need to be conscious of implementing AfL in a way that is faithful to the original research and the work of subsequent researchers, as well as drawing on the best practices that have been developed over the past two decades or so.