I'm sure you've heard this before but the root meaning of Assessment comes from the Latin 'assidere', which roughly translates to 'sit beside during judgement'. This is an excellent introduction to a concept that I want to introduce to you, which I am calling the 3Rs of Effective Assessment.
According to John Hattie Feedback is one of the ten most powerful influences on learning (having said that it is also one of the most variable - it has also been shown that it can have a negative effect on learning!!!). So are there any features that we ought to recognise to ensure that our feedback is not only positive but strongly so? Having poured over thousands of research articles on this issue Hattie has identified two core requirements of feedback to ensure it remains a powerful source for learning:
Powerful feedback needs to informs a student about "where they must go next"Powerful feedback needs to ensure that it hear from the student as much as the student hears from you.
Or in simply terms do they know how to improve and can they articulate this?
Combining this insight then leads me to the following definition for assessment:
A conversation that occurs between the learner and the assessor in which the learner leaves knowing where they are in their learning journey and where they need to go next.
Assessment FOR, OF and AS Learning
For a long time this is not how we have seen assessment. Assessment has been synonymous with marking and grading. Feedback is what is added to this to tell the student how to improve. This was particularly true of those final assessments which we used to generate the information that we reported home to parents, the summative assessment - or "assessment OF learning".
Even following the groundbreaking work of Wiliam and Black in 1998 which rushed in a new terminology for a new form of assessment - called formative assessment or "assessment FOR learning" - the understanding of assessment in this respect didn't change much. The thought was more that we assessed and gave feedback more often and used this to inform how we teach.
In more recent times there has been a more to a new expression - "assessment AS learning". It has in some ways become simply the newest phrase in a race to the best verbiage. But what does it mean?
Let me start by answering the question with a negative. What is it not?
Assessment is not just grading
For a very long time one the popular components of assessment in whatever form has been the grade. Grades may arguably still have their place, as vehicles of large scale monitoring and support and as guardians of final standards of performance, but they should carry some serious health warnings that have been identified by the research. Grades, in most normal practice, clash diametrically with the values that Hattie identified above.
Grades are ok(ish) as pronouncements of "where" a student is but they generally do not communicate "where to next".Grades most often tell students what you think of their work but not what they have to say about it.
Hence the potential for negative consequences. Indeed grades really have no proven track record for motivating further learning (Note: it can perhaps be argued that high grades motivate to continue getting higher grades but this has been shown to be more because of achievement related motivations than learning ones. In terms of low grades these carry no motivating power and are more likely to demotivate).
I think educators and schools are aware of the weaknesses that grades have in this respect. It is this reason why there are so many articles out there encouraging a focus on learning not grades and assembly themes with the same message.
My question to this is "why create the dynamic in the first place?"
The 3Rs as steps to improvement
In any decision about how to know what needs to be done to improve we need to go through the following 3 steps:
We need to look at the current reality and compare it to the standards we have set for ourselves for performance in this area - I call this the step where we REVIEWWe need to think about how we can build on what we were doing right and address the things we need to improve - this is the step where we REFLECTWe need to plan out the next steps we need to take to get to the next stage of performance - this is the step where we RESPOND
In traditional assessment practice this process is done by the teacher. The teacher takes in the work and compares it to the criteria (Step 1) they identify the strengths and weaknesses of the piece and assign a grade (Step 2), if feedback is given they write down suggestions of what the students do (Step 3) (this, despite the research that shows that assigning a grade causes students to ignore the feedback).
The problem with traditional assessment practice is that if the teacher is the one who followed the 3R process then the student receives it as an external source of direction. The process of assessment results in an EVALUATION.
We are learning more and more that this is not the best form of motivation. The best way to motivate for improvement is from within. It is the old intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation discussion. On top of that given that the above feedback might end up being not read then it is it also an issue of awareness.
I propose an alternative E, ENGAGEMENT. If the teacher is the one to have gone through the 3Rs then they are the ones who know how to improve and they own it. So turn the tables, have the students go through the process of the 3 Rs and they are more likely to have some "skin in the game".
ASSESSMENT AS LEARNING: When a student, rather than solely the teacher, is the one going through the process of the 3Rs then they are the ones who understand what they need to do next and can articulate this!
Linking this back to Formative Assessment
Dylan Wiliam has gone on record as regretting the phrase Formative Assessment (he would have preferred Responsive Teaching). Regardless of the term, he identified 5 strategies that he felt would improve learning:
The addition of the arrow is mine. You see I'm not identifying any major new ideas, I just wonder if the students were more activated, by being the agents of the articulation of their own feedback, that the act of assessment would be that much more powerful as a learning event.
3 strategies that encourage Assessment AS Learning
It's good to get pragmatic here. How do we move the assessment landscape towards encouraging greater student involvement in the 3Rs and get that ENGAGEMENT that we seek after?
I propose the following as my top 3:
Single Point Rubrics - use these (I mean use them they are awesome!) to clarify the elements of standard that we are aiming for and to encourage reflection on how well the learner is doing.Mastery Portfolios - this hands some responsibility to students to organise their evidence for performance against agreed to standards.Student Conferencing - this is the conversation part of assessment. Have the students be involved in discussing their performance. If grades are a requirement this is the perfect opportunity for them to have a say in the grades awarded. Why not have them argue for a grade and they must show their evidence (you'll be amazed at how often you have to up the grade they go for!)
Other great resources can be found here
Consider Hattie's words of wisdom about what works in assessment and feedback to improve learning and draw the learning in on the 3Rs of the assessment process. That way the assessment moves towards engaging the learner (rather than merely evaluating them) - which is at the heart of Assessment AS Learning