Overview of Research

Year 10 Support Materials

Year 10 Economics and Business: Analysing economic indicators

Assessment Principles 1: Assessment should be an integral part of Teaching and Learning

In this assessment snapshot, the teacher devised a series for short-answer questions to evaluate her students’ ability to interpret key economic indicators. Whilst could simply have marked the students’ work and given them their results, she used the students’ responses to provide them with detailed feedback about errors and misunderstandings.

The assessments best suited to guide improvements in instruction and student learning are the quizzes, tests, writing assignments, and other assessments teacher administer on a regular basis in their classrooms. Teachers trust the results from these assessments because they relate directly to instructional goals in the classroom. Plus, results are immediate, relevant, and easy to analyse at the individual student level. However, to use classroom assessment to make improvements, teachers must change both the way they view assessment and the way they interpret results. Specifically, they need to see their assessments as an integral part of the instructional process and as an essential element in their efforts to help students learn. (Gusky, 2007, p16)
Reflection questions
  • To what extent do you devise quizzes, tests and writing assessments to identify students' misconceptions and their under- developed understandings?
  • How do you provide feedback to students so that the feedback becomes the basis for new learning?
  • How do you use students’ answers in quizzes, tests and assignments to reflect on the efficacy of your teaching program?

Year 10 Science snapshot: Carbon cycle

Assessment Principle 1: Assessment should be an integral part of Teaching and Learning

Reflecting on the Assessment Snapshot

Secondary teachers reading the science assessment snapshot may be bemused that it is provided as an example of assessment practice. Formative assessment strategies, however, often look very similar to teaching strategies and this is to be expected. In 2002, the Assessment Reform Group in the UK published principles for formative assessment. One of these principles is that assessment for learning should be central to classroom practice.

Much of what teachers and learners do in classrooms can be described as assessment. That is, tasks and questions prompt learners to demonstrate their knowledge, understanding and skills. What learners say and do is then observed and interpreted, and judgements are made about how learning can be improved. These assessment processes are an essential part of everyday classroom practice and involve both teachers and learners in reflection, dialogue and decision making (Assessment Reform Group, 2002).

In their seminal article 'Inside the Black Box', Black and Wiliam (1998) argued, 'Teachers need to know about their pupils' progress and difficulties with learning so that they can adapt their own work to meet pupils' needs - - needs that are often unpredictable and that vary from one pupil to another' (p. 2). Since the publication of that article, considerable international attention has been given to formative assessment.

At the time, Black and Wiliam cautioned, 'effective programs of formative assessment involve far more than the addition of a few observations or tests to an existing program. They require careful scrutiny of all the main components of a teaching plan. Indeed it is clear that instruction and formative assessment are indivisible' (Black and Wiliam, 1998, p. 8).

Despite the amount of attention given to formative assessment, concerns remain that the use of formative assessment has simply translated into teachers using quizzes and tests more frequently. To address these concerns the Council of Chief State School Officers in the US commissioned a paper on best practice in assessment. This paper provides useful discussion about the relationship between assessment and learning and provides valuable background information to the first principle of assessment: Assessment should be an integral part of Teaching and Learning.

Formative assessment merges with cognitive and sociocultural theories of learning in a number of ways. First, from a cognitive perspective, formative assessment enables teachers and students to consistently work in the ZPD [zone of proximal development], the area where learning takes place. In formative assessment, teachers are involved in a continuous process of evidence gathering and interpretation so as to structure learning that builds on "maturing functions" (Vygotsky, 1978). Teachers need to lead learning, not retrospectively react to it. Only by keeping a very close eye on emerging learning through formative assessment can teachers be prospective, determining what is within the students' reach, and providing them experiences to support and extend learning. Through these experiences students will incorporate new learning into their developing schema.

Second, from a sociocultural perspective, formative assessment takes into account the role of interaction and joint collective action in the learning process. Assessment is not unidirectional, but rather involves both teachers and students in reciprocal activity to move learning forward within a community of practice. This reciprocal activity is characterized by teachers and students engaged together in responding to evidence about learning, minute-by-minute, day-by-day (Leahy, Lyon, Thompson, & Wiliam, 2005), through the provision of scaffolding, including feedback, self-monitoring, and self-regulation on the part of the students.

Finally, also drawing from a sociocultural perspective, formative assessment takes place within a community of practice. The teacher and students – participants in the community – assume roles, goals, practices, and norms for interaction that are intended to support learning (Durán, 2010). Teachers and students assume the roles of partners in the learning process. The goal of the community is the development of learning on the part of all its members. The practices through which this is achieved by the students and the teacher are gathering and interpreting evidence and providing and using feedback. The norms established in the community are mutual support, trust, respect, and collaboration (Heritage, 2010, pp. 8-9).

Reflection questions
  • How do you use assessment to determine your students' zone of proximal development/what learning is within students' reach?
  • How do you use your observations of students (during the course of classroom activities, in assignments and in tests) to determine how learning can be improved?
  • How do you use your assessments to evaluate your teaching plans?

Assessment Reform Group. (2002). Research-based principles of assessment to guide classroom practice. Retrieved http://assessmentreformgroup.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/10principles_english.pdf

Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). 'Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards through Classroom Assessment'. Retrieved https://www.measuredprogress.org/documents/10157/15653/InsideBlackBox.pdf

Heritage, M. (2010). Formative assessment and next-generation assessment systems: are we losing an opportunity? National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing (CRESST), Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles. Retrieved http://www.ccsso.org/Resources/Publications/Formative_Assessment_and_Next-Generation_Assessment_Systems.html

Gusky, T. (2007). Using Assessment to Improve Teaching and Learning. Ahead of the Curve: In D. Reeves (Ed.), The Power of Assessment to Transform Teaching and Learning. (pp. 15 - 28) Bloomington, IN:Solution Tree.