In the essay I explore the contribution that assessment makes towards learning. I investigate the various types of assessment, and what impact they have on the learner, drawing upon my own experience in the Design Technology classroom. In particular, I review the summative and formative ways of assessing and conclude that formative assessment is more beneficial to the learner as they gain new knowledge and skills to inform their learning, with the feedback given through this process. Conversely, summative assessment can sometimes cause problems within the classroom as children try and ‘be the best’. To bring the essay to a close, I discuss ideas for the future regarding assessment in Design Technology and what I think should happen.
The term ‘assessment’ “is how pupils recognise achievement and make progress, and how teachers shape and personalise their teaching.” (QCA, 2009) In the past assessment was “seen as something distinct from learning;” (Chater, 1984, p4) contrasting this view in a recent review on assessment Daugherty (2002) found it to be:
One of the most powerful educational tools for promoting effective learning… the focus needs to be on helping teachers use assessment, as part of teaching and learning, in ways that will raise pupils’ achievement. (Daugherty, 2002)
Daugherty, a member of the Assessment Reform Group, is raising a well-founded point, as he is well researched into ‘assessment,’ making government policy but also works closely with teachers and local education authority staff to advance understanding of the roles, purposes and impacts of assessment. Teachers planning should include strategies to ensure that learners understand the goals they are pursuing and the criteria that will be applied in assessing their work.
OFSTED reports can often be seen as biased and its independence questioned, being dubbed the “Government’s ‘poodle’ during a Commons committee hearing” (Stewart, 2009) and inspections seen as an “instrument of state control” forcing teachers to follow politicians’ agendas.” (Shaw, 2009) Nevertheless, this report raises good points to be considered by teachers who strive to use assessment in their teaching, hence the citation.
This type of on-going assessment described in the report is known as formative assessment. It is common for assessment to be divided into either formative or summative categories for the purpose of considering different objectives for assessment practices, although they can overlap. Summative assessment is generally carried out at the end of a course or project. In Design Technology, summative assessments are typically used to assign students an end of topic grade. Formative assessment is generally carried out throughout a course or project and is used to aid learning.
Summative assessment is the assessment of learning and in Design Technology it provides evidence of student achievement for reporting and accountability purposes. Its main purpose is to make judgements about performance. An example of this is the norm-referenced tests (NRT), which classifies students. NRTs draw attention to the achievement differences between and among students to produce a dependable rank order of students across a continuum of achievement from high achievers to low achievers (Stiggins, 1994). Schools use this system to place pupils in ability groups, including Gifted and Talented. However, it is argued that “Assessment should be a powerful tool for learning, not merely a political solution to perceived problems over standards and accountability.” (ATL, 1996) This is reinforcing Daugherty’s idea, as it perceives assessment as a tool, a working progress- formative assessment, not an end product- summative assessment.
Formative assessment is Assessment for learning and in Design Technology it helps to inform the teaching and learning process by identifying students’ strengths and weaknesses. Its main purpose is to gather information.
Diagnostic assessment, which helps to identify specific learning strengths and needs, can fall into both categories. It determines learning targets and appropriate teaching and learning strategies to achieve them. This is important because:
Many learners have higher-level skills in some areas than in others. Diagnostic assessment happens initially at the beginning of a learning programme and subsequently when the need arises. (QIA, 2008)
Therefore; it can be summative, as it results in a grade and the student is placed in an ability group on what they already know. However, this “information is used to make links to progression routes and prepare for the next steps;” (QIA, 2008) thus becomes formative, as they discover the gaps in their knowledge and learn how to fill these gaps.
A type of formative assessment is a criterion-referenced test which determines, “what test takers can do and what they know, not how they compare to others.” (Anastasi, 1988, p102) Assessment for Learning ensures that pupils understand what they can do, but are also informed how to improve on what they find difficult, and what type of learning process they must take to achieve this.
This formative assessment:
Forms the direction of future learning and so the requirement of formative assessment is that the feedback given back to the learner helps the learner improve, but more importantly that the learner actually uses that information to improve. (Marshall, 2002, p48)
Feedback for learning in Design Technology is vital. The teacher will take pleasure in rewarding students with praises; however, there is more valuable feedback that they should receive, as Black & Wiliam found:
Pupils look for the ways to obtain the best marks rather than at the needs of their learning which these marks ought to reflect… They spend time and energy looking for clues to the ‘right answer’. (Black & Wiliam, 1998)
In Design Technology, a subject in which there is seldom a ‘right answer,’ it is essential that “we focus on promoting learning instead of encouraging students to seek the easiest way to get the best results.” (Branson, 2005, p76) This indicates that the summative assessment is preventing the student reaching their full potential through learning, as they want to be the best in the class; therefore, will rote learn and be ‘taught-to-the-test’ to achieve this top grade. This could mean that student is not learning, but remembering facts for the test, and once the test is over they will not retain much of the knowledge. Nevertheless, the summative results could be used as part of a formative assessment (Black & Wiliam, 1998) if the correct feedback was given to them instead of just a grade.
This feedback will only be effective if the quality of teacher-pupil interaction is high and provides, “the stimulus and help for pupils to take active responsibility for their own learning.”(Black & Wiliam, 1998) To create effective feedback we must “teach less and talk about learning more.” (Branson, 2005, p77) This is known as meta-learning which draws upon goals, strategies, effects, feelings and context of learning, each of which has significant personal and social dimensions:
Those who are advanced in meta-learning realise that what is learned (the outcome or the result) and how it is learned (the act or the process) are two inseparable aspects of learning. (Watkins, 2001)
If students practise these skills they will be able evaluate work successfully, apply their assessment criteria to their work and their peers’ work. Through this greater understanding of their own learning, the students will have the “ability of the performance” (Marshall, 2002, p57) and be able to apply the knowledge and strategies they have acquired to various contexts, transferring their skills to suit the situation.
Good day-to-day indications of students’ progress are tasks and questions that prompt learners to show their knowledge, skills and understanding. What learners say and do is then observed and interpreted, by teacher and peers, and judgements are made about how learning can be improved. These assessment processes are an important part of everyday classroom practice and involve both teachers and learners in reflection when talking about new targets. The questions posed should be open-ended, allowing the student to fully express themselves and ensuring that they will not ‘lose face,’ as there is not a right or wrong answer. If a student finds answering a question difficult, a peer can step in and help, which can have a positive effect on the class as there are “things that students will take from each other that they won’t take from a teacher.” (Marshall, 2002, p48) In turn, peer assessment helps develop self-assessment which promotes independent learning, helping children to take increasing responsibility for their own progress.
An example of good practice I have seen in an Design Technology classroom is ‘PEN marking’ Positive, Error, Next Time, in which students would pen mark their own work and assess each others work looking for two good aspects about the piece, and an improvement. This way the students are praising each other; therefore, they are not scared to suggest an improvement. Through assessing their peers work, they also find ways to improve their own. This is subjective as it is my own opinion, but does relate to what Marshall’s theory- that they will take from each other that they would not from a teacher, as several ‘wishes’ from the students sounded harsh but I found that in their next piece of work they had tried harder at it. However, the work may also have improved if the teacher had said it, so this theory is not infallible.
The OFSTED report states that:
Many pupils were still not clear about what their strengths and weaknesses were or how they might improve. (OFSTED, 2009, p14)
Assessment for learning states that for effective learning to take place students need to understand what it is they are trying to achieve, and want to achieve it. Understanding and commitment follows when they have a part in deciding goals and identifying criteria for assessing progress. Communicating assessment criteria involves discussing them with the students using terms that they can understand, providing examples of how the criteria can be met in practice and engaging learners in peer and self-assessment.I think the problem of pupils not being clear about their strengths and weaknesses can be solved with the introduction of Assessing Pupils’ Progress (APP) into schools. The school where I am doing my placement is using the APP process for the first time this year, and so far are finding it successful. APP is a ‘systematic approach to periodic assessment that provides diagnostic information about individual pupils’ progress and management information about the attainment and progress of groups’. (DfCSF, 2008) A key purpose of APP is to inform and strengthen planning, teaching and learning. This aspect of APP can have a direct and positive impact on raising standards, and can assist in the personalisation of learning.
Based on the assessment focuses (AFs) that underpin National Curriculum assessment, the APP approach improves the quality and reliability of teacher assessment. My school have simplified the APP focuses and levels into student speak so they can fully understand the concept and purpose. All students in KS3 are now fully aware that they will have an APP assessment in Design Technology at the end of every half term. The assessment will be based upon the scheme of work studied over the half term. For example the last assessment was to write a character description: the scheme studied being fiction. The Design Technology teacher has an expectation that every individual child should attain two sub-levels a year; the student is also aware of this. Before the student completed the final assessment they assessed a Character Description supplied by the teacher, using the same AF’s that they were going to be assessed on. This allowed the students to see exactly what they had to do to achieve a Level 5, as one pupil pointed out that, “Even though they’ve put their ideas together in order Miss, they haven’t used paragraphs so they can’t get a Level 5 for AF3”. This process of evaluation helps the student progress in their work, as they can see clearly what they have to do to improve.
Ultimately, I think that the contribution of assessment has a huge impact on pupils’ learning; with well focused feedback, including thorough marking that identifies clear targets, students can progress and become independent learners, a foundation preparing for their independent life. I think that APP alongside Assessment for Learning is a good way for the student and the teacher to gauge progress, as the objectives are clear, and the ways to achieve them are made obvious through ‘pupil speak’. This does not mean that I think summative is an incorrect way of assessment, as I echo the thoughts of Black & Wiliam (1998) in that if a summative assessment is used to inform the student for progression then it can have a positive effect. When I start NQT year, I hope to be employed in a school that uses APP, and if not I will try and implement it, as I think it benefits students as much as it does the teacher.
Anastasi, A. (1988). Psychological Testing. New York, New York: MacMillan Publishing Company
Association of Teachers and Lecturers. (1996). Doing our Level Best.
Black, P. and Wiliam, D. (1998) Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards through Classroom Assessment, Kings College London. [Online] Available from: www.kcl.ac.uk/education/publications/Black%20Box.pdf [Accessed 20th October 2009]
Branson, J. (2005) ‘Assessment, recording and reporting’. In: Goodwyn, A & Branson, J. (eds). Teaching English: A Handbook for Primary and Secondary School Teachers. London: Routledge.
Chater, P. (1984) Marking & Assessment in English. London: Methuen & Co Ltd.
Daugherty R. (2002) Assessing for learning insides. [Online] 2002. Available from: http://www.assessment-reform-group.org/AssessInsides.pdf [Accessed 21st October 2009]
DfCSF. (2008) Assessing Pupils Progress (APP) In English. [Online] Aug 2008. Available from: http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/16051?uc=force_deep [Accessed 21st October 2009]
Marshall, B. (2002) ‘Thinking through Assessment: An Interview with Dylan Wiliam’. English in Education, 36 (3) p47-60.
OFSTED. (2009) English at the crossroads. London: Her Majesty’s
QCA. (2005) A national conversation on the future of English. [Online]. 2005. Available from: http://www.qcda.gov.uk/libraryAssets/media/qca-05-1835-playback-web.pdf [Accessed 21st October 2009]
QCA. (2009) Assessment key principles- National Curriculum. [Online]. June 2009. Available from: http://curriculum.qcda.gov.uk/key-stages-3-and-4/assessment/Assessment-key-principles/index.aspx?return=/key-stages-3-and-4/assessment/index.aspx [Accessed: 20th October 2009]
QIA. (2008) Initial and diagnostic assessment: a learner- centred process. [Online] 2008. Available from http://www.sfl-sw.org.uk/userfiles/files/Initial%2520and%2520Diagnostic%2520assessment%2520a%2520learner-centred%2520process.pdf [Accessed 21st October 2009]
Scriven, M. (1991). Evaluation thesaurus. 4th ed. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
Shaw, M. 2009. ‘Ofsted inspections are means of state control’. Times Educational Supplement, 15 March. p.7
Stiggins, R.J. (1994). Student-Centered Classroom Assessment. New York: Merrill.
Watkins, C. (2001) ‘Learning about Learning Enhances Performance’ in National School Improvement Network Research Matters 13, London: Institute of Education.
William, S. (2009) ‘Ofsted accused of being ministerial ‘poodle’ over school report cards’. Times Educational Supplement, 10 July. p.33
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