In 2001, Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam published their seminal article titled Inside the Black Box: raising standards through classroom assessment. It focuses on formative assessment which according to the authors is at the heart of effective teaching.
The article suggests that the practice of formative assessment has not been front and centre in most classrooms. In fact the link between formative assessment and significant learning gains has been nebulous.
Black and Wiliam note there is a “tendency to emphasise quantity and presentation of work and to neglect its quality in relation to learning” in primary classrooms. There is also a tendency to over-emphasise grading at the expense of giving quality feedback to students about the task and their learning.
Integral to the success of the factory model of schooling has been this prevailing view to compare students and cohorts at the expense of using assessment as evidence of each student’s progress. Black and Wiliam suggest one way of overcoming this is by creating cultures of success within classrooms supported by a school/system belief that every child can succeed.
Formative assessment becomes a ‘powerful weapon’ as teacher feedback is focussed on the task in the context of the learning target with the aim of continually trying to close the gap. In this way, assessment forms the work of teachers as they adapt their practice to the needs of the learners.
Research shows that task, target and improvement are critical to improving student learning outcomes. They must clearly articulated by the teacher and clearly understood by the learner. Black and Wiliam state that students cannot be expected to ‘believe in the value of changes for their learning before they have experienced the benefits.’
The Grattan Institute’s recent report on Targeted Teaching makes reference to Black and Wiliam’s work and Hattie’s meta-analysis as the bedrock of targeted teaching. The report identifies what teachers need to measure and evaluate but recognises a lack of time in classrooms and training needs to be addressed.
It is clear that assessment/evidence must be a priority within all schools and across all systems. To do this, we must consider Grattan’s recommendations to develop a consistent approach to using evidence, a clear set of expectations and a common language so that all teachers can “support their judgments about student learning and determine their teaching decisions.”
Yong Zhao recently wrote that the quality of an education should not be evaluated on a mean set of scores or student performance in a few high-stakes tests but should always be geared toward the growth of each student.
Growing students cannot be done without knowing students.