Assessment concerns the gathering of information. This can range from a teacher asking 'How are you this morning?' to administering a SAT at the end of a key stage. Although at opposite ends of the assessment spectrum, both provide information about a child, both are done for different reasons and both will be used in different ways. Assessment may be criterion referenced (where success is measured against the task itself) or norm referenced ('locating work in relation not only to the task but also to the work of others' (Clemson & Clemson, 1996, p35)). In order to be useful assessment must first be valid and reliable. Validity means that an assessment must measure what it is supposed to measure. Reliability means that is should be consistent or repeatable.
Broadly speaking, assessment falls into two categories: assessment OF learning (summative) and assessment FOR learning (formative). At the outset, going from the names alone it would be easy to assume that assessment for learning (AfL) would help enhance teaching while assessment of learning (AoL) would be of limited value.
However, this is not necessarily the case.
While the concept of AfL is not new, it would be fair to say that its cause has advanced greatly since the publication of Inside The Black Box (Black & Wiliam, 1998). This posed the question 'Is there evidence that improving formative assessment raises standards?' and concluded that the answer was 'an unequivocal yes' (Black and Wiliam 2002, p3). Their research has been credited with showing 'that developing AfL is one of the most powerful ways of improving learning and teaching and raising standards' (Primary National Strategy, 2004, p11).
Formative assessment has been defined as:
...the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and
their teachers to decide where the learners...