Assessment for learning

What do we mean by Assessment for Learning?

Assessment for Learning is an inclusive approach to teaching and learning that utilises feedback to enable students to take ownership of their own learning journey. Assessment is an active and iterative process in which students are able to recognise the gap between their current situation and where they want to be; and develop the confidence and abilities to take action to close that gap.

Assessment for learning therefore requires the following attributes (QAA, 2022):

Inclusive assessment...
Embeds supportAcademic and wellbeing support is integrated within teaching and assessment. It is easily accessible, dialogic, responsive, and considerate of individual student needs.
Develops assessment literacyStudents are actively engaged with assessment processes with a focus on clarifying learning outcomes and expectations. Students and staff share an understanding of the purposes, requirements and approaches of assessment.
Provides formative opportunities
Assessment is framed as a developmental process within which students engage in formative tasks and receive timely, relevant, and manageable feedback. Students feel safe to fail, knowing they will be supported to learn from the experience.
Communicates meaningfully
The assessment process is clear and transparent to all developed through a constructive dialogue between staff and students. Different levels, and modes, of communication are managed to ensure timely and accessible information.
Enables personalisation
Assessment is designed to facilitate ownership and flexibility in how students demonstrate learning outcomes. Students feel empowered to make informed choices over what, when, and how they are assessed where appropriate.
Fosters digital capabilities
Assessment design is alive to the opportunities of different technologies. It creates a culture in which students and staff can develop and extend their digital capabilities, facilitating learning and teaching in diverse contexts and environments.
Promotes authenticity
The assessment tasks are relevant to students’ subject areas, employment sectors and contexts of further study to which students will progress. The assessment culture encourages multi-modal and creative assessment design.
Assumes considerate policies and processes
The design of assessment policies and processes are informed by an awareness of student needs, understanding of external pressures, and insights into structural and societal barriers.
Requires continuous reflection
Assessment is continuously reviewed and critiqued, using feedback and discussions with students, staff and key stakeholders, to ensure ongoing enhancement of policies, practices and processes.

Why is it important to our students?

Future skills and satisfaction

When properly integrated in the learning process, assessment and feedback can be a key tool in creating an experience that is fit-for-purpose and beneficial to students during their time at university and beyond. Assessment can help to prepare learners for their chosen graduate destinations by equipping them with the skills and self-awareness they need to meet their future learning needs (Sambell and Brown 2021). By contrast, assessment which is unclear, excessive, not constructively aligned to the module learning outcomes, or inauthentic can all lead to student dissatisfaction (Aristovnik et al, 2020 and Neves and Hewitt, 2021, pp.46-7).

Equitable student success

During the Covid-19 pandemic, many universities were forced to make rapid and significant changes to their assessment practices, including cancelling exams, offering alternative ways of demonstrating how learning outcomes were met, and reducing the volume of summative assessment (QAA 2022, Sambell and Brown 2021). This change in assessment practice, coupled with the shift to online learning coincided with a narrowing of awarding gaps by deprivation, gender, disability and ethnicity. HESA data shows that:

  • The female to male gap in achieving upper awards reduced from 4 percentage points (pp) in 2018-19 to 2.7pp in 2019-20.
  • The gap in upper awards between students with a disability and those without reduced from 2.8pp in 2018–19 to 1.4pp.
  • The attainment gap between white and Black students has reduced from 23.5pp in 2018-19 to 20.1pp in 2019-20.

Furthermore, research by Universities UK (2021) found that many universities reported increased engagement from students with online teaching, learning and assessment.

The Inclusive Learning Attributes described above as vital components of an assessment for learning approach are a direct result of research to better understand the drivers of degree classification changes during the pandemic.

What do I need to do?

Begin by responding to and reflecting on the student voice question set, which has been designed to help you identify both strengths and areas for development in Assessment for Learning on your programme or module.

Everyone teaching on a programme should be able to provide a detailed response to these questions that clearly articulates to students how assessment tasks on their programme or module will support their learning and develop their confidence.

Engagement with the questions should prompt you to consider areas for development within your programme or module. Follow the Design Thinking process outlined on the How to use the model page and refer to the case studies and resources for examples and activities to support you in developing your practice.