Assessment for Learning Research Summary

From OER in Education


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Summary of research

Assessment for learning
Highlights of research findings in this area include the following work

Inside the black box: raising standards through classroom assessment

The publication Inside the black box: raising standards through classroom assessment is an influential pamphlet that summarises the main findings arising from 250 assessment articles (covering nine years of international research) which were studied by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam. The document is well known and widely used, and acts as a touchstone for many professionals in the field of assessment.

Assessment for learning: beyond the black box

This publication by the Assessment Reform Group follows up the work of Black and Wiliam and identifies five key factors

  • providing effective feedback to pupils;
  • actively involving pupils in their own learning;
  • adjusting teaching to take account of the results of assessment;
  • recognising the profound influence assessment has on the motivation and self- esteem of pupils, both of which are crucial to learning;
  • considering the need for pupils to be able to assess themselves and to understand how to improve.

The research also identifies a number of risks with regard to assessment

  • valuing quantity and presentation rather than the quality of learning;
  • lowering the self-esteem of pupils by over-concentrating on judgements rather than advice for improvement;
  • demoralising pupils by comparing them negatively and repeatedly with more successful learners;
  • giving feedback which serves social and managerial purposes rather than helping pupils to learn more effectively;
  • working with an insufficient picture of pupils’ learning needs.
Working inside the black box: assessment for learning in the classroom

Working inside the black box picks up where Inside the black boxleft off. It sets out its main findings under four headings: Questioning

  • More effort has to be spent in framing questions that are worth asking.
  • Wait time has to be increased to several seconds to give pupils time to think, and everyone should be expected to contribute to the discussion.
  • Follow-up activities have to provide opportunities to ensure that meaningful interventions that extend pupils’ understanding take place.
  • The only point of asking questions is to raise issues about which the teacher needs information, or about which the pupils need to think.

Feedback through marking

  • Written tasks, alongside oral questioning, should encourage pupils to develop and show understanding of the key features of the subject they have studied.
  • Comments should identify what has been done well and what still needs improvement, and give guidance on how to make that improvement.
  • Opportunities for pupils to follow up comments should be planned as part of the overall learning process.
  • To be effective, feedback should cause thinking to take place.

Peer and self-assessment

  • The criteria for evaluating any learning achievements must be transparent to pupils to enable them to have a clear overview, both of the aims of their work and of what it means to complete it successfully.
  • Pupils should be taught the habits and skills of collaboration in peer assessment.
  • Pupils should be encouraged to keep in mind the aims of their work and to assess their own progress to meet these aims as they proceed.
  • Peer and self-assessment make unique contributions to the development of pupils’ learning – they secure aims that cannot be achieved in any other way.

The formative use of summative tests

  • Pupils should be engaged in a reflective review of the work they have done to enable them to plan their revision effectively.
  • Pupils should be encouraged to set questions and mark answers to help them, both to understand the assessment process and to focus further efforts for improvement.
  • Pupils should be encouraged through peer and self-assessment to apply criteria to help them understand how their work might be improved.
  • Summative tests should be, and should be seen to be, a positive part of the learning process.

The underlying issues identified are:

  • learning theory (teachers need to know in advance what sort of feedback will be useful; they need to understand how their pupils learn);
  • subject differences (teachers need to have an understanding of the fundamental principles of the subject, an understanding of the kinds of difficulty that pupils might have, and the creativity to think up questions which can stimulate productive thinking – such pedagogical content knowledge is essential in interpreting response);
  • motivation and self-esteem (learning is not just a cognitive exercise: it involves the whole person – learning for learning rather than for rewards or grades);
  • a learning environment – principles and plans (teachers need to have forethought of how to teach in a way which establishes a supportive climate);
  • a learning environment – roles and responsibilities (teachers need to help pupils become active learners who can take increasing responsibility for their progress).


  • Assessment Reform Group (1999) Assessment for learning: beyond the black box. University of Cambridge, Faculty of Education. ISBN: 0856030422.
  • Assessment Reform Group (2002) Assessment for Learning: 10 Principles, available from
  • Black, P. and Wiliam, D. (1998) Inside the black box: raising standards through classroom assessment. King’s College, London. ISBN: 1871984688.
  • Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B. and Wiliam, D. (2002) Working inside the black box: assessment for learning in the classroom. King’s College, London. ISBN: 1871984394.