Assessment strategy being subverted, academic warns

15th May 2009 at 01:00
He claims AfL is used as `Trojan horse' to bring back tracking and grading

The government's Pounds 150 million Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategy is being used as a "Trojan horse" to bring more pupil-tracking and grading into schools, a leading academic has warned.

Developed by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam in 1998, AfL uses assessment to give pupils feedback on how they can improve rather than assigning grades.

Speaking at a Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors conference last week, Gordon Stobart, of London University's Institute of Education highlighted a section of the strategy, which claims that "good" AfL is about "making accurate assessments linked to national curriculum levels".

Professor Stobart said: "I'd put a question mark there. Are we in the business of levelling every piece of work or are we trying to find out what the learning here is?

"It feels a bit like a Trojan horse at times - that we are using Assessment for Learning as a name, but what we are bringing in actually is much more to do with good, reliable teacher summative assessment, which I am all for. I just think it ought to be named as that rather than named as something else."

His comments follow criticism of the three-year AfL strategy at the Commons schools select committee in November.

Professor David Hargreaves, a former head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, said: "Unfortunately, what the Government has put in place is a debased version of the Black and Wiliam model. All the radical stuff about how teachers teach was removed and it began to focus on targets."

Professor Stobart also took issue with the claim in the strategy, introduced last year, that "good Assessment for Learning makes a reliable assessment - ensuring that judgments are consistent and based on a range of evidence".

The academic said: "In classroom interactions, reliability isn't a huge issue. We need to be clear and we need to have it right ourselves.

"But I am going to give two different students very different responses in terms of feedback because they are in different places, and one will learn faster with one comment than another."

A spokesperson for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said the AfL strategy was "directly focused on formative assessment" and was a "key way of personalising teaching and learning".

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