The lack of understanding boils down the development of assessment for learning

It is sad that even in the country like Finland, which education system is regarded as one of the best in the world, assessment is commonly talked without the context of learning. We should put more focus on what we are talking about when we are talking about assessment for learning (formative assessment). Formative assessment is for learning, not for the judgment of learning. A right starting point for the conversation about assessment is not what tools should be used to measure learning outcomes and how well we can put students in line based on their competence. The right starting point is the goals of learning and our understanding about teaching.

In their highly cited article, Scardamalia and Bereiter’s (1991) introduced three idealised models of teaching. In model A, the focus is on getting the teacher’s job done and learning is thought to be a by-product of this activity. The student is required to show activity in the tasks given by the teacher and needs to do it as instructed by the teacher. In model A, a behaviourist view of assessment is sufficient. The exam measures just what it should: the results of the hard work. Poor performance is a sign of laziness from the student.

Model B is a knowledge-based model in which the teacher’s role includes not only guidance and supervision, but also setting cognitive goals, activating prior knowledge, and asking stimulating and leading questions. Model B reflects the guidelines of the curricula of several countries and is still the prevailing model in the practical implementation of teaching in Finland. Although the model emphasises active cognitive engagement by the students, the activities are guided by the teacher's vision of the learning goal and direction.

Our current National Curriculum in Finland emphasises the model C, which includes practically everything in model B, but also includes reciprocity and the transfer of control to both the group and the student. The core of our current curriculum is in students’ self-regulation and every students’ freedom to learn. The student is seen as an active participant who sets goals for his or her learning and takes responsibility for his or her learning. It can be said that in Finland it is more important to learn how to learn than what to learn, but do we remember this when it is time to talk about assessment?

Scardamalia and Bereiter by themselves find model C unrealistic. According to them, it romanticises the view of learning and inspires a naive view of the student as an independent knowledge builder. Similar opinions are heard among Finnish teachers. Still, there are plenty of teachers, who love our current curriculum. I argue that the main difference between these two groups of teachers is that the first ones see self-regulation as a learning method. The second ones see self-regulation as a goal of development by knowing that model C will remain naive until we realise that behaviourist view of assessment is not enough and in addition is the wrong one.

Too often, when we talk about assessment for learning we are not really talking about it. One of the major problems in implementing formative assessment is its misunderstood intentions. A starting point for discussions about assessment for learning should be in the help needed for students learning. The model C is not achieved instantly and painlessly even in ideal condition. When it comes to school, conditions are never ideal. Assessment of learning has a long history and every parent knows by heart what a fair assessment looks like.

However, the assessments need to be changed so that yesterday's measure of competence does not become a performance target. The assessments need to be changed so that teachers have to take responsibility for students learning toward 21st century skills and stop blaming students of being lazy.

Scardamalia, M. & Bereiter, C. (1991). Higher Levels of Agency for Children in Knowledge Building: A Challenge for the Design of New Knowledge Media. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 1(1), 37–68.
Toivola, M. (2020). Flipped Assessment – A Leap towards Assessment for Learning, Edita

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