Assessment For Learning - A strategy and design for effective learning

G. Balasubramanian is a doyen of school education in India. He has held several positions of leadership at CBSE, including Director Academics. He was the brain behind the introduction of several innovations at CBSE, which included frontline curriculum, communicative approach to language teaching, Information Technology, alternatives to homework, etc. He is also an author, poet and a sought-after speaker at educational conferences world over. This article has been taken from G. Balasubramanian's offcial website


With the New Education Policy in place, there has been a wide-spread discussion in several platforms on assessments - assessment for learning, assessment learning and assessment as learning. However, the one, as many educators are convinced on the urgent need for assessment for learning, which could help to bring a paradigm shift both in curriculum delivery and pedagogical practices. The excessive focus on performances highlighted through assessment of learning in the existing systems in schools, has focused on a 'factory model' leading to 'cloning' of learning content and experiences. It has side-lined the joy and purpose of learning. The two critical dimensions of learning namely - thinking and creativity 'have been sacrificed to bring learning to a pattern that is bland, non-motivating and competitive.

With the formal gateways of learning shut because of the covid impact, several new strategies including online learning models have come into play Teachers have been finding it extremely difficult to engage into meaningful assessment models and practices. Linear patterns of questioning, which are non-contextual, non-specfic to the context or geography of the learning universe or to one's learning style, have assumed the role of the jury to reward or punish the learner with non-authentic strategies. The cancellation of the examinations due to a compelling social need and strategizing the performance of the learner through several of his earlier performances have opened the eyes of many serious thinkers in education, whether Assessment for Learning' (AFL) would be a better indicator to provide a more realistic response to the learners' performance.

It is time the school system takes positive, concrete, meaningful steps to train the teachers to understand, appreciate, engage and use assessment for learning. Some important supportive reasons could be:

1. AFL helps to understand previous knowledge and competencies to initiate a future course of action

Any assessment becomes meaningful only when the learner's previous knowledge, understanding and competencies are accessed so that an appropriate design and strategy could be put in place for the future: It gives an insight into one's learning universe in terms of interests, aptitudes and anxieties which are unique to a learner. It would help the teacher to articulate the content load, content dynamics, content diversity and pedagogical tools to meet the foundational inadequacies.

2. AFL helps to design both individual and collaborative learning strategies

Learning is both an individual construct and social construct. Hence assessment of learning to find the engagement of the learner in both dimensions could help the learner's growth dynamics and social profile. It will help to understand his collaborative strategies, role as a team-member through participative learning, apart levels of compassion and co-operation in the team. Further, one's ability to grasp the perception of others in the team for co-construction of knowledge and in enabling synthesis of knowledge could be traced. This also reveals the ability of the learner to accommodate the peers in spite of competition to let a fair-play and a level playing field in a team both for learning and assessment

3. AFL helps bridge learning gap

Learning gap is usually referred to as the gap that exists between what the learner could have achieved or is capable of achieving and what one has really achieved. This could be due to several reasons resulting out of constraints of time, difference in geographies, absence of adequate space for learning, limitation of resources, the continuous knowledge explosion, the speed of knowledge, dynamics, increasing irrelevance of knowledge or due to other psychological inadequacies with the learner Assessment for learning, will help not only in identifying the learning gaps, but also to ascertain the magnitude and direction of the learning gaps. Understanding the learning gap would help in taking supportive, remedial and scaffolding exercises to bridge the gap It will help to position the learner appropriately in a learning environment with confidence, as he or she would be conscious of the reasons of such learning gaps, which have so far been beyond their personal knowledge or awareness.

4. AFL facilitates to understand the learning styles

Research have shown that the styles of learning vary from one learner to the other. It will indeed be a great input to the teacher and help them to articulate their content and pedagogy to suit the specic learning styles. The feedback from AFL would help the learner to relate to the content with ease, comfort and speed. This would indeed require the teachers to design assessment tools that would be relevant and appropriate to make observations for the above. As such, AFL data could also help to explain to the parents with greater authenticity to know about the learning prole of their wards.

5. AFL is diagnostic and helps remediation

One major objective of AFL is to use it as a diagnostic tool to track the learning of the learner periodically. As such it would be an in-text tool during the learning process. The diagnosis could reveal a fund of information about the learner at a given time as well as on a continuum. This would help in avoiding unauthenticated judgments, erratic observations and those inuenced by exterior considerations rather than those are valid in respect of the individual learner. It could also give an insight into the inuence of non-academic issues impacting the learning behaviour from time to time. Teachers could take remedial steps both short-term and long-term to deal with the feedback based on AFL.

6. AFL supports growth-oriented learning curve

Though most learning curves are always growth oriented, the speed of learning, aberrations in learning prole and sudden changes in the learning patterns or the impact of some psychological concerns can be traced from the study of the learning curve. AFL provides an insight into such issues and could help the institution or the teacher/coach/mentor to make appropriate interventions for redressal. Such interventions could help in avoiding some cumulative impacts both on the learning prole of the learner or his psyche.

7. AFL could help in positive reinforcement of learning

While most assessments of While most assessments learning tend to be summative, of learning tend to be judgmental and terminal, they do summative, judgmental not help in remediation and in positive reinforcement of learning Such assessments also deprive the and terminal, they do not help in remediation and opportunity for any chances for in positive reinforcement re-engineering and corrective strategies. AFL, if handled with the attention it deserves, can certainly of learning. play the role of a positive interventionist to support and build learning Its ability to create ownership of learning on the part of learners is high.

With the support of technology, AFL can be handled effectively, for data acquisition, data management, data analysis and for establishing credibility of assessment. I wish the system moves fast in bringing about the much-needed transformation in learning facilitation.

This article originally appeared in the TeacherTribe Magazine August 2021 edition.