Developing Teacher Assessment

Author(s) John Gardner, Wynne Harlen, Louise Hayward, Gordon Stobart, Martin Montgomery
Publisher Open University Press
Published 2010
Pages 208
Price £19.99
ISBN 9780335237838
Reviewed by Mr Jonathan Tummons
University of Teesside
Review published 12 January 2011

To subscribers to the ESCalate website, the extent of the debate surrounding the role, purpose and mode of assessment in schools (for it is firmly within compulsory schooling in the UK that this book is based) is perhaps nothing new: the long shadow cast by Black and Wiliam’s ‘black box’ is visible across many of the chapters in this book (Black and Wiliam, 1998a, 1998b).  This is not to say that formative assessment, or assessment for learning, is the sole focus of this scholarly and well-informed book: the important role played by summative assessment within educational provision is also taken into consideration.  Rather, it is a critical consideration of the role of the teacher as an agent for change or reform within contemporary dominant discourses of assessment procedure, policy and practice that forms the kernel of this book’s arguments.

The architecture of the book is straightforward and sensible, and takes the reader through debates concerning different, and sometimes contested, definitions of formative and summative assessment (in the first chapter) before positing a series of ten principles of assessment practice (in chapter two).  After a brief analysis of current assessment practice across the UK, the direction of the book shifts towards offering, and justifying, an agenda for change within assessment practice in schools.  This programme of reform positions the teacher as central to change, requiring individual, departmental and institutional-level commitment to a broad programme of continuing professional development that will facilitate changes in teachers’ professional assessment practice.  Drawing on a number of studies investigating and evaluating the implementation of assessment for learning, the book concludes that research findings are not always as conclusive as policy makers would perhaps wish them to be. It therefore recommends that teachers’ professional learning includes an impetus towards action research in order to provide data relating to learners’ performance that can be triangulated with the perceptions of teachers who have made changes to their practice.

The tone of the book is sometimes variable, perhaps not unsurprisingly for a multi-authored work.  Some of the chapters seem – to me at least – to speak to an audience of practitioners whilst others speak to an audience of managers, with relatively little overlap between the two.  The chapters on innovation and dissemination seem to rather stand apart, and I am not sure how well they integrate with the book as a whole.  This multitude of voices is not in itself a problem, but could impact on the potential readership of the book.  Generally, the book is well-written and very well-informed, and covers an awful lot of ground in a short space of time: as such, for readers interested in not only how assessment practice might change but also in the current state of assessment provision in schools, this book is to be recommended.

There is one issue that I do wish to raise, however: nowhere in the book does a clear statement appear regarding how learning is understood, defined or modelled.  If formative assessment is indeed to be understood as a fundamental aspect of the learning process (the first principle of assessment practice in chapter two reads: “assessment of any kind should ultimately improve learning”) then it seems to me that some sense of what learning is understood to be is of importance.  There is very little direct commentary on this subject, although the view of learning that seems to underpin the book appears to be a constructivist or perhaps social-constructivist model.  As such, although this book undoubtedly has much of importance and value to say, I would suggest that without a rich understanding of the social and cultural spaces or places - the classrooms, workshops and halls where teacher assessment takes place - that a social practice perspective would offer, any discussion about assessment policy, innovation or practice will always be in some sense restricted.  

References
Black, P., and Wiliam, D. (1998a) Assessment and Classroom Learning.  Assessment in Education 5 (1) 7-74.
Black, P., and Wiliam, D. (1998b) Inside the Black Box.  Slough: National Foundation for Educational Research.