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Dr Valentina Klenowski

Hong Kong Institute of Education

Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference

Lancaster University
12-15 September, 1996.

Connecting Assessment and Learning


Current developments in assessment are considered in this paper which examines how teachers can adopt a stronger role in the formative assessment process to improve teaching, and related learning outcomes for students. Research was conducted over the past three years to analyse the processes of student self-evaluation and portfolio assessment and their impact on learning.

Three key findings emerged from the research. First was the effect portfolio and critical self-evaluation methods of assessment had on student learning. Second was a deeper understanding of the interrelationship of curriculum, assessment and pedagogy. The change in assessment methods required corresponding changes to the curriculum and pedagogy, the combined impact of this on student learning, was examined. Third was the perceived benefit of these alternative forms of assessment on learning and teaching from both the teachers' and students' perspectives.


Increasingly, there are demands from politicians, employers and others (Entwistle, 1987; Confederation of British Industry, 1990; Wolf et al., 1991; Entwistle, 1993; Reich, 1993; National Commission on Education, 1993) for young people to have skills which are encouraged by student self-evaluation and portfolio assessment. For example:

"We believe that, by the age of about 14, pupils should be equipped to work independently in a flexible learning environment" (National Commission On Education, 1993, p. 90)
"Good teaching will foster in students a spirit of inquiry about the world around them. It will encourage them to think for themselves, to be critical and to be self-critical" (ibid, p.39)

This research, however, indicates that the current educational conditions are antipathetic to the development of these skills.

Ball (1994) in his argument that the discourse of management pervades current educational reform, suggests a new culture of schooling has emerged. It is a culture "of commodification and output indicators which articulates with the culture of choice and relative advantage into which parents are being drawn" (p.66). He continues "in the new educational market place 'bureaucratic' constraints upon decision making in the school are replaced by the constraints of consumer preference and the demands of government-imposed measures and indicators of performance" (p.86). This is not a context conducive to innovation to the learning environment.

Centralised testing and centralised curriculum development are further conditions which militate against the development of student self-evaluation. For example, in 1988 Broadfoot argued that the

"institution of national assessments at ages 7,11,14, and 16 may … encourage consumers to regard these results as the hallmark of pupil and school achievement, teachers may find it hard to defend the distinctive philosophy and practices of Records of Achievement even though the latter have themselves been shown to have considerable potential for raising standards" (p. 296).

The nineties have witnessed the emergence of a paradigm shift in the theory for evaluating student achievement and performance. Broadfoot (1993) has indicated that in this new paradigm "… it is learning itself, rather than simply the measurement of that learning, which is its central purpose" (p.3). This shift has given birth to a range of methods for evaluating student achievement which includes portfolios and authentic assessment which may incorporate: exhibitions of learning; oral; practical; performances; individual or group presentations; essay examinations; research projects and scientific experiments.

The advent of these forms of evaluation for student attainment has paralleled the demand for students to develop skills such as: working in teams; collecting, analysing and organising information; communicating ideas and information; planning and organising activities; using mathematical ideas and techniques and using technology. For example, Harris and Bell (1994) state that

"… each of us needs to take more and more responsibility for our learning in a world where the knowledge base is increasing at a phenomenal rate, let alone the technological developments which give us all more access to information and more difficulty in discriminating between that which is relevant and useful and that which is garbage!" (p. 89)

Student self-evaluation is a cognitive strategy which provides an avenue for the paradigmatic shift in assessment, where the focus is on learning rather than simply measurement of that learning. This is because the psychological processes of metacognition map onto student self-evaluation. As Shepard (1992) has indicated "[i]ntelligent thought involves 'metacognition' or self-monitoring of learning and thinking processes" (p.314). Ivic (1992) has argued that "it is essential that special attention is paid to metacognitive abilities in modern theorising on the assessment of educational processes and outcomes" (p.5). When students are engaged in evaluating their own work, they are thinking about what they have learnt and how they learn. They are consequently more aware of their thinking and learning processes which encourages a deep, as opposed to a surface, approach to learning (Entwistle, 1993). These are processes which need to be fostered if we wish students to succeed (National Commission On Education,1993).

Students when they evaluate their own and peers' work are judging and interpreting. Reich (1991) advocates the development of these skills. He suggests that students need "to get behind the data - to ask why certain facts have been selected, why they are assumed to be important, how they were deduced, and how they might be contradicted" (p.230). Reich advocates an education for the symbolic analytic services which incorporate problem-solving, problem identifying and strategic brokering. What is important in this domain is system-thinking. That is, "[r]ather than teach students how to solve a problem that is presented to them, they are taught to examine why the problem arises and how it is connected to other problems" (p.231). He concludes:

"… in America's best classrooms … Students learn to articulate, clarify, and then restate for one another how they identify and find answers. They learn how to seek and accept criticism from peers, solicit help and give credit to others. They also learn to negotiate - to explain their own needs, to discern what others need and view things from others' perspectives, and to discover mutually beneficial resolutions" (p.233).

One of America's educational goals is:

"By the year 2000, American students will … learn to use their minds well, so that they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our modern economy" (Wolf et al., 1992, p. 32).

If these skills are valued and need to be developed for students to succeed then implications exist for current assessment systems. Skills, knowledge and attitudes that are valued need to be given the appropriate emphasis in the evaluation of student achievement. Stiggins (1992) indicates that sound assessments describe our understanding of the teaching and learning process and promote learning on the part of the student. The link between assessment and instruction becomes apparent for as Linn (1993) has indicated "[a]ssessments that are an integral part of instruction require that the tasks are valued learning activities in their own right" (p.13). Student self-evaluation is one such learning experience.

The emergence of new forms of evaluation for student attainment has mirrored the demand for students to develop: thinking skills; working in teams and interpersonal skills. The advocacy of such skills and qualities has relevance for this research because student self-evaluation fosters what is being demanded. For example, the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) Report for America 2000 defines the quality of self-management as:

"… assesses own knowledge, skills, and abilities accurately; sets well defined and realistic personal goals; monitors progress toward goal attainment and motivates self through goal achievement; exhibits self-control and responds to feedback unemotionally and non-defensively; is a self-starter" (SCANS, 1992a, p. C-2).

Recent international educational reports (Dearing, 1993; National Commission On Education, 1993; SCANS, 1992a, 1992b) emphasise the provision of a wider range of vocational skills, the simplification and improvement of approaches to evaluating students' achievements and more opportunity for teachers to use their professional skills. For schools where students are encouraged to be self-managers, to take increased responsibility for their learning and be more reflective about their teaching and learning experiences, the findings of this research have relevance.

One of the contributions of this research is the recognition that teachers need to continue to develop and implement assessment and evaluation for learning purposes, an argument supported by Harlen (1994). This research also supports James' (1995) argument that: "Government interest is now clearly focused on assessment for accountability. It will therefore be up to schools and teachers to rescue the potential of assessment for learning." Harlen (1994) has also stated "… there has been in England and Wales a quite explicit downgrading of assessment made by teachers" (p.1). The implications of this context are accentuated when one considers Vygotsky's viewpoint that assessment and instruction are inextricably linked (Brown, et al., 1992).

The time that is allocated to prepare students and to conduct evaluation for summative purposes needs to be balanced with the amount of time that is allocated for formative learning purposes. Teachers need to have support and opportunities to develop their professional judgements and confidence in "reclaiming evaluation for learning" in a context of accountability. Gipps (1994) too supports this claim: "The problem that we have in the United Kingdom is that these developments [teacher experience with a variety of assessment methods] and this culture are being eroded as a strongly right wing government puts assessment for the market place and accountability purposes on a traditional, examination model at the top of the agenda and downgrades other approaches" (p.15).

Resnick and Resnick (1992) stress "[w]e must think of every test or assessment used for public accountability or program evaluation purposes as an instrument that will affect the curriculum" (p. 59). They have argued that mandated accountability tests exert direct and indirect control over curriculum and teaching practice at all levels of the school system. Ball (1994) agrees "… in the new educational market place 'bureaucratic' constraints upon decision making in the school are replaced by the constraints of consumer preference and the demands of government-imposed measures and indicators of performance" (p. 86).

Recent cognitive research (Brown et al., 1992; Resnick and Resnick, 1992; Gardner, 1992) has identified the diversity of learning styles by which people learn. Constructivist learning theory has also highlighted the need for students to actively construct knowledge for themselves, engage in cooperative problem solving and acquire skills learned in the context of real problems. The implications for teachers are that they must facilitate this process by providing students with skills and learning environments which are more conducive for such learning to take place. The major dilemma as articulated by Gipps (1994) is

"… that there are increasing demands for testing at national level which must offer comparability, at the same time as our understanding of cognition and learning is telling us that we need assessment to map more directly on to the processes we wish to develop including higher order thinking skills, which makes achieving such comparability more difficult" (p.12).


Student self-evaluation is a formative process leading to self-development. It is a process of identifying the value of teaching and learning experience for the individual student. Throughout this paper I use the term self-evaluation, rather than self-assessment, as I want to bring a broader understanding of evaluation to students assessing their learning and teaching.

The characteristics of student self-evaluation as defined include:

Student self-evaluation requires judgement of 'the worth' of one's performance and the identification of one's strengths and weaknesses with a view to improving one's learning outcomes. The term student self-evaluation is used to emphasise that it is the students themselves who are conducting the evaluation.

A portfolio as used in this paper is defined as a collection of student's work from which the student selects work over time. Essential processes incorporated by the student are critical self-evaluation and reflection of this work. The portfolio provides a new perspective on learning and does not replace other forms of assessment systems. Therefore during the course of teaching and learning, in addition to maintaining a portfolio, students are expected to sit for essay exams and/or complete questions, papers, presentations and assignments. When students select work for inclusion into their portfolios they must self-evaluate and reflect on this work. It is unacceptable for students to include work without any critical reflection.

Connection with Learning

The literature which pertains to portfolios and portfolio assessment highlights the learner's responsibility for selecting the work to be included in the portfolio and for the learning itself. Learners are not often given the opportunity to assess and judge their own learning. The portfolio, however, requires that learners take an active role in the evaluation of their own work and this helps to shift the emphasis from teaching to learning. The instruction and organisation of the curriculum centres on the portfolio and promotes interactions between teacher and student around the collection of work.

As Harris and Bell (1994) have indicated "[a]ssessing without communication is of doubtful value: communication between the teacher and the learner is an essential part of the learning process and should be on a regular basis." (p.88) In previous research (Klenowski, 1995) I found that "[t]he interactive dialogue between student and teacher about the outcomes and analysis of the student's self-evaluation constituted important feedback for them." (p.215) Harris and Bell (1994) indicate that the following modes of assessment are particularly appropriate to "'assessing for learning,' …:

Biggs (1996) has stated that "the expected mode of assessment creates a framework, or form of understanding, within which the student first interprets and then reconstructs the content of the course to meet the perceived need for that kind of understanding." (p.9) He illustrates how assessment can drive learning when the mode of assessment, rather than the aims of the curriculum, determine the nature of the understanding the student derives from the taught content. He cites Crooks (1988), who after a comprehensive review of the effects of assessment practices on students, found they had achieved only surface learning yet met the requirements of many assessment tasks.

"Learning is driven by assessment, making it vital that high-level assessment tasks are set that truly reflect the overall aims of the institution and the particular course objectives." (Biggs,1996, p.11)
Student self-evaluation is one such high-level assessment task.


Student self-evaluation is integral to the learning process and is fundamental to portfolio assessment. In this study this was evident in learner-centred contexts where students were encouraged to take increased responsibility for their learning. This was achieved by student planning, organising, evaluating and implementing strategies to improve their learning. In a teacher-centred approach these elements of the learning process are controlled by the teacher. The teacher's role remains vital in the learner-centred context because the teacher is responsible for developing a structured learning environment where students are given support and guidance to attain skills in self-evaluation and independence in their learning.

The value of student self-evaluation in the learning process is best understood when students learn to evaluate and monitor their own performance in relation to criteria or standards. External assessments that compare and categorise student performance and present information about students in a packaged and labeled form can limit, rather than facilitate, student learning. Sadler (1989) has stated "all methods of grading which emphasise rankings or comparisons among students are irrelevant for formative purposes" (p.127).

A key element in the formative evaluation process is feedback that can be defined as "information about how successfully something has been or is being done" (Sadler, 1989, p. 120). Sadler refers to Ramaprasad's (1983) definition of feedback that emphasises its effect, rather than its informational content. Feedback is information that "... is used to alter the gap" (p. 121). For example, if information is recorded as a summary grade then this feedback is not particularly effective because it may not lead to appropriate action. The grade diverts attention from fundamental judgements and the criteria for making them. It is in this way that a grade may be counterproductive for formative purposes:

"Students need more than summary grades if they are to develop expertise intelligently" (Sadler, 1989, p. 121).

To discover the potential of alternative forms of formative evaluation, such as student self-evaluation, the research investigated self-evaluation and portfolio assessment processes in classroom contexts using qualitative, case study methodology

Case Study Methodology

Settings where teachers and lecturers used portfolio assessment and provided opportunities for students to develop self-evaluation skills were selected so that observation, examination of related documentation, and interview of those involved, could take place. The sharpening of the focus occurred as data were analysed and substantive themes were identified. The outcomes, from both the students' and teachers' perspectives, were recorded.

The research took place in England and Hong Kong where lecturers adopted a learner-centred approach; provided students with the opportunity to self-evaluate their learning and teaching experiences; and sites where such changes to current teaching and learning programs were being piloted. The first study focused on a suburban London Further Education (FE) college where lecturers were piloting the General National Vocational Qualification (GNVQ) advanced science programme. In Hong Kong lecturers of the Curriculum and Instruction Department, from the Hong Kong Institute of Education, were chosen because they were implementing portfolio assessment to students enrolled in the Certificate in Education courses (Chinese and English). The Certificate in Education is a full-time pre-service teacher education course.

The research was conducted using qualitative methodology. Multiple data sources were used: interviews; direct observation; documents; records and physical artifacts. Students and teachers were the main informants through unstructured interviews. Observations were made of student self-evaluative processes in action, classroom teaching practice and formal presentations of portfolio work by students. Field notes were taken from recorded and observed lessons, meetings and professional development sessions. The examination and analysis of over 100 separate documents took place to corroborate and augment evidence from other sources.

Fostering Independent Learning

The intended learning outcomes for students both in Hong Kong and England, as identified by an analysis of the documentation collected from each site, included: student independence in their learning, responsibility for decision making related to assignments, proactivity, and creativity in taking charge of their own work. Student self-evaluation as fostered by portfolio assessment appeared to be a process of supporting the achievement of these learning outcomes. Other developments which appeared to emanate from the student self-evaluation process included increased student motivation, engagement in their learning, critique and consequent improvement of the work.

The processes of self-evaluation were seen as educative by teachers and students. Teachers noted that "the students believe that they have never worked harder: the challenge." Students too felt they were taking greater responsibility for their learning and acknowledged it was not easy. For example:

"[this approach] makes you think more about: planning what you're doing first, and actually how to look for the information, and what you have to look for ... before you just did it! Finished the assignment and handed it in. It was just the assignment that counted. You didn't really look at what you needed, to get the grades. ... it's a lot easier to just hand the assignment over and say: 'What do I get?'" (Student Interview, 1994).

In Hong Kong the students valued the portfolio and the associated processes of critical reflection and self-evaluation for the following reasons. First they indicated that their organisation skills were developing:

"I have learned how to organise my notes systematically"
"Keeping a portfolio is good. I can see my development and I can also collate all the materials in my portfolio" (Student Interviews, 1996).
Second they indicated that there was an impact on their memory and evaluation skills. For example,
"With the progressive compilation I can reflect on what I am doing" and "I can see my growth as an independent learner and see how my style is changing" (Student Interview, 1996).
The following student's comment tends to sum up the impact:
"I learned how to study by myself and developed the habit of doing it on a daily basis. I became more independent with my learning" (Student Interview, 1996).

The development of skills in students to be self-critical and self-reliant was promoted by self-evaluation processes according to some of the teachers interviewed. Students seemed to be integrating the criteria for successful performance through the use of formal types of self-evaluation. When they reflected on their mistakes students found cause to replan and/or rethink their use of time and learning strategies. This supports Gipps' (1994) claim that "[a]ccess to metacognitive processes for pupils can come from a process of guided or negotiated self-assessment, in which the pupil gains awareness of his/her own learning strategies and efficiency" (p. 28). When the students were required to identify areas for improvement, and action to be taken, they were not just thinking about what they had learnt but how they were learning. Some students were also thinking about the efficiency of their learning strategies. In thinking about how they learn, students had a better understanding of how, and when, they worked well.

A staff member at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, Curriculum and Instruction Department, indicated that:

"Through this assessment, you can evaluate the performance of the students as well as their knowledge level. You can get some feedback from them, and they can have full independence of their learning" (Lecturer Interview, 1996).

Benefits on Learning and Teaching

Students and lecturers indicated that student self-evaluation was motivational, enhanced morale and interest. From the students' view self-evaluation impacted on self-esteem. For example:

"Self-evaluation teaches you like your own self-worth, some people don't have much confidence in themselves, but when they come to action planning they realise they have achieved something ... It makes you feel ... that you've done well ... It's teaching you self-worth I think" (Student Interview, 1994).

In Hong Kong students described the impact of self-evaluation and portfolio assessment on their learning as follows:

"This is a step-to-step progress from reading notes to assignments and self-evaluation. You can think which aspect to improve and will think more about the education in respect of teaching skills" (Student Interview, 1996). It also was apparent that these students were enjoying the change: "This is a very effective teaching approach since we discuss and learn the skills through readings and discussion. It also increases your pleasure" (Student Interview, 1996).

From the lecturers' point of view self-evaluation was one way of increasing self-esteem and building confidence to succeed because it encouraged students to realise what was achieved as well as what was not. Where students were involved in the identification of criteria for evaluation, lecturers indicated that they were able to monitor the extent to which students successfully adopted and implemented the practice of self-evaluation.

Students appeared to be developing core skills for life long learning and problem solving. In using self-evaluation they discovered their need to manage time more efficiently and effectively, to develop skills in research, information seeking and handling, and action planning. In some cases students set themselves personal goals, made action plans to achieve them and then self-evaluated their progress.

Consideration of their own performance and the lecturer's advice, increased student awareness of what to focus on, and what to do, to improve on past performance. Some students were, in this way, integrating lecturers' feedback. As a consequence of conducting self-evaluation some gained more confidence to seek assistance when needed, greater responsibility for discovering resources and for independent use of facilities. Lecturers noted an increase in student competence and control over their learning. Students too identified increased confidence with themselves and their learning. For example:

"... it gives you a lot of confidence. It's given me a lot of confidence. How much I've done, and achieved, and how well I could do if I set myself higher standards" (Student Interview, 1994).

Involvement of students in identifying their own areas for improvement was an important outcome from the lecturer's point of view. Student strengths and weaknesses were highlighted as a consequence of the process and students were then encouraged to think about action to be taken:

"I think that we learn where we've gone wrong and how to improve ourselves to do better and the way to go about the next assignment. You learn from your mistakes" (Student Interview, 1994).
Improved student-teacher relations was a further outcome discovered.
For example, the teacher-mentors for students at the FE college in England were more aware of individual student problems and weaknesses because of student self-evaluation. Improved student-student relations was also an outcome. A staff member from the Hong Kong study commented: "The students learned a lot, got to know their classmates, had the chance to discuss ideas and issues. The students felt encouraged to take on the learning themselves, to discuss as a group, present as a group …They also had the chance to practise their English." (Lecturer Interview, 1996).

The Interrelationship of Curriculum, Assessment and Pedagogy

The significance and the value of the adoption of alternative forms of assessment, such as student self-evaluation and portfolio assessment have been described. One of the central aims in education is the enhancement of students' abilities as learners. The assessment approaches therefore need to support this aim. Teachers need to be aware of the interrelationship of pedagogy, assessment and the curriculum. They need to change their teaching practice accordingly in the adoption of alternative assessment approaches. This research suggests that it would be difficult to achieve successful implementation of student self-evaluation without corresponding changes to pedagogy and the curriculum.

Firstly both teachers and students need to be educated about portfolio assessment and student self-evaluation. There are significant changes required for both teacher and student. The shift to a more learner-centred environment requires more time to be given to students to develop independent learning skills. They need to learn to take responsibility for their learning and need careful guidance as to how this can be achieved.

In the Hong Kong study some lecturers had only worked in an examination driven system where students attend lectures and their understanding is tested by examination and/or multiple choice type questions. The response and impact of portfolio assessment on pedagogy was described as follows:

"With the traditional approach, the lecturer has to spend a lot of time passing information to students: it is more of a one-way approach. With the portfolio, the lecturer is giving only general instructions on how to work on a portfolio. The time spent by the lecturer with the students is minimised and involvement of students is maximised" (Lecturer interview, 1996).

Another lecturer commented:

"It becomes very clear that you have to get from the students what they have learned at a deeper level than just blank understanding and comprehension. So, you kept the students at a motivational level since they have to be constantly evaluating their readings and their colleagues. That means I am in charge of the teaching and the students of the learning" (Lecturer interview, 1996).

Some of the changes adopted by lecturers included the introduction of:

"small group discussions, different grouping combinations and role shifting. Sometimes they are the leaders, sometimes the presenters. This gives them the opportunity to discuss in Cantonese and then report back to the class in English." (Lecturer Interview, 1996)


In this paper I have discussed some of the findings of the research conducted on student self-evaluation processes and portfolio assessment in learner-centred contexts. The major constraints for this study included a lack of time, discrepant approaches and the change process itself. In the Hong Kong context large class sizes and language differences were additional constraints. Where student self-evaluation was implemented and supported by some semblance of favourable conditions, it was possible to see an empowering impact on students. The outcomes of the student self-evaluation process include, students more actively engaged in their learning, and with supportive conditions it is also possible for students to develop increased competence, motivation, confidence and control over their learning.

It was extremely difficult for the potential of self-evaluation to be realised as it was being implemented, in both cases, in contexts that were antithetical. The Hong Kong system has been described as: "… highly bureaucratic and centralised in nature and strongly influenced by its selective function; curriculum development policy follows a top-down, centre-periphery approach; the education system is examination oriented" (Lo, 1996, p. 5). Internationally this decade has witnessed demands for comparable measures of scholastic achievement that are treated as "the criterion of a successful school system, a hurtful invention become bureaucratic reality" (Stake & Kerr, 1994, p. 3). League tables, school inspections and pressures for performance indicators have emerged.

Despite the rhetoric of educational aims which seek to provide opportunities for students to achieve their potential as independent learners capable of participating successfully in society, the reality of educational practice is such that "dependence, passivity and a 'tell me what to do and think' attitude" (Barell,1996, p.1) is being fostered.

It is in these contexts that there is an increasing demand for students to develop higher order thinking skills, for them to learn to use their minds well, and for them to be able to use what they have learned outside school settings, such as in the resolution of complex problems that they will encounter as citizens, members of family and of the workforce. The major dilemma as articulated by Gipps (1994) is that at the same time as these demands are being made:

"... our understanding of cognition and learning is telling us that we need assessment to map more directly on the processes we wish to develop, including higher order thinking sills, which makes achieving such comparability more difficult" (p. 12).

The outcomes of this research support these contentions. Yet at the same time these findings indicate the impact of student self-evaluation processes and portfolio assessment on teaching and learning and the potential of an alternative form of formative evaluation. If teachers are to help students develop the skills needed to succeed, there needs to be a greater awareness of the impact of assessment on teaching and learning, and the interdependent relations of assessment, curriculum and pedagogy.

Note: Partial funding for this research was provided by a grant from the Hong Kong Institute of Education.


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