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What’s happening ‘out there’?. Ruth Sutton’s view of current assessment developments in Canada, NZ, Scotland, and the implications for us in England. My assessment ‘ whakapapa ’ (Maori for ‘lineage).

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What s happening out there

What’s happening ‘out there’?

Ruth Sutton’s view of current assessment developments in Canada, NZ, Scotland, and the implications for us in England

My assessment whakapapa maori for lineage

My assessment ‘whakapapa’ (Maori for ‘lineage)

  • Started with an interest in the connection between classroom assessment, meta-cognition, and students’ personal development

  • 1982-87 practical immersion, as Director of Manchester Assessment Project

  • ‘Technical’ assessment immersion, as member of JMB’s Research Advisory Committee

  • International immersion through regular work in NZ and Canada since 1992

The big 5 principles identified by the uk assessment reform group 1999

The Big 5 Principles(identified by the UK Assessment Reform Group,1999)

  • “The provision of effective feedback to students

  • The active involvement of students in their own learning

  • Adjusting teaching to take account of the results of assessment

  • Recognition of the profound influence assessment has on the motivation and self-esteem of students, both of which are crucial influences on learning

  • The need for students to be able to assess themselves and understand how to improve”

Canada divided by province and school district division

Canada: divided by province and school district/division

What s happening out there

  • Alberta : provincial tests and results managed by Alberta Education

  • AFL encouraged through ‘Alberta Initiative for School Improvement’ (AISI) over several years

  • This approach has encouraged districts to see AFL as an ‘Initiative’, an add-on, not a shift in the norms of teaching

  • No provincial report card: districts have to devise their own, based on curriculum outcomes

  • Current public row about ‘no zeros’ policy in some schools: an example of the emotional/cultural underpinnings of assessment

Provincial standards and assessment

Provincial ‘standards’ and assessment

  • Ontario : assessment through Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), Math and Literacy at Grades 3, 6, 9 (Maths) and 10 (literacy, graduation requirement)

  • Results published and used for review and improvement

  • Assessment principles and practice guidelines in ‘Growing Success’, 2010

  • Much progress recently, currently stalled by union action over pay, pensions etc

What s happening out there

  • Manitoba : weak provincial control, policy dominated by Winnipeg

  • Winnipeg Comprehensive Assessment Programme (2000- present): classroom-based assessment, at the start of the year, results returned to schools but not publicly shared

  • AFL encouraged but patchy: secondary assessment still dominated by ‘grading’ issues

Winnipeg inner city feedback for learning 2000 03

Winnipeg Inner City ‘Feedback for Learning’ 2000-03

  • Using the term ‘assessment’ brought with it unhelpful negative baggage for teachers, students and the community

  • ‘Feedback for Learning’ was the key to the project

  • Our development focus was on teaching strategies, to enable and encourage the provision and use of effective feedback to improve student learning and outcomes

  • Mostly within the realm of ‘2nd generation’ learning and assessment (cf Mary James’ analysis), although we wanted to push it further, into collaborative meta-cognitive tasks

Backwards planning a useful pre condition

‘Backwards Planning’: a useful pre-condition

  • Learning intentions: what do we want the students to learn, including ‘learning how to learn’?

  • Evidence of learning/success criteria: what will we look for to show that these goals have been achieved? Discuss and exemplify these with your students.

  • Assessment activities: how will students show what they know, and get feedback to decide their next steps?

  • Teaching: what teaching activities will enable and encourage students to learn and practice the things we want them to learn?

  • What’s the starting point? Check for prior learning and misconceptions.

Winnipeg inner city feedback for learning 2000 2003

Winnipeg Inner CityFeedback for Learning, 2000-2003

‘Ten Steps to Heaven’

  • Teacher is clear about purpose and task (backwards planning)

  • Teacher plans to discuss and exemplify learning expectations

  • Teacher designs and explains learning tasks

  • Teacher and students develop success criteria together

  • Students check their work, while the learning is in progress

  • Students say what’s OK and what’s not

  • Students identify a next step

  • Students continue, or correct work so far

  • Students reflect periodically on what they’ve learned, and how they learned it

  • Students present learning and achievement to someone else

Ffl ten steps the actions to help us remember

FFL ‘ten steps’ – the actions to help us remember

6.Look and check

7.Idea for improvement

8.Take a step towards

9.Look back to reflect

10.Present learning

1. Task (fist)

2. Purpose (heart)

3. Share

4. Small Steps

5. Get Working

Canada main issues

Canada: main issues

  • 1.AFL techniques sometimes detached from original principles

  • 2. Grade 7 onwards obsessed with %, with no understanding of ‘margin of error’

  • 3.Secondary assessment dominated by high-staking regular grading and reporting 3 or 4 times per year.

  • 4.Reliability of teachers’ grading undermined by concept of ‘individual professional autonomy’

    5. System leadership stronger at district level than at school level, plus frequent movement of Principals (who are called ‘Adminstrators’!)

Scotland curriculum for excellence

Scotland:Curriculum for Excellence

  • Skills-based: teachers decide the appropriate content to use as the context for learning

  • 5-14 testing abandoned, after concern about the negative unintended consequences of regular national testing on teaching and learning experiences in schools

  • Money previously spent on design, distribution, marking of tests diverted into other methods of ensuring reliability, eg. national moderation procedures and the National Assessment Resource (NAR)

  • Providers of ‘standardised tests’ quickly moved to exploit (or exacerbate) the anxiety about ‘reliability’ among parents, teachers and LAs - a residue of over-reliance on tests

Moderation costs and benefits

Moderation: costs and benefits

  • Yes, it costs a lot to organise and run a successful teacher moderation process

  • It also costs a lot to run a national testing process

  • BUT, the money spent on moderation leads to very high quality professional development and confidence: the money spent on national testing leads to teacher passivity, anxiety, marginalisation and spurious faith in the ‘objectivity’ of results

Assessment design the search for balance

Assessment Design:the search for balance



Best fit


(time, cost, and credibility)

New zealand centralised policy

New Zealand – centralised policy

Tomorrow s schools in 1980s

‘Tomorrow’s Schools’ in 1980s

  • Regional Ministry of Education oversight of schools abandoned: each school has autonomous locally elected Board of Trustees and directly accountable to central government

  • National curriculum – too heavy to start with and then refined

  • National Standards in Literacy and Numeracy recently developed: to be used for reporting to parents, assessed by ‘Overall Teacher Judgement’(OTJ) and moderation

Assess to learn

‘Assess to Learn’

  • ATOL PD contracts in place for a decade and more

  • Implementation impressive until late primary but patchy thereafter

  • PD has tended to be ‘formulaic’, and not deeply understood, beyond the connection with very strong early childhood practice

Nz qualifications authority

NZ Qualifications Authority

  • Oversees National Certificate of Educational Standards at levels 1 and 2 in the schools sector

  • Tight criteria, loose(ish) moderation, assessed and recorded in ‘units’

  • Fragmented summative assessment often confused with ‘formative’: secondary ‘too busy’ to focus on systematic involvement of students

Nz main issues

NZ main issues

  • Implacable hostility of NZEI (primary teachers’ union) to National Standards has distracted teachers from managing them as effectively as necessary

  • OTJ’s being introduced ahead of effective moderation: could this result in imposition of national assessment, despite prohibitive costs?

  • National Education Monitoring Programme (Intensive sampling, like APU) has been phased out

  • Political uncertainty and 3 year political cycle

  • Education Review Office (OFSTED equivalent) could become obsessed with National Standards data

  • Charter schools?? What are they thinking of?

Common theme the gap between knowing and doing

Common theme: the gap between ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’

  • Regularly noted by research studies on AFL

  • Raises major issues around ‘traditional’ PD

  • Interest in ‘teaching as a construct of habits’

  • What enables/encourages teachers to change their daily fundamental habits?

  • Without this change, sustainability is a non-starter

How does habit change happen

How does habit change happen?

The three-part brain

  • The neo-cortex: intellectual processing

  • The reptilian brain: basic instincts

    3. The limbic brain: handles emotions, experiences and habits

Deep rooted hard wired habits are resistant to change

Deep-rooted, hard-wired habitsare resistant to change

  • We learn how to teach through doing it, (not reading about it), using the limbic brain to establish our professional habits

  • These habits include planning, questioning, marking

  • Habits learned ‘limbically’ will be changed the same way, through practice

  • Changing habits generates problems and potential conflict

Changing habits according to addiction theory proshaska

Changing habits – according to ‘Addiction Theory’ (Proshaska)

  • Pre-contemplation

  • Contemplation

  • First step

  • Discomfort and floundering

  • Practice

  • Confidence

  • New habit

  • Coach someone else

The weightwatchers model for whole school change

The Weightwatchers’ Model for whole school change

  • The Weight-watchers model for changing teaching and learning habits involves:

    Big, important, agreed goals

    Small steps and continual feedback


    Collegial support and accountability

    Recognition of success

Afl is it an end in itself or a means to an end

AFL: is it an end in itself or a means to an end?

UK Teaching and Learning Research Project (2009), presented by Mary James in NZ

Learning Autonomy (outcome)

Learning How to Learn (activity)

Assessment for Learning (tools)

Is it time to re brand afl

Is it time to re-brand AFL?

  • Implementing and sustaining AFL requires change in most of the mechanisms of teaching

  • We need to focus on ‘re-engineering’ teaching, rather than adding something to it

  • The word ‘assessment’ can confuse the issue, especially in secondary schools

  • Why not “Feedback for Learning”?

  • Or even “Teaching for Learning” ????

Motivating learners young and older the essential ingredients

Motivating learners, young and older: the essential ingredients

self efficacy

Helpful feedback

‘Locus’ of control


As close to self as possible



A song to help us remember to the tune of you are my sunshine please feel free to harmonise

A song to help us remember- to the tune of ‘You are My Sunshine’Please feel free to harmonise

What s happening out there

  • Let’s look at problems pupils can work on

  • Release the magic, inspire to learn

  • Share the criteria, provide great feedback

  • And success you all will earn

What s happening out there

  • Our classroom focus is on the learning

  • Not just the levels and the test

  • We give our pupils responsibility

  • And they reward us with their best

What s happening out there

  • Raise motivation, expect achievement

  • Observe and listen, to find the clues

  • And then adjust our next steps in teaching

  • To reduce those classroom blues

What s happening out there

  • What’s in it for me, I hear you asking

  • Why should I bother with all this stuff?

  • I’ll tell you why, dear, learning goes deeper

  • And behaviour’s not so tough

Last verse


  • So there we have it, feedback for learning

  • We know it works, so why not try

  • Student involvement, in every classroom

  • Children’s learning hits the sky

Thank you

Thank you

Keep in touch :



Take a look at the story of Winnipeg’s ‘Feedback for Learning’ in

‘Creating Independent Student Learners’ (2006)

And check out my first novel, ‘A Good Liar’, (2012)

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