Assessment of Learning vs. Assessment for Learning

Last Friday, I joined the #a4learn (assessment for learning) discussion on twitter. During this chat, a group of twitter-savvy teachers came together to discuss the prepositional differences between Assessment for Learning and Assessment of Learning, more specifically, the benefits that Assessment for Learning can have on a student’s ability to comprehend and understand. Though Assessment for Learning is not a phrase that gets thrown around WriteToLearn headquarters very often, it is a concept that we’ve been using since our inception.

Both of the terms mentioned above start out with assessment. Assessment in this context means almost exactly what it does in any other situation: the interpretation, analysis and feedback of a piece of work. WriteToLearn and teachers alike perform many assessments of a student’s work. When a teacher writes ‘B-’ across the top of a paper, that’s an assessment. When WriteToLearn analyzes a student’s essay and gives a 3 in ‘Sentence Fluency’, that’s an assessment.

The difference arises in the middle of both phrases, the ‘of’ and the ‘for’. Semantically, ‘of’ is a descriptive term, telling the student about their work. A ‘B-‘ is an Assessment of Learning. The letter grade give students a rough idea of where they went wrong but ultimately it’s just a description of the work as a whole. The Assessment of Learning starts and ends with a single essay.

Assessment for Learning is entirely different. It’s the concept of using assessment in order to better teach and learn. If a letter grade is an Assessment of Learning, the notes in the margin are the Assessment for Learning. They offer prescriptive advice: specific suggestions on how to improve sentence structure and readability. The key to Assessment for Learning is a repeated back-and-forth between teacher and student. The use of multiple drafts allows students to receive multiple assessments along with suggestions for improvement. These assessments and suggestions allow a student to learn from their mistakes and apply those lessons to future writings.

WriteToLearn is based on the concept of Assessment for Learning. We suggest that teachers allow students to write six drafts of each essay or summary that the students submit to WriteToLearn. Our program gives essay feedback based on six popular traits of writing, along with suggestions for improvement and exemplar essays for each trait at each scorepoint. For summaries, WriteToLearn evaluates what students write, and gives feedback on how well they covered the main ideas in the reading passage. Selected reading passages include the “Hints” feature, which links to specific tips that emphasize important ideas that students may have missed when reading. These scaffolding tools show students where they were successful as well as where they can improve, and more importantly, what to do in order to improve. In the simplest terms, Assessment of Learning tells while Assessment for Learning shows. I know that will resonate with every teacher who has ever written ‘Show, don’t tell!’ at the top of an essay.