Learning-Oriented Assessment from a Teacher’s Perspective: Insights from Teachers’ Action Research

Angeliki Salamoura and Sian Morgan


In recent years, learning-oriented assessment (LOA) has emerged as the dominant theoretical trend for conceptualizing the relationship between learning and assessment (e.g., Carless et al., 2006; Carless, 2007; Green, 2017; Hamp- Lyons, 2017; Jones & Saville, 2016; Turner & Purpura, 2016). Traditionally, assessment has often been conceptualized in binary terms: formative vs. sum- mative, classroom vs. large-scale, and assessment for learning vs. assessment of learning. While this conceptualization is useful and intuitively appealing, it over-simplifies the assessment landscape and can create a false dichotomy, e.g., summative tests can be used formatively (see also Banerjee in Chapter 4 in this volume). As a result, the view of assessment as supporting learning in a systematic and integrated fashion - LOA - is gaining ground in theoretical discussions (as evidenced by the topics of a number of international conferences, e.g., the 2014 Roundtable on Learning-Oriented Assessment in Language Classrooms and Large-Scale Contexts, held at Teachers College, Columbia University'; the Language Testing Research Colloquium (LTRC) 2016; the IATEFL TEASIG Annual Conference 2016; the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) Sixth International Conference 2017; the International Conference of the Asian Association for Language Assessment (AALA) 2020; see also Leung et ah, 2018).

This chapter will offer a brief overview of the concept of LOA as presented in some of the current LOA frameworks (e.g., Carless, 2007; Jones & Saville, 2016; Turner & Purpura, 2016) and will discuss its key features when implemented in a classroom environment (see also Saville in Chapter 2 in this volume). We will then draw on nine years of teachers’ action research (AR) carried out across two countries (the UK and Australia) via a partnership between English UK, English Australia, and Cambridge Assessment English, and provide a review of projects that focused on LOA practices and tools in the classroom. These LOA practices and tools will be discussed against the key LOA features identified in order to explore LOA best practices in their implementation in a learning environment.

Through this demonstration of practical applications, we aim to explore the role LOA can play in integrating learning and assessment in an effective, meaningful manner in the classroom through helping teachers and learners in the collection of learning data, in structured record keeping, and in providing individualized and pedagogically useful feedback. The chapter will conclude with a discussion of future directions for LOA in the classroom.

Learning-Oriented Assessment Frameworks

One of the first LOA frameworks was developed by David Carless and colleagues at the University of Hong Kong in 2006 (Carless et al., 2006; Carless, 2007) as a result of a staff development project they initiated in their higher education institution to “identify, promote and disseminate useful practices in assessment focused on student learning” (Carless et al., 2006, p. 395). By incorporating “learning” in its name, the term LOA emphasizes the use of assessment to “maximise opportunities for meaningful student learning” (ibid.).

In his 2007 paper, Carless put forward three key principles of LOA:

  • 1. Assessment tasks should be designed to stimulate sound learning practices amongst students.
  • 2. Assessment should [actively] involve students in engaging with criteria, quality, their own and/or peers’ performance.
  • 3. Feedback should be timely and forward-looking so as to support current and future student learning, (pp. 59-60)

Under the first principle, assessment tasks are viewed as learning tasks. To achieve this, they should embody the same learning outcomes that the course and students aim to achieve: they should offer real-world activities and should capture skills and knowledge across a period of study (e.g., not just short-term study at the end of a period of learning). The second principle advocates the development of self-regulated student learning through involvement in assessment in order to understand learning goals, assessment criteria, and standards better. The third principle underlines the pivotal role of feedback in promoting learning. Importantly, Carless (2007) suggested that not only formative but summative assessments can also be learning-oriented as long as they exhibit the above three elements.

Building on the premises of the assessment for learning movement (Black & Wiliam, 1998a, 1998b; Black et al., 2004) and Carless’s (2007) LOA principles, Jones and Saville (2016) put forward an LOA framework which is concerned with the LOA features discussed above but also seeks to incorporate standardized international assessment into the LOA picture. It is a systemic model in which all forms and functions of assessment, from the classroom up to the large-scale exam, are brought into a

184 Angeliki Salamoura and Sian Morgan

complementary relationship and coordinated to provide maximum positive impact, providing evidence to support better learning, as well as better measurement and recognition of learning outcomes (see also Saville in Chapter 2 in this volume).

Figure 11.1 illustrates an LOA cycle as applied in a classroom setting. The cycle covers activity at two levels. It starts at the macro-level where higher-level, key learning objectives are set at the beginning of a course. These objectives may be linked to external standards such as the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR, Council of Europe, 2001). From the objectives, a syllabus and course are created. The cycle then moves into the micro-level of the classroom where the course is delivered and learning takes place. In each lesson, the teacher identifies a task(s) designed to help students work towards one of the learning objectives. The students carry out the task(s) in class and engage in a language activity - this may be individually, in pairs, or in groups. The teacher observes and monitors the activity, interprets the students’ performances, and makes an informal record about the students’ task performances and their achievements in the lesson.

The teacher uses classroom observations and the informal record of the students’ performances to make decisions about what to do next. This could include giving students feedback on their performance and their progress. But the teacher could also decide to modify or adapt the

The learning-oriented assessment cycle. Source

Figure 11.1 The learning-oriented assessment cycle. Source: Jones and Saville (2016, p. 3).

learning objectives in the lesson. This could mean changing the next task, according to the students’ needs. The teacher can also keep a more structured record after the lesson, noting information about the learning objectives, the language, and the activities from the lesson, as well as the students’ performances, including their progress and any difficulties they had. This means the teacher is building a structured record of achievement for the students and the class. A formal or external proficiency exam may be used at the end of the course to measure the students’ language level. The exam results can also go into the record of achievement to provide a richer picture of learning. In this way, both external proficiency assessments, which focus on quantitative measurement and interpretation of learning outcomes, and classroom assessments, with their focus on qualitative monitoring and tracking of classroom-based learning - in other words, both evidence of learning and evidence for learning - contribute to the students’ progress record. For this complementarity to work harmoniously, however, the external proficiency exam needs to be informed by and constructed to the same external standard and high-level learning objectives as classroom assessment. The structured record of achievement can then be compared with and interpreted against the learning objectives that were set at the beginning of the cycle, taking into consideration the external standards which informed these objectives. Finally, the students’ records of achievement also loop back to the syllabus specification, allowing more summative monitoring of how well particular curricular objectives have been mastered by students.

Turner and Purpura’s (2016) framework presents a much broader conception of LOA, outlining seven dimensions along which effective LOA practice should be considered. First there is a contextual dimension of LOA which includes all those parameters that influence instruction, learning, and assessment choices and decisions within the social, cultural, and political context of learning, such as teachers’ experience. Second, the elicitation dimension in LOA describes the wide variety of language elicitations that can take place in a classroom, ranging from planned assessments, such as achievement tests, diagnostic tests, and group work with peer feedback, to unplanned, spontaneous assessments, such as spontaneous questioning and feedback during talking. Critically, all of these forms of assessment should be conducted in a way that promotes L2 processing and learning. Third, the L2 proficiency dimension states that a model of L2 proficiency should be used to inform “1. what should be assessed, 2. how evidence from performance is interpreted and tracked, and 3. what should be targeted by feedback and assistance” (Turner & Purpura, 2016, p.264).

Similarly and fourth, the learning dimension recognizes the importance of understanding how L2 learners process information and learn, how performance evidence is interpreted, and how inferences from the evidence are used to provide feedback and assistance in order to close learning gaps. Feed-forward feedback rhar tells learners how to improve and self-regulation of learning are central elements in this dimension. Fifth, the instructional dimension acknowledges that teachers’ target language and pedagogical knowledge influences the application of LOA and that lack of such knowledge could have a negative impact on LOA and learning success. Sixth, the interactional dimension highlights that a lot of LOAs involve spontaneous language elicitation activities followed by evaluation and feedback or assistance. As all these are embedded in talk-in-interaction, it is important to understand how these interactions are organized. Seventh, the affective dimension recognizes that affective factors (e.g., emotions, beliefs, attitudes towards learning, personality characteristics, and motivation) directly impact learning success and, by extension, can also influence LOA.

The growing body of literature on LOA has inevitably led to some divergence of definitions as theory building begins to take place. The three LOA frameworks reviewed above were developed in different contexts and for different purposes. As a result, they exhibit some differences in terms of their main emphasis, the elements they incorporate, and the perspective they take on the ways assessment should support learning. Carless’s LOA principles have been developed in the context of general education for adult university learners. Thus, the feedback dimension of learning and learners’ active engagement with their learning and performance are central points of interest. The Turner and Purpura model has been developed in the L2 context, and for that reason it is concerned with how classroom assessment can effectively enhance L2 learning in particular. Both of these models are concerned with assessment and learning in a classroom/instructional setting. Jones and Saville’s model incorporates these concepts, but it also taps into how the micro-context of classroom learning and assessment can be successfully and meaningfully aligned with the macro-contexts of external standards and assessment. Despite these differences, it is clear that a distinct assessment approach has emerged, more dynamic and learner-centered than traditional assessments, with a number of common threads of how assessment should support learning and teaching inside and outside the classroom. We pick up and illustrate these common threads later on after a description of AR.

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