What is assessment for learning?

Assessment for learning

What is Assessment for Learning?

Assessment for learning (AFL) refers to the process of collecting and interpreting evidence about learning to be used by the teacher to determine the learner’s current situation, what they know and what they can do. With AFL, instructional decisions are supported by evidence. Using the information teachers gather about their learners, they try to devise activities that are intended to guide learning towards the intended goals.

AFL is ongoing and occurs at all stages of the learning process. It usually starts with a diagnostic test and relies on formative assessment to support instructional decisions. Different tools are used to get informed about the progress of the learners. This includes portfolios, works in progress, teacher observation, conversation, homework, etc. The objective is not to attribute grades or scores, but to get informed about the learning progress. Teachers may also use the feedback they get from summative assessments as an assessment for learning (if it is used to adjust instruction.)

What is the difference between assessment for learning, assessment of learning, and assessment as learning?

It is important to distinguish the assessment for learning from the assessment of learning and the assessment as learning:

  • Assessment of learning refers to the assessment that is normally administered at the end of a unit or course to evaluate students’ understanding. Assessment of learning is often referred to as summative assessment.
  • Assessment as learning can be also considered as a kind of formative assessment. It focuses on teaching students the metacognitive processes that help them to evaluate their own learning and make adjustments. This implies that the students set goals, monitor their progress, and reflect on the results. This type of teaching encourages learners to take responsibility for their learning.

To further clarify the above types of assessments, we can categorize them as follows:

Assessment before learning
(also called a diagnostic assessment or pre-assessment)
Assessment during learning
(also called formative assessment)
Assessment after learning.
(also called summative assessment)
Assessing the students before a new unit or course to identify what they know and what they need more instruction on. For the teacher and learner, pre-assessment can be time-saving.Checking learning progress to determine the next steps and adjust instruction accordingly. The feedback can be used by teachers to improve their instructions and by learners to improve their learning.The purpose is to assess the learners’ progress at the end of an instructional unit by comparing it against some standard or benchmark. It is a periodic evaluation of how children are generally making progress in their learning

On the one hand, both the assessments before learning and during learning can be considered as part of any assessment for learning since both of them inform instructional decisions. On the other hand, one may venture to say that summative assessments can be also used as a tool for gathering information about learning, and, therefore, they may be used by teachers to adjust their teaching objectives, methods, and content.

Formative assessment

Assessment for learning is closely related to formative assessment. The latter is used for day-to-day instruction to adapt teaching to meet students’ needs. It helps teachers to monitor their students’ progress and to modify the instruction accordingly. Students also have the opportunity to monitor their progress as they get feedback from their peers and the teacher and to revise and refine their thinking.

Summative assessment

Summative assessment can be used to inform both learners and teachers to support learning and instructional decisions. It is done periodically (i.e. after a chapter, unit, term, year, etc.) and is a means to measure, at a particular point in time, students’ learning relative to content standards. Hence the importance of summative assessment as a tool to help evaluate the effectiveness of programs, students’ learning, and school goals achievement.

Learner-centered teaching

Both assessments for learning and assessments as learning are learner-centered. Learners are actively involved in their learning process and are encouraged to think about their current situation, their learning goals, and the means to achieve them.

The objective is to produce self-regulated learners – learners who are confident to continue learning throughout their lives.

The role of teachers is to determine, from the beginning of the course, their students’ current level of learning. Then, they have to continuously check their progress through well-tailored assessment tools (i.e. formative, summative, alternative assessment, etc.). The feedback they get from their students is used, first, to identify any learning gaps and, second, to guide them towards the expected outcomes.

Assessment for learning


What are examples of assessment for learning?

In addition to formative and Summative assessments, AFL relies on a number of tools to get feedback from the learners.


Teachers ask questions to get information about what their learners already know and can do on the one hand, and areas where they need to work on.

Peer assessment

Learners get feedback from each other using established success criteria about the areas they have made progress in and the areas where they need to improve.


Self-assessment is the perfect way so that learners take responsibility for their learning. The purpose is to make learning self-regulated by urging them to reflect on their learning and to find out what they need to do to make progress. Self-assessment is mainly used as an assessment as learning.

KWL Chart

At the beginning of a lesson, learners create a chart with three columns:

What I knowWhat I want to knowWhat I learned

They start by filling in the first two columns. The last column is left until the end of the lesson.


The learners are invited to summarize what they know about a topic either at the beginning or at the end of the lesson.

One question

It is interesting to invite your learners to prepare a question about what they learned at the end of the lesson. Collecting these questions and adjusting your next lesson accordingly can be helpful.


Learners are invited to keep a learning journal to write down their thoughts about what they are learning.


By documenting their progress during their learning through a systematic collection of samples of their work, students provide helpful insight for both themselves and the teacher for further adjustment of learning. Portfolios may include classroom work, assigned homework, test results, self-assessment, and feedback from peers and the teacher.

More about AFL:

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