Grading Degrades Performance LO17449

Alan Mossman (
Tue, 17 Mar 1998 19:04:17 -0500

was Employee/Boss Ranking systems

forgive a very late contribution to the dialogue but I wanted to get the
facts right and it has taken me a while to gather the data.

The following press relaease describes research which found that the
performance and progress of school students is degraded by grading and by
certain assessment schemes which encourage or enable kids to compare their
performance one with another.

In the paper cited, "the term assessment refers to all those activities
undertaken by teachers, and their students in assessing themselves, which
provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and
learning activities in which they are engaged. Such assessment becomes
formative assessment when the evidece is actually used to adapt the
teaching work to meet the needs."

Many of the research studies cited "show that improved formative
assessment helps the (so-called) low attainers more than the rest, and so
reduces the spread of attainment whilst raising overall standards."

This raises two questions for me
1. how is that different from comparison to some ideal ? -- and
2. why, if we do, do we think adults are anything more than big kids ?


Kings College University of London

Press Office
Cornwall House, Waterloo Road, London SE1 8WA
Tel 0171 872 3202 Fax 0171 872 0214

Press Release
4 February 1998

Pupil testing must change to raise
standards, top educationalists say

Current school testing systems contribute little to improving pupil
performance, top educationalists claimed today.

The emphasis on competitive testing and achieving national targets
may actually be counter-productive, because it reinforces low
achieving pupils' sense of failure. Rather than outside intervention,
,what is required is a new concentration on what actually goes on in
classrooms and developing forms of assessment that allow feedback
from teachers to enable pupils to achieve individual targets and raise

Professor Paul Black and Dr Dylan Wiliam, leading educa tionalists at
King's College London School of Education - one of the country's two
toprated university schools of education - have brought together the
results of nearly 600 studies of assessment, involving over ten
thousand pupils, from all over the world during the last ten years.

Their paper - 'Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards through
Classroom Assessment' - concludes that by helping teachers to
develop good 'formative assessment' (assessment which defines what
each pupil needs to learn next and helps them to do this), standards
could be raised by the equivalent of between one-and-a-half and two
GCSE grades in each subject over the country. The benefits would be
even greater for lower achieving pupils, and would thus avoid wasted
talent and potential serious social problems.

Professor Black and Dr Wiliam comment: 'Since 1988, national policy
has moved from using assessment as a tool to promote a competitive
market in education to the more mature position of target-setting for
all. The Labour Government now needs urgently to develop effective
new policies which will build on this change by focusing on what
actually goes on in the classroom, and by using the potential of
assessment to raise standards directly.

'Rather than bombarding teachers with testing and inspections,
Government and the responsible agencies should set up a system
which actually helps teachers to deliver higher standards.'

The means of tackling this, Professor Black and Dr Wiliam propose, is
a programme which uses a small number of groups of schools from
different urban, suburban and rural environments to work out effective
ways to assess pupils and provide feedback directly to them,
developing a variety of living examples of good teacher-pupil
interaction which can then be disseminated widely via in-service
teacher training programmes.

They draw attention to the way in which some classroom practices
allow pupils to 'get by', avoiding the need to think. For instance, in
question and-answer sessions there is often no time to think through
an answer and so pupils just guess what the teacher expects to hear.
They suggest that methods such as asking pupils to discuss their
thinking in small groups, giving the class multiple-choice questions and
asking all Pupils to vote on the options, or asking all pupils to write
down an answer and reading out a selected few, do more to evoke
thoughtful reflection and enable pupils of all abilities to achieve

They cite evidence that marking of pupils' work can rein reinforce
underachievement or under-expectation by being too generous or
unfocused, and show that the giving of marks and the grading function
often focuses attention on comparisons with other members of the
class rather than on what needs to be done to improve.

Professor Black and Dr Wiliam call for their findings to b studied
immediately by agencies such as the new Qualifications and
Curriculum Authority, OFSTED, local education authorities, the
Teacher Training Agency, research and training institutions and other
providers of in-service education for teachers, and for the Government
to give a lead in setting up a programme to develop help for teachers
by concentrating on changes which are put into direct effect by
teachers and pupils in classrooms.

They say: 'There is a body of firm evidence that formative assessment
is an essential feature of classroom work and that its development can
raise standards. We know of no other way of raising standards for
which such a strong I)Prima facie case can be made on the basis of
evidence of such large learning gains.

'The country's education system has been subjected to many far-
reaching initiatives which, whilst taken in reaction to concerns about
existing practices, have been based on little evidence about their
potential to meet those concerns. In our study of classroom
assessment there can be seen for once, firm evidence that indicates
clearly a direction for change which could improve standards of
learning. Our plea is that national policy will grasp this opportunity
and give a lead in this direction.'


News contacts:
Professor Paul Black: 0171-872 3167 (office);
Dr Dylan Wiliam: 0171-872 3153 (office);
Press Office: Christine Kenyon Jones or Melanie Gardner: 0171-872-

Notes for editors

I The School of Education at King's College London s one of two in
the UK accorded the top rating of 5* in the 1996 Research
Assessment Exercise.

2 Professor Paul Black, Emeritus Professor of Science Education at
King's, was the Chairman of the Government's Task Group on
Assessment and Testing, which devised the reporting structure
for the national curriculum of England and Wales and advises
the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
and the US Government on curriculum and assessment reform.
During a long and distinguished career in education, he has
published over 300 articles, books and papers on science
education and curriculum and assessment reform and is the
author of Testing: Friend or Foe? The Theory and Practice of
Assessment and Testing.

3 Dr Dylan Wiliam, Head of the School of Education at King's, is
the co-author of Recent Research in Mathematics Education
5-16 and over 100 other articles, books and papers on
educational assessment. After teaching in secondary schools in
London, he co-ordinated the development of national
Curriculum tests for 14-year olds in English, mathematics,
science and technology, and regularly advises the
Government's Qualifications and Curriculum Authority on
matters related to assessment and testing.

4 'Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards through Classroom
Assessment' will be published by the School of Education,
King's College London, price UKP2.00: contact Zoe Jones, tel
0171-872 3183. The complete report will be published as
'Assessment and Classroom Learning' in the March 1998
edition of "Assessment in Education" (volume 5, issue 1).

5 Professor Black and Dr Wiliam's research was commissioned by
the British Educational Research Association's Assessment
Policy Task Group and was funded by the Nuffield


Alan Mossman <> The Change Business Ltd 19 Whitehall STROUD GL5 1HA UK 01453 765611 N.B. new fax: 01453 763083

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