About the project

The Project

In this project, we will fully develop the content and processes for sustained, school-embedded professional development focused on AfL in Hong Kong schools. The programme of professional development is based on a model successfully implemented in England and piloted on a limited basis in the United States, which will be adapted for the Hong Kong context. It includes five integrated components:

  1. Teachers will attend an initial set of two 2 day-long workshops that expose them to the strategies of AfL and get them thinking about what this means for their practice;
  2. TLC meetings will deepen teachers’ practical understanding of AfL;
  3. Collegial observations through which teachers get constructive feedback on their use of an AfL technique that the teacher being observed has identified as an area for improved practice will further advance teacher learning;
  4. Throughout this period (and subsequently) the teachers will have access to a web-based support tool for AfL.

Project Aims

This project aims to improve teacher quality and their capacity to use assessment for learning (AfL) for classroom teaching. Objectives:    

  1. to provide teachers with a school-embedded AfL professional development programme;
  2. to create and disseminate models of good practice in assessment;
  3. to investigate the impact of the AfL professional development programme on teaching and learning.

Project Impact

The project is designed to benefit the education sector as a whole by creating and disseminating models of good practice in assessment, in line with government reform initiatives. The project is expected to extend beyond the 15-20 participating schools to all schools across the territory through the sharing sessions and a website. These two conduits will be vital for dissemination and publicity purposes.

Needs and Capablity

Since 2000, the Hong Kong government has embarked on a “Learning to Learn” education reform with a highly emphasised Assessment for Learning (AfL) agenda. The highlights of this agenda include reducing excessive use of tests and exams, and using assessment to understand and support learning, as well as using student information to improve teaching (Curriculum Development Council (CDC) 2001). Black and Wiliam (1998) and the Assessment Reform Group (1999) point out that if teachers are to raise the standards of their students, they should make AfL an essential component of classroom work. There is firm evidence to show that AfL can raise standards. However, it is our contention that standards can be raised only if teachers are willing and able to implement AfL.

This proposal recognises that the current Hong Kong classroom context presents a number of challenges to initiatives such as ‘Learning to Learn’. One of these is that teachers may be wary about new classroom initiatives. While this is the case with teachers in many countries, Hong Kong teachers may already have experienced other assessment initiatives (for example, the Target Orientated Curriculum) which were not sustained. Exploration into teachers’ readiness for changing conceptions of formative assessment has indicated that teachers were reluctant to adopt new approaches and that they were rather negative towards the new assessment policies (Berry, 2006; Berry, 2008; Bryant et.al, 2003; Carless, 2005; Kennedy, 2006).

Current government initiatives seek to reduce the focus on tests and results. This is a substantial challenge in a culture in which parents, pupils and teachers are oriented towards tests and improving results (Carless, 2005). The rationale for this research is that, while acknowledging this pull, it will provide intensive support and encouragement to help teachers to explore other emphases in classroom assessment.

This request for funding focuses on the urgent need to improve student achievement across the curriculum, and refers to the growing body of research that suggests that improving teacher quality and their capacity to use assessment as central to learning may be the most effective way to attain this goal. A strength of this proposal is that it treats change in classroom practice as a collaborative and negotiated activity, rather than the more familiar ‘top-down’ initiative. It seeks to provide teachers with a rationale, and permission, for modifying their teaching practices. The project will offer sustained local support to groups of teachers. Our model is that the team’s input will initially be quite intensive but this will progressively give way to encouraging the teachers to become more self-regulating and self-supporting, a process of substantiation.

What this approach offers is a professional development programme that impacts on student achievement and can be implemented and sustained at scale, at reasonable cost. An increasing body of research shows that to be successful, teacher professional development programmes need to address both content and process aspects of teacher growth. The content of our proposed programme is to change the day-to-day instructional practices of teachers through a focus on the use of assessment for learning (AfL). The process by which we will effect these changes is via school-embedded teacher learning communities (TLCs), which have the potential to provide teachers with the information and support they need to develop their practice in deep and lasting ways, and which are designed to build school capacity to support individual and institutional change over time.