Delving deeper into the black box: formative assessment, inclusion and learners on the autism spectrum

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<ul><li><p>This article was downloaded by: [The Aga Khan University]On: 18 October 2014, At: 00:46Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK</p><p>International Journal of InclusiveEducationPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:</p><p>Delving deeper into the black box:formative assessment, inclusion andlearners on the autism spectrumJackie Ravet aa School of Education , University of Aberdeen , MacRobertBuilding, King's College, Aberdeen , Ab24 5UA , UKPublished online: 31 Aug 2012.</p><p>To cite this article: Jackie Ravet (2013) Delving deeper into the black box: formative assessment,inclusion and learners on the autism spectrum, International Journal of Inclusive Education, 17:9,948-964, DOI: 10.1080/13603116.2012.719552</p><p>To link to this article:</p><p>PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE</p><p>Taylor &amp; Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (theContent) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor &amp; Francis,our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as tothe accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinionsand views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors,and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor &amp; Francis. The accuracy of the Contentshould not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sourcesof information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims,proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever orhowsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arisingout of the use of the Content.</p><p>This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms &amp;Conditions of access and use can be found at</p><p></p></li><li><p>Delving deeper into the black box: formative assessment, inclusionand learners on the autism spectrum</p><p>Jackie Ravet</p><p>School of Education, University of Aberdeen, MacRobert Building, Kings College,Aberdeen Ab24 5UA, UK</p><p>(Received 10 May 2012; final version received 1 August 2012)</p><p>This paper explores the implementation of formative assessment through theautism lens in order to analyse why the process can be exclusionary for somelearners on the autism spectrum. The central thesis of the paper is that, whereteachers have no understanding of the autism learning style, they are likely torevert to a normative, majoritarian construction of learning. Two problems mayflow from this. First, majoritarian assumptions about learning could dominate theinferential process that is the foundation stone of formative assessment. Thiscould lead teachers to mis-read what is going on inside the heads of learners onthe autism spectrum, and cause them to make partial and inaccurate inferencesabout their learning. Second, majoritarian assumptions may also inform theinteractive process that underpins formative assessment. Social interaction can bechallenging for learners on the autism spectrum and can limit or exclude theirparticipation unless sensitive modifications are made to the social andcommunication environment. The case is, therefore, made for teacher awarenessof a minoritarian perspective that foregrounds knowledge and understanding ofthe autism learning style. Arguably, this knowledge and understanding couldenable teachers to adapt the formative assessment process so that it is moreeffective and inclusive for this group of learners.</p><p>Keywords: formative assessment; autism; inclusion; inferential process;communication</p><p>Introduction</p><p>Research papers that inspire, transform and endure are rare. However, Inside the BlackBox (Black and Wiliam 1998a) is one such paper whose message about the fundamen-tal role and importance of formative assessment continues, years later, to stimulatedebate, sharpen policy and motivate classroom action. The approach set out in thispaper, and the exposition of it explored in subsequent work (Black et al. 2002, 2003,2006; Black 2007; Black and Wiliam 2009) has been widely welcomed and should con-tribute, in theory at least, to the emergence of a more holistic, learner-centred andresponsive process of assessment for learning across UK schools. Since the overarchingpurpose of formative assessment is to raise standards of learning, this should be goodnews for all pupils, parents and teachers.</p><p>However, since the publication of Black and Wiliams seminal paper, it has beensubject to extensive critique. Questions have focused on issues of definition and</p><p># 2013 Taylor &amp; Francis</p><p>Email:</p><p>International Journal of Inclusive Education, 2013Vol. 17, No. 9, 948964,</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>The</p><p> Aga</p><p> Kha</p><p>n U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 00:</p><p>46 1</p><p>8 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>interpretation, conceptual unity, contextualisation, evidence base and impact (Perre-noud 1998; Smith and Gorrard 2005; James 2008; Wiliam and Thompson 2007;Bennett 2009, 2011; Swaffield 2011). It has, therefore, become clear that, whilst thecentral ideas contained within the black box paper, and those that followed, are richwith potential, much has yet to be done to elucidate key ideas and concepts and toachieve effective and authentic implementation (Swaffield 2011).</p><p>This paper is positioned within the broad area of concern about links between for-mative assessment and inclusion that have arisen from research into effectiveness for alllearners (Martiniello 2008; EADSNE 2009; Bennett 2011; Hollenweger 2011).However, the specific focus is formative assessment and learners on the autism spec-trum (Wilkinson and Twist 2010). The central aim of the paper is to analyse why, incertain contexts, the implementation of formative assessment can effectively excludethis group of learners, and to make a contribution to the development of more effectiveand inclusive practice in this area. This is an analytic paper that presents the authorsviews and provides a conceptual framework underpinned by the authors classroomexperience, theoretical work and research with practitioners supporting individualson the autism spectrum.</p><p>To set the context for the analysis at the heart of the paper, we must first turn to theseminal work of Black and Wiliam. The influence of the inclusive environment on theimplementation of formative assessment will then be examined. The application ofBlack and Wiliams framework to learners with autism, the difficulties this raisesand how they might be addressed, constitutes the remainder of the paper. Anadapted framework is then tentatively proposed. It should be noted that the termlearner on the autism spectrum is used throughout this paper to refer to learnerswith a diagnosis of autism, Aspergers syndrome (AS) and high functioning autism(HFA) taught in mainstream classrooms.</p><p>Background: the work of Black and Wiliam</p><p>Black and Wiliam (1998a) make the claim that formative assessment is at the heart ofeffective teaching and fundamental to raising standards of learning in the classroom.Their focus is on the quality of what happens inside the black box their metaphorfor the classroom where, traditionally, teachers have been expected to raise standardsof childrens learning by enacting policy whilst negotiating a wide, complex, variedand, often, highly unpredictable range of pupil needs. Their main concern is that tea-chers are somehow expected to succeed in this endeavour without any direct helpwith this task (Black and Wiliam 1998a, 1). Their proposition is that formative assess-ment is the process whereby teachers can effectively modify their practice in responseto pupil learning, transforming what is happening inside the black box.</p><p>According to their definition, assessment:</p><p>refers to all those activities undertaken by teachers, and by their students in assessingthemselves, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teachingand learning activities in which they are engaged. Such assessment becomes formativeassessment when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching work to meet theneeds. (p. 2)</p><p>They go on to propose a set of principles to achieve deep and effective formativeassessment that emphasises the importance of opportunities for pupil interaction,</p><p>International Journal of Inclusive Education 949</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>The</p><p> Aga</p><p> Kha</p><p>n U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 00:</p><p>46 1</p><p>8 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>teacher/pupil dialogue, high quality feedback to pupils and pupil self and peer assess-ment (Black and Wiliam 1998a). In a later paper, Black and Wiliam suggest that theseprinciples can be pursued using five key strategies and five activities (see Table 1) thatenable teachers to identify where learners are in their learning, where they are goingand what needs to be done to get them there (Black and Wiliam 2009, 7). Teachersare, therefore, the chief architects of the learning environment within this framework.However, pupils are clearly viewed as active partners with direct responsibility fortheir own learning, participation in learning discourse and support for the learning ofpeers. A powerful evidence base is rallied in defence of this model (Black andWiliam 1998b), much of it developed in close collaboration with teachers in theirown classrooms (Black and Wiliam 2009).</p><p>Few demur with Black and Wiliams central thesis. Indeed, over the past decadeformative assessment has been widely implemented internationally (Scottish Govern-ment 2005; OECD 2005a; DCSF 2008). It is almost inconceivable that there couldbe teachers in the UK who have not heard of it. As Bennett (2011) states formativeassessment is very much in vogue.</p><p>However, there are fundamental concerns about the way that formative assess-ment has been implemented (James 2008; Swaffield 2011). It is not within thelimits of this paper to explore these concerns in detail. Briefly put, they centreupon the narrow focus of formative assessment, in some UK contexts, on perform-ance, attainment and assessment of learning, whilst placing less emphasis on the par-ticipatory elements of assessment as learning and for learning that are integral toBlack and Wiliams original vision (Swaffield 2011). This may, in part, be linkedto the lack of congruence between formative assessment and the theories of learningthat underpin more traditional classrooms (James 2008) highlighting the fact that theimplementation of the formative assessment process is deeply enmeshed in, andshaped by, the cultures of schools and the teaching and learning environment ofindividual classrooms.</p><p>Of more direct relevance to this paper, however, are concerns about the lack of con-gruence between formative assessment and the inclusive environment (Hollenweger2011). International requirements for inclusive education (UNESCO 2009) placedemands on schools to teach for diversity and therefore for formative assessment pro-cesses to address a wide range of needs (UNESCO 2009). Research from Europe and</p><p>Table 1. The five key strategies and activities of formative assessment (Black and Wiliam2009).</p><p>Five key strategies Five key activities</p><p> Clarifying and sharing learning intentions and successcriteria</p><p> Sharing classroom successcriteria with learners</p><p> Engineering effective classroom discussions and otherlearning tasks that elicit evidence of studentunderstanding</p><p> Classroom questioning</p><p> Providing feedback that moves students forward Comment-only marking Activating students as instructional resources for one</p><p>another Peer and self-assessment</p><p> Activating students as the owners of their own learning Formative use of summativetests</p><p>950 J. Ravet</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>The</p><p> Aga</p><p> Kha</p><p>n U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 00:</p><p>46 1</p><p>8 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>the UK suggests that this requirement presents a powerful challenge to teachers (OECD2005a, 2005b). There is also growing evidence that formative assessment can be pro-blematic for children with additional support needs (Hollenweger 2011). Thoughresearch specific to learners on the autism spectrum is relatively scant, there is evidencethat, for this group, formative assessment is not necessarily an inclusive process(Watkins 2007; EADSNE 2009; Wilkinson and Twist 2010). The next section exploresthis and attempts to explain it.</p><p>Formative assessment, inclusion and autism</p><p>There is significant variability in perceptions of inclusive practice amongst teachers(Ravet 2011). For example, in some contexts, there is little differentiation of learningfor children on the autism spectrum, and confusion over who is responsible for theirlearning and participation classteachers or specialist support teachers (Humphreyand Lewis 2008a). Classrooms like this are likely to be problematic for learners withautism spectrum disorders, for it means that formative assessment may not be modifiedto meet their needs (Watkins 2007).</p><p>However, teachers adopting a more subtle and nuanced understanding of inclusivepractice aim to take the uniqueness of all learners into account (Florian and Black-Hawkins 2011). Florian and Black-Hawkins (2011), for example, set out a frameworkfor inclusive pedagogy based on extending what is ordinarily available to all lear-ners (p. 3) so that everyone is included; rejecting deterministic beliefs about abilitybased on the idea that some learners have a fixed capacity for learning; and avoidinga deficit view of learning by putting the onus on classteachers to find new ways ofteaching all children (Florian and Black Hawkins 2011). Thus, theoretically at least,the formative assessment process is likely to be more participatory and inclusivewithin this framework.</p><p>However, much depends on teachers understanding of autism. Research indicatesthat many teachers still have insufficient autism awareness to effectively support learn-ing and participation (Batten and Daly 2006; HMIE 2006; Humphrey and Lewis2008a). Thus, even among teachers committed to a more responsive inclusive peda-gogy, formative assessment may not be fully adapted to accommodate learners onthe autism spectrum. Some clarification of the learning style associated with autismmay be helpful at this point.</p><p>Key features of autism</p><p>It is well-established that autism is characterised by qualitative differences in func-tioning in three specific areas: communication, social understanding and flexibilityof thought and behaviour (Frith 2003; Jordon 2005; Powell and Jordan 2012).T...</p></li></ul>