Assessment for learning (AFL): Special Educators’ perceptions about the effectiveness of this practice for students with complex learning difficulties and disabilities (CLDD)
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Assessment for learning has been hailed as an assessment practice that can improve achievement in learners. Research has proved that to be true. However, most of this research has been carried out with normally developing students and those with mild disabilities to prove its effectiveness, but there has been very little done with students with complex intellectual learning difficulties and disabilities. This study aimed to explore the effectiveness of assessment for learning in these students and the perceptions of those educators who work with them. An interpretive case study was undertaken in one school which had committed to use assessment for learning with such students. Data was collected from interviews carried out with ten participants; two senior managers, five teachers and two teacher aides. Data collection was triangulated by also reviewing documents, such as school policies, journal entries, reflection notes, teacher planning and professional development minutes. Video evidence from classroom practices was also reviewed to add to the data collected. The data analysis was informed by thematic and constant comparative strategies, which were completed using the data analysis software Nvivo. Themes, patterns and relationships were identified. Methodological triangulation enhanced the validation of the data analysis. It was perceived by the participants in this study that assessment for learning was one of the most effective ways to assist learning and enhance engagement, involvement, participation, communication and autonomy in students with complex learning difficulties and disabilities. Furthermore, it allows collaboration and partnership between the student and the teacher in the learning process. However, it was found out that for this strategy to be effective with this group of learners, adjustments, adaptations and accommodations are required to assist learners to access and navigate through the process of AFL meaningfully. Participants spent a fair amount of time exploring strategies and tools which assisted and scaffolded students in the accessing assessment for learning. This research contributed to the understanding of the use of assessment for learning with learners with complex learning difficulties and disabilities. It justifies that assessment for learning is a collaborative participatory strategy that allows students with complex learning difficulties and disabilities to take some control of their lives and shape their own destinies. It also gives insights as to why total inclusion has been hard to achieve because of the time and effort constraints it puts on mainstream teachers who are already burdened by large classes. Another significance of the study is that practice and meaning making is highly situated and therefore building teacher capacity is paramount and it takes time. The findings of this study should help policy makers, school administrators and Educational officers to understand the demands on teacher time, expertise and capacity that is required when employing assessment for learning with students with complex learning difficulties and disabilities.