Assessment in the classroom

Classroom-based assessment: (as described by the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards)

  • provides opportunities for teachers to gather evidence about student achievement in relation to syllabus outcomes

  • enables students to demonstrate what they know and can do

  • clarifies student understanding of concepts and promotes deeper understanding

  • provides evidence that current understanding is a suitable basis for future learning.

At all times, classroom-based assessment practices need to be aligned to relevant school and system policies and procedures relating to this area. Within this context, it is important to maintain focus on the main purpose of classroom-based assessment and that is to improve student learning. Classroom-based assessment:

  • provides opportunities for teachers to gather evidence about student achievement in relation to syllabus outcomes

  • enables students to demonstrate what they know and can do

  • clarifies student understanding of concepts and promotes deeper understanding

  • provides evidence that current understanding is a suitable basis for future learning. Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards

There is considerable evidence that assessment is a powerful process for enhancing learning. Black and Wiliam (1998) synthesised over 250 studies linking assessment and learning, and found that the intentional use of assessment in the classroom to promote learning improved student achievement. Further, Black and Wiliam (1999) assert that the research indicates that improving learning through assessment depends on five, deceptively simple key factors:

  • the provision of effective feedback to pupils

  • the active involvement of pupils in their own learning

  • adjusting teaching to take account of the results of assessment

  • a recognition of the profound influence assessment has on the motivation and self-esteem of pupils, both of which are crucial influences on learning

  • the need for pupils to be able to assess themselves and understand how to improve.

Approaches to assessment

Assessment includes three approaches that together contribute to student learning. Terms such as diagnostic, formative, and summative have recently been supplemented with newer phrases to describe the three approaches to assessment:

Assessment for learning involves teachers using evidence about students' knowledge, understanding and skills to inform their teaching. Sometimes referred to as ‘formative assessment', it usually occurs throughout the teaching and learning process to clarify student learning and understanding.

(Board of Studies, Teaching & Educational Standards)

Assessment as learning occurs when students are their own assessors. Students monitor their own learning, ask questions and use a range of strategies to decide what they know and can do, and how to use assessment for new learning.

(Board of Studies, Teaching & Educational Standards)

Assessment of learning assists teachers in using evidence of student learning to assess achievement against outcomes and standards. Sometimes referred to as ‘summative assessment', it usually occurs at defined key points during a unit of work or at the end of a unit, term or semester, and may be used to rank or grade students. The effectiveness of assessment of learning for grading or ranking depends on the validity and reliability of activities. Its effectiveness as an opportunity for learning depends on the nature and quality of the feedback.

(Board of Studies, Teaching & Educational Standards)

Approaches to assessment

Traditionally, the focus of classroom assessment has been on assessment of learning - measuring learning after the fact, using the information to make judgements about students’ performances, and reporting these judgements to others.

During the 1990’s a groundswell of research emphasised the importance of assessment for learning (formative assessment). Teachers were using assessment for learning when they built in diagnostic processes, formative assessment, and feedback at various stages in the teaching and learning process. It was, however, often informal and implicit.

More recently, assessment for learning has been separated into assessment for learning and assessment as learning to emphasise the role of the student in the assessment process.

Systematic assessment as learning—where students become critical analysts of their own learning - is an important form of assessment that needs to go beyond incorporating self-assessment into teaching programs and became an assessment practice that is systematically used to develop students’ capacity to evaluate and adapt their own learning.

A teacher and his/her students need to know who reaches (and exceeds) important learning targets—thus … assessment of learning, has a place in teaching. Robust learning generally requires robust teaching … and assessments for learning are catalysts for better teaching. In the end, however, when assessment is seen as learning—for students as well as for teachers—it becomes most informative and generative for students and teachers alike. Tomlinson (2008)

Tomlinson (2008) summarises these approaches as:

  • informing teaching

  • informing learning

  • judging performance.

Regardless of the assessment approach, what matters most is how the information is used to improve student learning.

When making decisions about classroom assessment it is necessary to understand the key similarities and differences between the three approaches to classroom assessment. This understanding is important to incorporate into the process when planning assessment strategies. Considerations when planning assessment include:

  • what is the purpose?

  • what will be the timing and location?

  • what is being assessed?

  • how will the assessment information be gathered?

  • how will the assessment information be used?

icon: PDF linked to An overview of the key similarities and differences between the three approaches
An overview of the key similarities and differences (.pdf 134kB) between the three approaches.

Assessment for and as learning

A combination of assessment for learning and assessment as learning is a powerful way to improve student learning. The definition below of assessment for learning incorporates the concept of assessment as learning by including actions for both teachers and learners.

Assessment for Learning is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there. (Assessment Reform Group, 2002)

When using assessment for learning and assessment as learning, the Ontario Ministry of Education (2014) suggests teachers need to:

Icon: PDF linked to plan assessment concurrently
Plan assessment concurrently (.pdf 131kB) and integrate it seamlessly with instruction.

Link to PDF: Share learning goals and success criteria
Share learning goals and success criteria (.pdf 112kB) with students so that students and teachers have a shared understanding of these goals and criteria as learning progresses.

Link to PDF: Gather information about student learning
Gather information about student learning (.pdf 222kB) before, during, and at or near the end of instruction.

Link to PDF: Give and receive specific and timely descriptive feedback
Give and receive specific and timely descriptive feedback (.pdf 81kB) about student learning.

Link to PDF: Help students to develop skills of self and peer assessment
Help students to develop skills of self and peer assessment (.pdf 85kB).

Link to PDF: Engage students in individual goal setting
Engage students in individual goal setting (.pdf 86kB), reflecting on and monitoring their own learning.

Strategies for assessment for and as learning

Research has identified three key processes integral to effective assessment for and as learning:

  • Establishing where learners are going in their learning. (Where am I going?)

  • Establishing where learners currently are in their learning. (Where am I now?)

  • Establishing what needs to be done to get learners to where they are going. (How can I close the gap?)

Based on these three processes, Stiggins, Arter, Chappuis, & Chappius (2007) present a useful framework of seven strategies for using assessment as a tool for and as learning.

This framework provides a sequence for introducing and implementing the three key processes above and incorporates the essential components recommended by the Ontario Ministry of Education.

The strategies (below) reflect a progression that unfolds in the classroom over time. Students will have trouble engaging in later steps (such as assessment) if they have not had experience with earlier steps (understanding learning targets and reliably assessing work). Likewise, it is much harder for students to communicate their progress if the learning targets are not clear, if they are not adept at assessing their work, and if they don’t know what they need to do to improve. Stiggins, Arter, Chappuis, & Chappius (2007)

Strategy 1 Provide students with a clear and understandable vision of the learning goal/s.

Strategy 2 Use examples and models of strong and weak work.

Strategy 3 Offer regular descriptive feedback.

Strategy 4 Teach students to self-assess and set goals.

Strategy 5 Design lessons to focus on one learning goal or aspect of quality at a time.

Strategy 6 Teach students focused revision.

Strategy 7 Engage students in self-reflection, and let them keep track of and share their learning.

Assessment of  learning

Assessment of learning or summative assessment provides evidence of student learning at certain key points in time to summarise what pupils know, understand or can do against the relevant year level achievement standard for different learning areas/subjects in order to report achievement and progress.

Assessment of learning takes place after learning has occurred, to determine if it did. It is used to:

  • plan future learning goals and pathways for students

  • provide evidence of achievement to the wider community, including parents, educators, the students themselves and outside groups

  • provide a transparent interpretation across all audiences.

Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards

Syllabus outcomes within a standards framework and related learning goals established at the beginning of a year, semester, term or unit of work provide the basis for making decisions about learning at key points in time.

Assessment of learning requires teachers to make judgements about student learning and to communicate to parents, other teachers and to students themselves about what students know and can do in relation to the standards-referenced framework of syllabuses.

The reference point of the syllabus standards is a crucial factor in assessment of learning. Other reference points, such as other students (comparisons) and the students themselves (individual progress) should be communicated separately and should not interfere with judgements. Effective implementation of assessments for and as learning ensures that the results do not come as a surprise to students and parents/carers.

It is important that the underlying logic and measurement of assessment of learning be credible and defensible. Gathering information over time and triangulating assessment of learning information assists in ensuring the accuracy of decisions made.

With the help of their teachers, students can look forward to assessment of learning tasks as occasions to show their competence, as well as the depth and breadth of their learning.

For more details about the use of assessment information:

Link to PDF: Using assessment fo learning
Using assessment of learning information (.pdf 78kB)