Assessment can be defined as the systematic collection, interpretation and use of information about learning. It gives teachers a better awareness of what pupils know and understand, what their learning experiences enable them to do and what their skills and personal capabilities are.
Principles of Assessment
The five principles that underpin quality assessment practice specify it should:
- be complementary to and supportive of learning;
- be valid and reliable;
- be fit for purpose and manageable;
- support teachers’ professional judgement; and
- support accountability.
Types of Assessment
A range of assessment approaches can be used for different reasons at various stages in the learning sequence.
- Formative assessment is a range of formal and informal assessment procedures used by teachers during the learning process so they can modify teaching and learning activities to improve pupil attainment.
- Summative assessment comes at the end of a learning sequence and is used to acknowledge, record and report on pupils’ overall achievement at a given point.
- Diagnostic assessment is used to identify individual strengths, areas for improvement and to inform next steps.
- Evaluative assessment is concerned with the overarching performance of arrangements in a department, school or system.
Formative approaches to assessment focus on improving learning while summative assessment captures a record of learning at the end of a period of study. However, formative and summative assessments are not in opposition; they are interrelated and complementary. The information from formative assessment, supplemented by class tests or tasks, helps to ensure dependable summative assessment.
The quality of assessment is based on the teacher’s professional ability to use a range of assessment methods that produce accurate results. Good assessment practice involves teachers applying the five principles to every assessment approach they choose.
Purposes of Assessment
Assessment is central to successful teaching and learning. To determine the effectiveness of a sequence of instruction, teachers need to gauge pupils’ progress in understanding what they want them to learn.
Assessment is the link between teaching and learning. It is important because without it there is no way to anticipate what pupils will actually take from their classroom experiences and this might be quite different from what was intended. Assessment helps teachers find out what has actually taken place in pupils’ developing understanding during a sequence of teaching and learning.
Teachers may use a range of strategies that can provide information about pupils’ progress, including:
- teacher observation of pupils engaging in classroom activities;
- teacher observation of pupils’ performances;
- teacher checking of pupil work;
- pupils checking each other’s work and similar forms of peer assessment;
- questioning to check for understanding;
- end of topic tests;
- exams; and
- other tasks, projects and assignments.
Assessment is not Measurement
It’s important to emphasise that assessment is not synonymous with measurement. The varieties of assessment that are useful in an educational context will sometimes include aspects of measurement in terms of scores, grades and results. However, the range of approaches that teachers use in their everyday work to monitor how well their classes are doing will be equally prevalent.
Assessment plays a crucial role in improving learning and raising standards. It’s a key professional competence for teachers that enables them to make learning and teaching more effective.
Assessment in schools: Fit for purpose? A Commentary by the Teaching and Learning Research Programme
This booklet was produced by the Teaching and Learning Research Programme based at the Institute of Education, University of London. It provides a broad general overview of the policy background and position of assessment in education in schools.