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Assessment Basics

Assessment is an information gathering process that enables teachers to make decisions about students' learning and the direction instruction needs to take. The primary purpose of assessment is to inform teaching and improve learning.

What is Assessment?

Unfortunately, depending on whom you ask, the answer may be very different. For many years assessment in school has been incomplete, providing only a very limited picture of a student’s total knowledge. Assessment has been largely diagnostic, used to identify weaknesses prior to teaching, or summative, used to measure learning after teaching has taken place. These types of assessment are still important, but hopefully, assessment today is much more than tests, rubrics, and giving grades.

Assessment must also be formative, an integral part of instruction. It is an information gathering process that enables teachers to make decisions about students’ learning and the direction instruction needs to take. It gives feedback to students that allow changes to be made to improve performance. The primary purpose of assessment then is to inform teaching and improve learning.

Much of the confusion teachers feel about assessment comes from mixing it with evaluation. Evaluation differs from assessment in that evaluation is the gathering of information to rate, score, grade, judge, or document. Actually much of what is being called classroom assessment is really classroom evaluation, and the power to monitor and adjust on the part of both the student and the teacher is lost. Good teachers must do both: assess and evaluate.

Evaluation alone judges one brief snapshot of what students know or can do. A complete assessment plan must include multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning and attainment of standards using a variety of assessment tools.

Teachers must move away from thinking of themselves as merely evaluators. Teachers must become assessors. To think like an assessor does not come easily or naturally because most teachers assess the way they were assessed (evaluated, really) in school. Teachers must begin by asking themselves what evidence will be necessary to assess the core knowledge that has been targeted. The next step is to fully understand the principles of assessment to create valid and appropriate assessments that give teachers and their students important information to monitor and adjust teaching and learning.

Types of Assessments

When choosing types of assessment, it is important to have a variety of assessment tools. It is critical that the type of assessment you choose matches the core, knowledge, and criteria being assessed.

Assessment falls into two categories and four types:


Selected Response

Constructed Response - Short Answer | Products | Performances

Assessment reporting and feedback methods include:


Teacher Observation


Principles of Assessment

  • Assesses the targeted standards/performance indicators/core curricula
  • Assessment type (selected response, short answer, product, performance) is appropriate for assessing the identified declarative knowledge and/or procedural knowledge
  • Provides exemplars of student work in relation to standards/performance indicators/core curricula
  • Makes standards/criteria/expectations known to students early in the instructional process
  • Uses multiple methods
  • Uses appropriate criteria and procedures for scoring and reporting results
  • Regularly provides feedback to students about their learning in relation to standards/performance indicators/core curriculum
  • Enables students to show their strengths and show what they know and can do in a variety of ways (e.g. Multiple intelligences, learning styles)
  • Involves students in self assessment
  • Permits accommodations/modifications
Technically Sound
  • Is valid
    • Are the standards/performance indicators/core curricula taught being assessed?
    • Does the assessment assess what it purports to assess?
  • Is reliable
    • Does the assessment provide sufficient information to make dependable decisions?
    • Are the results likely to be consistent from student to student and over time?
  • Has clear language
  • Is fair and avoids bias
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