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Assessment for learning

"It is important to assess what we value rather than narrow our focus to value what we assess."

Assessment (Ministry of Education Position Paper, August 2010)

"The primary purpose of assessment is to improve students’ learning and teachers’ teaching as both student and teacher respond to the information that it provides. With this in mind, schools need to consider how they will gather, analyse, and use assessment information so that it is effective in meeting this purpose.
Assessment for the purpose of improving student learning is best understood as an ongoing process that arises out of the interaction between teaching and learning."

The New Zealand Curriculum, p. 39

"Assessment is how we check that learning is taking, or has taken place so that we can decide what needs to happen next. It looks back, it looks forward. It can play a key role in raising achievement and improving student outcomes when undertaken effectively and appropriately."

Assessment (Ministry of Education Position Paper, August 2010)

When planning for assessment, teachers need to consider:

  • what information should be gathered
  • how the information will be gathered
  • who will contribute to and use the information to be gathered
  • how the information will be used.

Use a range of assessments

Effective teachers use a range of formal and informal assessments to identify prior knowledge (strengths, gaps, and misconceptions), monitor learning progress, and determine what they need to do next to further learning.

In the course of regular classroom activity, teachers collect information about how students learn, what they know and are able to do, and what interests them. In this way, they find out what is working and what is not, and are able to make informed teaching and learning decisions.

Use NCEA results to inform teaching and learning

Formal assessment tasks, including assessment against NCEA standards, can also be used to support better learning. Internal and external assessments can be used by teachers to identify strengths to build on, and gaps to remedy. Students could discuss their returned NCEA papers with teachers to recognise the evident strengths and identify next steps.

Develop student assessment capability

Students’ learning is at the centre of all assessment. Developing student assessment capability will enable them to take more responsibility for collecting, analysing, and using information about their learning and achievement. This involves actively assessing their own learning process, recognising important moments in their personal learning, and being able to identify what their next steps in learning should be. The skills to self-assess and reflect on learning are skills that can be taught. 

Learn more:

Identify prior knowledge

Students are more engaged and ready to learn when they can make links to their existing knowledge. Finding out what students already understand and can do helps teachers target their teaching. With such information teachers can differentiate the context, content, and level of support that will best promote learning.

Teachers and students make use of information gained from sources such as:

  • previous assessments
  • brainstorming as a class or individual activity, for example, by using ‘Know; Want to know; Learned …’ (KWL) charts
  • student interviews
  • practical activities (for example, creating a chart of definitions for the topic using a mix and match activity and publishing this online)
  • using a rich task as a diagnostic tool
  • group learning activities, for example: each group chooses a different business to analyse; takes a large piece of newsprint and different colour marker pens and draws the financial elements (using pictures and diagrams rather than words) specific to the chosen business; and then explains to the class their selection of items for each financial element
  • questioning (teacher to student, student to student, student to teacher)
  • student self-assessment against success criteria for the unit, for example, students identify the knowledge and skills they already have, the things they need to revise, and the areas they are unfamiliar with.

It is also helpful to find out background information about students, culturally locating them in the class.

Monitor learning progress

The purpose of monitoring learning progress is to help teacher and students:

  • understand what the students are actually learning
  • access feedback that will enhance the teacher’s teaching and the students’ learning
  • plan the next episode or phase and address gaps in understanding.

Successful monitoring relies on developing learning focused relationships between the teacher and his or her students, the students themselves, and the students and teacher.

Teacher-student diagram.


What are we trying to learn?

‘We are doing a reconciliation on our bank statement but what are we learning as we do that?’ (The intended learning could be understanding how to record cash transactions and how the bank records those same transactions, why there might be differences that need to be reconciled, and why that is important from the students’ perspective.)

Why is it important to learn this?

Questions for students include:

  • How does this learning link to previous learning and big ideas? How does it contribute to the success of the unit? (For example, learning to reconcile bank statements links to learning about recording cash transactions.)
  • How could this learning be useful in other subjects or life outside school? For example, learning to evaluate sources of information on the Internet will be useful when doing research in any subject and will help us make informed decisions.
  • What gap in our knowledge does this learning address?
  • How well have we learned it?
  • What do we now know or understand should be done?
  • Can we recognise when our work is accurate? Do we know how to correct mistakes?
  • Can we apply this learning to different situations?
  • Could we explain or teach the concepts we have learned to another person?
  • Have we achieved all of the criteria for success for this learning?

How do we know what we have understood or can now do?

  • Students could check their learning against criteria and models, assessing themselves or peer assessing, using assessment criteria and exemplars (or models of work) to evaluate levels of success, for example: Not Achieved, Achieved, Achieved with Merit, Achieved with Excellence.
  • Students could respond to teacher questioning and challenge. The teacher gives an ‘answer’ and asks the students for the question. The students write their answers to a question on mini whiteboards and display responses so that misconceptions are picked up (everyone is thinking and responding rather than one person answering a question).
  • Students submit draft work for interim assessment and feedback.
  • Students could successfully apply the skills and knowledge in different situations (for example, to homework problems, test situations, in real life).

What strategies do we use to promote learning? (What do we do when we don’t know what to do?)

  • Ask students to pinpoint the problem. They need to clarify (describe) what they do know and where they have got stuck (for example, by using success criteria).
  • Students could refer to notes, success criteria, or a worked model to try to problem-solve the issue independently.
  • Students could use feedback from previous work to focus on previous gaps or learning.

Identify next learning steps

Assessment has a key role in helping identify the direction for future learning. The information gathered will help teachers recognise successful learning and learning gaps that need to be addressed. It will also reinforce to students what they have achieved and what they need to focus on with their learning.

Learning progressions and alignment

The effective teacher understands the progression in learning in a curriculum area. This is vital in helping prioritise learning and identifying next steps.

Students frequently need support to situate their current learning (for example, recognising key features of a financial report) within the bigger picture (learning to interpret accounting information for a small entity that operates accounting subsystems). Teachers can provide this information when they are introduce the learning and discuss its relevance with students.

By using graphic organisers (such as mind maps or spider charts), teachers can clarify their own thinking and share or assess the structure of the learning with students.

Make learning explicit

Help students to take more responsibility for their learning by ensuring that they are clear on intended learning and understand its importance and relevance. Effective learning intentions describe the knowledge, skills, or understanding that can be applied to a number of contexts rather than describing the task that will be used to facilitate the learning.

Students will be able to analyse their progress and identify their next steps when they are clear about what quality learning looks like. Understanding quality can involve the process of the learning (process success criteria) or the outcome of the learning (product success criteria).

Modelling can be used to illustrate what successful learning looks like. Exemplars are valuable in demonstrating varying levels of success for students, and can be used to co-construct success criteria.

Give focused feedback

Feedback is a conversation between teacher and student about the learning that has occurred. John Hattie (2003) * identifies feedback as the most influential factor in promoting learning, more significant than students’ prior cognitive ability and instructional quality. Feedback informs both the student and the teacher and provides direction for teaching and learning.

Formative feedback:

  • can occur through informal roaming conversations, conferencing with groups and individuals, formal written comments, or self-reflection by the learner
  • is linked to the intended learning and success criteria
  • recognises student success relative to the stated success criteria
  • provides next steps for learning
  • includes appropriate amounts of scaffolding so that students can use the feedback
  • includes time for students to implement or practice the next steps
  • is ideally initiated by the learner so that they identify what feedback they are needing to support their learning, for example: ‘I think I have correctly identified all of the assets but I am struggling to find any liabilities. Can you check what I have done and explain how I know if something is a liability?’

*Hattie, J. (2003, October). Teachers Make a Difference - What is the research evidence? (PDF 548KB). University of Auckland; Australian Council for Educational Research.

Go beyond traditional assessment tasks

  • Have students complete a task as a group, addressing issues of individual accountability by completing a reflective journal recording their explanation of the processes and the outcomes of the shared work.
  • Students create annotated portfolios (possibly e-portfolios) of their work to demonstrate their learning. The annotations record reflections on their learning and should link to learning intentions and specific achievement criteria for a lesson or unit. The students describe successes and next steps in learning and may refer to models as points of comparison.
  • Students use practical situations (for example, preparing a tax refund application) then share their reasons for using specific strategies or steps, making reference to theory and key concepts.
  • Students choose how they can demonstrate their learning. For example, instead of doing a written test, they could make an end-of-unit oral presentation, create assessment tasks with a marking schedule, teach a group of students about the concept or principle they have mastered, or design and create a webpage, a data show presentation, a video, or a poster.
  • Students work on a rich task over time (for multiple class sessions or across several units) that enables them to demonstrate their understanding of several big ideas and their capability in several accounting practices. For example, they could carry out an ongoing case study on a community organisation or sole proprietor over three months. They will gather and sort financial information as it becomes available (processing) and prepare a variety of financial statements (reporting). This work would give them the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of reliability (being trustworthy, organised, and delivering on time) and relevance (being able to connect current information and keep up to date on any changes that might affect decision making).

Last updated August 12, 2013