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Assessment for learning

According to The New Zealand Curriculum, effective assessment:

  • benefits and involves students
  • supports and informs teaching and learning practices
  • is planned, timely, and negotiated
  • is fit for purpose, varied, valid, and fair.

Very similar principles are to be found in Te Marautanga o Aotearoa (see Te Whakarite Aromatawai Whai Take, p. 15).

Assessment is bigger than NCEA. It is the means (provides the evidence) by which we are able to judge how effective our teaching is, and for whom. And it is the means by which students can measure their progress.

(Absolum, 2006, p. 24)

The primary purpose of assessment is to improve students’ learning and teachers’ teaching as both students and teachers respond to the information that it provides.

(The New Zealand Curriculum, p. 39)

Students need to understand what is going on

As a prerequisite for success, students need to understand the intended learning outcomes for their psychology programme – and the criteria that are the measure of success.

This means that learners need to be inducted into the understandings about assessment that their teachers have and work from. Learning outcomes and criteria are starting points for negotiating shared understandings about purpose, quality, and achievement.

Valuable practices include:

  • using a range of informal and formal assessment tasks
  • using assessment tasks that provide the information that is then used to guide future teaching and learning actions
  • using student or exemplar responses to model learning progressions
  • focusing on what students and teachers need to do to improve (this is better envisaged as developing a roadmap rather than determining a destination).

When students share in the formulation of their own learning goals they are encouraged to take greater ownership of their progress.

Diagnostic, formative, and summative assessment

Diagnostic assessment reveals the extent of any gap between actual and desired levels of knowledge, understanding, or skills.

Formative assessment is used to inform actions designed to close any gap between actual and desired levels of knowledge, understanding, or skills

Summative assessment follows a programme of teaching and learning and provides confirmation of what students know and are able to do.

For many resources relating to assessment in the context of The New Zealand Curriculum see Assessment Online.

Diagnostic assessment

Diagnostic assessment takes place at the beginning of a year or unit of work, and enables a teacher to:

  • establish students’ prior knowledge
  • identify misconceptions
  • differentiate learning needs
  • plan effectively.

What does this look like in psychology?

The following strategies could be used to provide diagnostic assessment data in psychology:

  • thoughtful, reflective questions, with adequate time to respond, for example, counterfactual ‘What if …’ questions – ‘What if everyone had a perfect memory?’
  • questions that involve causality, or open-ended questions – these often reveal student misconceptions
  • encouragement to engage and share, for example, by using a set of A3 whiteboards on which students can write responses or ‘pair–share’ or undertake co-operative learning activities
  • checklists or responses to a visual stimulus (such as a Bobo doll)
  • the suggestion that a certain behaviour matches a certain psychological concept
  • presenting an activity (for example, inversion goggles) or a problem (for example, ‘How can you distinguish a genuine smile from a false smile?’) to provoke a response
  • an experimental task, survey, observation, or interview at the start of a lesson
  • previous school assessments
  • a formal or informal pre-test.

Formative assessment

Formative assessment takes place during learning. It gives teachers and students the opportunity to:

  • provide feedback that will be used to enhance teaching and learning
  • dialogue around learning
  • share success criteria and clarify what good achievement looks like
  • develop self-efficacy and persistence in teaching and learning.


Teacher-student diagram.


Click here if you can't view or read this image.

Questions teachers and students should be asking include:

  • Where are we?
  • Where is our learning going? (Develop criteria for summative assessment.)
  • How do we get there? (Formative assessment has a role.)
  • How will teachers and students engage in continuing dialogue about all of the above? (This is crucial for student empowerment.)

What does this look like in psychology?

The following strategies could be used to provide formative assessment data in psychology:

  • short, minute-by-minute assessment feedback cycles, for example, asking ten questions and randomly choosing a student to respond to each (write students’ names on plant tags and select these from a container)
  • assessment exercises in which students use a checklist or comment on other students’ work in relation to mutually-understood criteria
  • students providing just their ‘top three’ (three most pertinent) feedback comments
  • students revising feedback comments
  • online annotated exemplars of achievement that can be accessed at any time
  • opportunities to reject initial hypotheses and to negotiate viewpoints
  • discussion that exposes students to cognitive conflicts (as when having to consider alternative perspectives, tactics, and strategies instead of simply accepting the ‘right’ one)
  • modelling and structuring of meta-cognitive strategies such as the point, explanation, and evidence method (PEE)
  • students identifying or applying psychological principles in or to new contexts
  • students identifying or constructing different scenarios or contexts for the application of psychological concepts
  • mini whiteboards or a graffiti wall on which students share what and how they are learning and evaluate their own learning
  • students constructing a number of statements or reading out passages that contain truths and errors and their peers identifying what is true and what is not
  • students finding and fixing errors in a passage or a data-show presentation
  • puppet shows that illustrate, for example, Baron-Cohen’s Sally-Ann test or Piaget’s exploration of egocentricity
  • students deciphering simulated gestures or body language (as used by primates such as Washoe or Koko, or by humans in general)
  • short questions that link to the next activity that can be asked when checking the register (register questions), or summary questions that can be asked as each student leaves the classroom (‘exit-pass questions’)
  • students generating, collating, summarising, and explaining anonymously-submitted class data – plotting, for example, self-actualisation against stress or extraversion against music preferences
  • videos presented twice – the second time with the sound turned off and the students providing the commentary
  • portfolios, logbooks, or rubrics
  • cloze activities
  • self-assessment
  • peer-assessment
  • student-generated test or practice examples.

Gather formative assessment data in a variety of ways so that the work of students who may be, for example, either shy or communal is not judged only by their ability to answer on the spot or by their personal, written reflections.

Summative assessment

Summative assessment enables teachers, students, and whānau to gain an indication of student achievement at an appropriate point in time – at the end of a unit of work, term, or year.

Summative judgments concerning a student’s progress and learning should be based on firm data from more than one source.

Assessment data may be used for multiple purposes. Where the same evidence is used for both formative and summative purposes, it should be separately interpreted for each purpose.

What does this look like in psychology?

The following strategies could be used to provide summative assessment data in psychology:

  • portfolios of work
  • tasks that are worked on over multiple class sessions (such as experiments, surveys, observations, or case studies) and then presented as a seminar or poster
  • a web page, blog, or data-show presentation
  • an annotated model or mind map on a psychological theme
  • an oral or multi-media presentation
  • an end-of-unit written test
  • NCEA assessment tasks from TKI or NZQA.

Last updated February 17, 2017