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Assessment in social studies

Assessment is the primary means by which students can tell if and how they are progressing, and by which teachers can tell if their teaching is ‘working'.

Formative | Nine principles | Checklist and reflection

Without assessment, students, teachers and parents are in the dark about the depth of learning actually achieved, the rate of progress and particularly the next-steps to take. Whether formal or informal, it is much more than just the exit assessment for NCEA.

The NZC expresses it like this:

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.

(The New Zealand Curriculum, p. 39)

For a brief overview of characteristics of effective assessment, see The New Zealand Curriculum (pp. 39–41). More detailed support to aid understand of assessment for learning in senior social studies is found at Assessment Online.

Formative assessment

Consider what you are assessing and why, and choose the best tool for the job.

Immediate feedback

A formative assessment can be as small as a single conversation. Simply asking a student to demonstrate their understanding of the skill, idea or concept being studied allows a judgement to be made regarding depth of understanding and points to the next step with a verbal instruction as feed-forward.

Exit strategies where students write a few sentences on the key learning intention just before the end of the lesson can assess how well the lesson’s success criteria have been met and provide the basis of differentiation for the following lesson’s instruction.

Traffic lighting (or thumb up, sideways, down) and peer assessment – 'explain the concept to your neighbour who will report it to class' – are quick and often fruitful evaluations.

Ongoing feedback

Self-assessments give a student’s perspective of how well they are meeting the requirements of the learning. They reveal where intervention is required or where more challenging work or a faster pace may be appropriate.

Such personal reflections are of high value in providing evidence on which to drive the teaching as inquiry process and in meeting the needs of the individual when a whole-class response is not required.

More formal intermediate ‘milestone’ assessments can indicate to the students if their performance to date is at the appropriate standard for the summative assessment while clearly indicating the actual depth of learning taking place.

Nine principles of assessment

The TKI Assessment for Learning website identifies nine principles of assessment for learning.

Assessment should be underpinned by the confidence that every student can improve, and is driven by the concept of ako – ‘to teach and to learn’ – and by the knowledge of the learner.

The principles can be aligned to different stages in the cyclic process of teaching as inquiry. Assessment follows a cyclic pattern.

In a more complex assessment, like the senior social studies class inquiry, students are advantaged if they know how to approach all the separate parts before starting the assessment. Evaluate both the understandings and inquiry process. Feedback is effective if it provides clear, descriptive, criterion-based information that gives the students guidance on what to do next.

Assessment checklist

How well does your assessment provide for the desired outcomes? The PowerPoint on the TKI Assessment for Learning website – Exploring Assessment for Learning – asks a teacher:

Does your assessment:

  • provide effective feedback to students
  • involve students’ in their own learning
  • adjust how you teach, taking account of the results of assessment
  • recognise the profound influence of assessment on students’ motivation and self-esteem
  • ensure students assess themselves and understand how to improve?

(Source: From Black, P. J., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice, 5 (1), 7–74.)

Resources on assessment for learning

< Pedagogy

Last updated August 15, 2012



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