What is Assessment?

Assessment for Learning is the process of seeking, gathering, and interpreting evidence about learners for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there.

Assessment for Learning is also known as formative assessment, though some educational experts suggest that there are subtle differences between the two.

Recent research in education has focused on three types of assessment:
• assessment for learning (AFL);
• assessment as learning (AAL);
• assessment of learning (AOL).

Dr. Lorna Earl, a Canadian expert on assessment, points out that recent findings about the nature of learning clearly shows that that assessment can play an important role in enhancing learning for all students. Assessment for Learning (AFL) is closely related to DifferentiationPerformance TasksInquiry Learning, and IntegratedCurriculum

Each of these three types of assessment can be described as follows:

1. Assessment for learning is designed to give teachers information to modify and
differentiate teaching and learning activities. It acknowledges that individual
students learn in idiosyncratic ways, but it also recognizes that there are predictable
patterns and pathways that many students follow. It requires careful design on the
part of teachers so that they use the resulting information not only to determine
what students know, but also to gain insights into how, when, and whether students
apply what they know. Teachers can also use this information to streamline and
target instruction and resources, and to provide feedback to students to help them
advance their learning.

2. Assessment as learning is a process of developing and supporting metacognition
for students. Assessment as learning focuses on the role of the student as the
critical connector between assessment and learning. When students are active,
engaged, and critical assessors, they make sense of information, relate it to prior
knowledge, and use it for new learning. This is the regulatory process in metacognition.
It occurs when students monitor their own learning and use the feedback
from this monitoring to make adjustments, adaptations, and even major changes
in what they understand. It requires that teachers help students develop, practise,
and become comfortable with reflection, and with a critical analysis of their
own learning.

3. Assessment of learning is summative in nature and is used to confirm what students
know and can do, to demonstrate whether they have achieved the curriculum outcomes,
and, occasionally, to show how they are placed in relation to others. Teachers
concentrate on ensuring that they have used assessment to provide accurate and
sound statements of students’ proficiency, so that the recipients of the information
can use the information to make reasonable and defensible decisions.

(Excerpts from Learning for All: A Guide to Effective Assessment and Instruction for All Students Kindergarten to Grade 12, Ontario MInistry of Education, 2013)

To read more from the document Learning For All: A Guide to Effective Assessment and Instruction or to download the document, click on the link below.


Torlearn more about the relationship between assessment and differentiated instruction, read or download the document Differentiated Instruction Educator’s Package, Ontario Ministry of Education2010, or to download the document, click on the link below.


Related Topics on This Site

ETFO Voice Curriculum Insert: Assessment for Learning

Assessment is an integral part learning. Good assessment takes into account learning styles, strengths, and needs.It is flexible and reflects a student's achievement against set criteria,not against another student. Effective assessment takes place over time and is varied in approach.

Assessment is not an add-on and it is not teacher-centred. Assessment is a part of learning, and that means it is an ongoing part of every day.

(Excerpts from Assessment for Learniing, ETFO Voice, March 2010, pp21-24)

To read more or download the document, click on the link below.




The Importance of Assessment for Learning

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Studies have shown that the use of assessment for learning contributes significantly to improving student achievement, and that improvement is greatest among lower-achieving students (Black & Wiliam, 1998).

Assessment for learning is the process of gathering evidence about a student’s learning from a variety of sources, using a variety of approaches, or “assessment tools”, and interpreting that evidence to enable both the teacher and the learner to determine:
• where the learner is in his or her learning;
• where the learner needs to go; and
• how best to get there.

Teachers can adjust instructional strategies, resources, and environments effectively to help all students learn only if they have accurate and reliable information about what their students know and are able to do at any given time, and about how they learn best. Ongoing assessment for learning provides that critical information; it provides the foundation for differentiated instruction. 

Assessment for learning includes diagnostic assessment and formative assessment:
• Diagnostic assessment can include both classroom (educational) assessments and, where appropriate, professional assessments (i.e., speech and language, medical, and psychological assessments providing information and/or diagnosis of specific conditions that affect learning). Diagnostic assessments are conducted before instruction begins and provide teachers with information about students’ readiness to learn, and about their interests and attitudes. This information establishes the starting point for new learning, and helps teachers and students set appropriate learning goals. It enables teachers to plan instruction and assessments that are differentiated and personalized to meet students’ learning strengths, needs, interests, and learning preferences.

Diagnostic assessment helps identify what the student brings to his or her learning, in general or with respect to a specific subject. Information can be gathered from various sources – from the student, the student’s previous teachers, and the student’s parents, as well as from formal sources, such as the Ontario Student Record. The information gathered provides a baseline that informs further assessment, the results of which can be used in developing a student profile and/or a class profile.

• Formative assessment is conducted frequently and in an ongoing manner during learning and is intended to give teachers and students precise and timely information so that instruction can be adjusted in response to individual students’ strengths and needs, and students can adjust their learning strategies or set different goals. This use of assessment differs from assessment of learning in that the information gathered is used for the specific purpose of helping students improve while they are still gaining knowledge and practising skills. When assessment is viewed as integral to learning, students are engaged as collaborative partners in the learning process.

Formative assessment is used to provide benchmarks to confirm the suitability of istructional strategies and specific interventions for individual students as well as groups of students. A gap analysis can be performed on the basis of these benchmarks to uide reflection on past practice and aid in making sound decisions about future instruction.

The reliability of assessment for learning depends on:
• the identification, clarification, and sharing of learning goals in student-friendly language;
• the student’s understanding of the success criteria of these goals in specific terms – what successful attainment of the learning goals looks like;
• descriptive feedback that helps students consolidate new learning by providing information about what is being done well, what needs improvement, and how to take steps towards improvement; and
• self-assessment that motivates students to work more carefully and recognize their own learning needs, so that they can become effective advocates for how they learn best.

Assessment for learning involves collaboration among teachers, parents, and students, and enables students to experience the successes that come with timely intervention and with
instructional approaches and resources that are suited to the ways they learn best. Both factors help build students’ confidence and provide them with the incentive and encouragement they need to become interested in and focused on their own learning.

The various tools through which student literacy achievement data was collected or against which student performance was measured included:
• PM Benchmarks
• Comprehension Attitude Strategies Interests (CASI)
• Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA)
• Oral Language Assessment
• The Observation Survey
• Pre-Referral Intervention Manual (PRIM)
• Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) testing
• Brigance inventories and screens
• Ontario Writing Assessment (OWA)
• Canadian Achievement Tests (CAT•4)
• Culminating Performance Tasks (CPT)
• teacher-created assessments, samples from “marker” students,
diagnostic and culminating tasks

(Excerpts from Learning for All: A Guide to Effective Assessment and Instruction for All Students Kindergarten to Grade 12, Ontario MInistry of Education, 2013)

To read more from the document Learning For All: A Guide to Effective Assessment and Instruction or to download the document, click on the link below.


Developing an Accurate and Fair Picture of Student Learning

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In order to help all students learn better, Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson advisesclassroom teachers to teach "triarchically," which means to teach students how to analyze, do, and create.

• Some of the time, teach analyically, helping students learn to analyze, evaluate, contrast, critque and judge.

• Some of the time, teach practically, helping students learn to apply, use, utllize, textualize, implement, and put into practice.

• Some of the time, teach creatively, helping students learn to create, invent, imagine, explore, and suppose.

• Much of the time, enable all students to capitalize on their strengths.

• Most of the time, enable all students to correct or compensate for their weaknesses.

• Make sure your assessments match your teaching, calling upon analytical, creative and practical as well as memory skills.

• Value the diverse patterns of abilities in all students.

Tomlinson's recommendation is based to some extent on Robert J Sternberg's general theory of intelligence, the triarchic theory (1981, 1988, 1993). Sternberg's theory, outlined in his seminal work, The Triarchic Mind: A New Theory of Intelligence (NY: Viking Press, 1988), states that intelligence consists of three fundamental aspects: analytical abilities, creative abilities, and practical abilities. 

Analytical ability (componential intelligence) is essentially critical thinking and problem-solving. It is what intelligence tests typically measure and thus what our current education system emphasizes and rewards. Creative ability (experiential intelligence) is the capacity to generate new ideas and new ways to solve problems. Practical ability (contextual intelligence) is one’s ability to understand what is needed in a given situation and respond effectively to the circumstances. To sum the three parts up, think of it like this: “You need creative intelligence to come up with an idea, analytical intelligence to know if it’s a good idea, and practical intelligence to sell it.”

Sternberg's theory broadens our understanding of what intelligence really is. It is not an entirely new idea. There is a close link to that of Aristotle’s 2,300-year-old premise that intelligence is composed of three aspects: theoretical, practical, and productive intelligence.

Sternberg's research suggests that his view of education has clear implications for classroom teaching. His research studies show that many students can learn more effectively if they are taught in a way that better matches their patterns of abilities. Teaching for what he calls successful intelligence provides a way to create such a match. It involves helping all students capitalize on their strengths and compensate for or correct their weaknesses. (Sternberg, Successful Intelligence In The Classroom, The Ohio State University, 2004.)

Getting a clear and accurate picture of student learning over time requires assessing in a similiar manner. In his book, Talk About Assessment: Strategies to Improve Learning (Nelson Canada, 2006), Damian Cooper, a Canadian educational consultant, recommends a similar approach to teaching and assessment. Cooper states that an accurate and fair picture of student learning must be based on the "triangulation of data." This means that assessment must consist of three types of assessment: write, say, & do. This recommendation has since been fine-tuned to four types: write, say, make, & do.

Teaching triarchically also means being extremely selective about the material taught. The book, Intelligence, Instruction, and Assessment: Theory Into Practice, 1998, edited by Robert J Sternberg and Wendy M. Williams, states that students learn better when teachers are more selective about what they teach and make clear to students what is really worth learning. In Ontario we call these learning goals. Damian Cooper and Carol Ann Tomlinson are in agreement with Sternberg's viewpoint.

Damian Cooper's Eight Big Ideas About Assessment

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  • Assessment serves different purposes at different times
  • Assessment must be planned and purposeful
  • Assessment must be balanced and flexible
  • Assessment and instruction are inseparable
  • For assessment to be helpful to students, it must inform them in words, not just numerical scores or letter grades
  • Assessment is a collaborative process
  • Performance standards are an essential component of effective assessment
  • Grading and reporting student achievement is a caring, sensitive process