If they can’t practice, they can’t win! The importance of purpose in classroom assessment

There is a lot of discussion about the importance of assessment in schools. The days where teaching consists of chalk-and-talk followed by example exercises, quizzes, tests, and exams have been replaced with a more refined understanding of what is happening in effective classrooms. Classroom assessment has taken on many dimensions with terminology that is inundating teachers.

  • Performance assessment
  • Alternative assessment
  • Portfolio assessment
  • Self-assessment
  • Peer-assessment
  • Assessment FOR learning
  • Assessment AS learning
  • Authentic assessment
  • Integrative assessment
  • Holistic assessment
  • etc…

There are indeed many ways in which a teacher can approach assessment in the classroom. But, like all good decisions that maximize learning, the assessment approach selected should fit the purpose. In other words, teachers need to select assessment strategies with purpose in mind.

When the purpose of classroom assessment is clear and explicit, assessments can be well designed to ensure they offers the information sought out by the teacher/student. One way to approach selecting purpose is to decide how the assessment relates to learning?

  1. Is the assessment intended to determine if the student learned certain objectives?
  2. Is the assessment intended to improve the learning process?
  3. Is the assessment intended to help the student better understand their own learning?

1. If the assessment is meant to determine if if the student learned certain objectives, then the purpose is Assessment OF learning.

Assessment OF learning is summative in nature. Examples are tests, exams, laboratory reports, physical fitness tests, and presentations that evaluate specific learning objectives. The teacher uses the results of these assessments to decide if the student has achieved the curriculum outcomes in the course and to report on student proficiency.

2. If the assessment is meant to improve the learning process, then the purpose is Assessment FOR learning.

Assessment FOR Learning is formative in nature. The information from these assessments direct teachers pedagogy so that they can modify how they are teaching to better meet the needs of the students. For example, when a student is writing an essay and hands in a draft to the teacher, the teacher can read and decide if the student needs some direction on sentence structure, thesis statement, or spelling. The teacher can then design a teaching approach to target student learning. It is noteworthy that the teacher does not grade the student’s work at this point … the teacher is only offering feedback FOR learning.

3. If the assessment is meant to help the student better understand their own learning, then the purpose is Assessment AS learning.

Assessment AS learning helps students to understand their own ways of thinking and learning. This is the kind of assessment that is meant to give students the lifelong tools of learning how to learn. This is when the teacher supports the student in connecting the assessment to their own learning. For example, when a teacher offers a rubric for a laboratory report and then requires the student to reflect on their own work using the rubric, the student is reflecting on their own learning with respect to the learning objectives of science.

It is important for teachers to know why they are developing an assessment so that there is a balance in classrooms and students have the opportunity to learn and improve. Assessment for/as learning is about student learning and helping students progress.

If students are not given the opportunity to practice with supportive feedback, then how can they be expected to suddenly perform? We would not expect our football players to win any games without practice, why would we expect this from our students?

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One thought on “If they can’t practice, they can’t win! The importance of purpose in classroom assessment

  1. Sadly, the purpose of most assessment in schools today is for a final standardized exam. Is there a way to reconcile best assessment practices to what the students will be required to do on these standardized exams?

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