Principles of Assessment 

The Principles of Teaching, Learning and Assessment focus on the provision of a school and class environment that is intellectually, socially and physically supportive of learning. The principles assist whole-school planning and individual classroom practice. It is essential, therefore, to ensure that there is a shared understanding of them within particular school communities and a collaborative effort to implement these principles in ways appropriate to individual schools.

Assessment should be an integral part of Teaching and Learning

Assessments should arise naturally out of the teaching and intended learning of the curriculum. They should be carefully constructed to enable judgements to be made about students’ progress in ways that contribute to ongoing learning.

To do this, assessments should provide information about fine changes in student learning related to specific aspects of that learning. They should help teachers understand where students are in their learning, what they need to learn next as well as identify any misunderstandings or misconceptions that the students have. It is this fine-grained information that enables teachers to plan programs that challenge students to go beyond what they already know, understand or can do in order to build new knowledge, understandings and skills.

There are myriad ways that teachers can find out where students are in their learning including one-to-one conferencing with individual students, the range of formative assessment strategies that allow teachers to check students’ understandings during the course of the lesson, from learning journals, exhibitions, portfolios and teacher-devised tests and standardised assessments. All the information teachers collect about their students should become an integral part of the planning of instructional activities.

Teachers need to give careful consideration to planning for assessment as well as planning for teaching. This preparation should include planning how they will draw on their own observations and planning for summative assessments. Teachers also need to consider how they will refine their teaching programs based on the information they collect.

Assessment should be educative

Assessment practices should be educationally sound and contribute to learning. Assessments may do this in a number of ways. Firstly, assessment activities should encourage in-depth and long-term learning. Secondly, assessments should provide feedback that assists students in learning and informs teachers’ planning. Thirdly, where appropriate, assessment criteria should be made explicit to students to focus their attention on what they have to achieve and provide students with feedback about their progress.

Assessment needs to be comprehensive and balanced across various domains of learning and assess knowledge and higher order cognitive skills such as problem solving and critical thinking. Assessments need to be aligned with the curriculum and use a variety of assessment strategies on the basis of their relevance to the knowledge, skills and understanding to be assessed and the purpose of the assessment.

Students need to be included in the assessment process. With expert support, students can learn to assess and evaluate their own learning in a way that further extends that learning. It is important that teachers are responsive to the unexpected ways students reveal their thinking. These opportunities can be used to extend or redirect teaching.

Assessment should be fair

Assessment needs to take account of the diverse needs of students, to be equitable with regard to gender, disability, background language and socio-economic status and not discriminate on grounds that are irrelevant to learning.

If assessments are to be fair they should provide valid information on the actual ideas, processes, products and values expected of students. A valid assessment is one that assesses what it is supposed to assess. For example, recall of facts should not be assessed if the primary purpose of the assessment is to collect information about problem solving skills.

Assessments should also provide reliable indications of students’ knowledge, understandings and skills and should be based on the integration of a range of types and sources of evidence.

Assessments should be designed to meet their specific purposes

Information collected to establish where students are in their learning can be used for summative purposes (assessment of learning) and for formative purposes (assessment for learning) because it is used to inform subsequent teaching. The principles of assessment apply to all forms of assessments.

Summative assessment involves assessment procedures that aim to determine students’ learning at a particular time, for example when reporting against the achievement standards, after completion of a unit of work or at the end of a term or semester. The aim of the assessment is to identify students’ achievement at that point in time and it is particularly important that the assessments are fair and that teacher judgements are reliable.

Formative assessment involves a range of informal and formal assessment procedures used by teachers during the learning process in order to improve student attainment and to guide teaching and learning activities. It often involves qualitative feedback (rather than scores) for both students and teachers that focuses on the details of specific knowledge and skills that are being learnt. Therefore it is essential that the assessments provide fine-grained information about student performance that supports teachers to plan learning that challenges students to go beyond what they already know, understand or can do in order to build new knowledge, understandings and skills.

Assessment should lead to informative reporting

Reporting happens at the end of a teaching cycle and should provide an accurate summary of the formative and summative assessment information collected for each student. The purpose of reporting is to provide feedback to students, parents, and teachers. The information is also valuable for school and system-wide planning. It is important that, in addition to providing an accurate synopsis of student performance, the judgements of student achievement are reliable.

Assessment should lead to school-wide evaluation processes

Highly effective schools pay particular attention to teachers’ qualitative and quantitative data and standardised test data. Teachers and school leaders need to understand current and past student achievement levels, be explicit about targets for improvement and be explicit about how progress towards those targets will be monitored. School leaders need to plan for how they will evaluate the effectiveness of school initiatives and programs. Teachers should plan for how they will reflect on and evaluate their teaching practices. This implies that schools and teachers need to be willing to identify and evaluate both the intended and unintended consequences of any initiative or program.