Assessment Advice

From Term 1 2017, Victorian government and Catholic schools will use the new Victorian Curriculum F-10. Curriculum related information is currently being reviewed and may be subject to change.

For more information on the curriculum, see:
The Victorian Curriculum F–10 - VCAA

​Assessment is the ongoing process of gathering, analysing and reflecting on evidence to make informed and consistent judgements to improve future student learning.

Purpose of assessment

Assessment for improved student learning and deep understanding requires a range of assessment practices to be used with three overarching purposes:

  • Assessment for learning - occurs when teachers use inferences about student progress to inform their teaching
  • Assessment as learning - occurs when students reflect on and monitor their progress to inform their future learning goals
  • Assessment of learning - occurs when teachers use evidence of student learning to make judgements on student achievement against goals and standards.

 

Principles for assessment

Substantial research exists on the characteristics of good practice for assessing student learning. This research is summarised in the following set of principles.

  • The primary purpose of assessment is to improve student performance
    Good assessment is based on a vision of the kinds of learning we most value for students and how they might best achieve these. It sets out to measure what matters most.

  • Assessment should be based on an understanding of how students learn
    Assessment is most effective when it reflects the fact that learning is a complex process that is multi-dimensional, integrated and revealed in student performance over time.

  • Assessment should be an integral component of course design and not something to add afterwards
    The teaching and learning elements of each program should be designed in full knowledge of the sorts of assessment students will undertake, and vice versa, so that students can demonstrate what they have learned and see the results of their efforts.

  • Good assessment provides useful information to report credibly to parents on student achievement
    A variety of assessment methods provide teachers with evidence of what students know and can do, and their particular strengths and weaknesses. Teachers can then report to parents on how far their child has progressed during the year, where they are compared to the relevant standards, and what the student, the parent and the teacher need do to improve the student's performance.

  • Good assessment requires clarity of purpose, goals, standards and criteria
    Assessment works best when it is based on clear statements of purpose and goals for the course, the standards which students are expected to achieve, and the criteria against which we measure success. Assessment criteria need to be understandable and explicit so students know what is expected of them from each assessment they encounter. Staff, students, parents and the community should all be able to see why assessment is being used, and the reasons for choosing each individual form of assessment in its particular context.

  • Good assessment requires a variety of measures
    In general, a single assessment instrument will not tell us all we need to know about student achievement and how it can be improved. Therefore, we need to be familiar with a variety of assessment tools so we can match them closely to the type of information we seek.

  • Assessment methods used should be valid, reliable and consistent
    Assessment instruments and processes should be chosen which directly measure what they are intended to measure. They should include the possibility of moderation between teachers where practical and appropriate to enhance objectivity and contribute to a shared understanding of the judgments that are made.

  • Assessment requires attention to outcomes and processes
    Information about the outcomes students have achieved is very important to know where each student ends up, but so too is knowing about their experiences along the way and, in particular, the kind of effort that led to these outcomes.

  • Assessment works best when it is ongoing rather than episodic
    Student learning is best fostered when assessment involves a linked series of activities undertaken over time, so that progress is monitored towards the intended course goals and the achievement of relevant standards.

  • Assessment for improved performance involves feedback and reflection
    All assessment methods should allow students to receive feedback on their learning and performance so assessment serves as a developmental activity aimed at improving student learning. Assessment should also provide students and staff with opportunities to reflect on both their practice and their learning overall.

Reporting

Reporting is the process by which assessment information is communicated to help students, parents, teachers and the system to make decisions by providing information about what students know and can do, together with recommendations for their future learning.

For more information, see: Student reporting

Presentations and workshops

Assessment presentation (ppt - 1,022.5kb) - this presentation outlines the key concepts underlying effective assessment. Principals and leadership teams can present the PowerPoint slideshows to staff to familiarise them with the concepts of assessment for, as and of learning. It includes questions and activities as well as speaker notes.

Assessment Advice workshop

This workshop familiarises and deepens understanding of the Department’s Assessment Advice in relation to curriculum planning. The workshop takes approximately 90 minutes to complete and can be delivered in sections. This workshop consists of a PowerPoint presentation and two worksheets.

Assessment Advice presentation (ppt - 640.5kb) - this outlines the key concepts underlying effective assessment. Principals and leadership teams can present the PowerPoint slideshows to staff to familiarise them with the concepts of assessment for, as and of learning. It includes questions and activities as well as speaker notes.

Notes for the Assessment Advice PowerPoint presentation (doc - 77.5kb) - this provides a complete set of the notes on each of the slides in this presentation.

Worksheet 1 (doc - 46.5kb) - this assists teachers to compare their current understanding of assessment with the Victorian Department of Education's Assessment Advice and supports Slide 5 of the 'Assessment Advice' PowerPoint presentation.

Worksheet 2 (doc - 45.5kb) -  this is a Y-Chart to be used on slides on 11, 15 and 20-24. This tool allows teachers to list assessment approaches for each type of assessment, assessment for learning, assessment as learning and assessment of learning.

Discussion Starters

The following discussion starters are for use in a staff meeting or as a professional development activity. They are extracts from recent research into assessment and have a number of questions to encourage thinking and discussion on assessment for, as and of learning. The questions are a starter only and more can be added.

Discussion starter 1

Read the following quote and consider the discussion starter questions

The most important difficulties with assessment revolve around three issues. The first issue is effective learning.

  • The tests used by teachers encourage rote and superficial learning even when teachers say they want to develop understanding. Many teachers seem unaware of the inconsistency.
  • The questions and other methods teachers use are not shared with other teachers in the same school. In addition, the questions are not critically reviewed in relation to what they actually assess.
  • For primary teachers in particularly, there is a tendency to emphasise quantity and presentation of work and to neglect its quality in relation to learning.

The second issue is negative impact

  • The giving of marks and the grading function are overemphasised, while the giving of useful advice and the learning function are underemphasised.
  • Approaches are used in which students are compared with one another, the prime purpose of which seems to be competition rather than personal improvement. As a result, feedback on assessment may lead low-achieving students to believe that they lack ‘ability’. This may emphasise some students’ belief that they are not able to learn.

The third issue is the managerial role of assessments.

  • Teachers' feedback to students seems to serve social and managerial functions, often at the expense of the learning function.
  • Teachers are often able to predict students' results on external tests because their own tests imitate them. At the same time teachers are not really familiar with their learning needs.
  • The collection of marks to complete student records is given higher priority than the analysis of students' work to discern learning needs. Furthermore, some teachers pay no attention to the assessment records of their students' previous teachers.

Black, P. & Wiliam, D. 1998. Inside the Black Box: Raising standards through classroom assessment, King’s College London

Discussion starter questions

  • Which of these is an issue in your school, unit or team? Why?
  • What effect can and does this have on student learning?
  • What can you do to change these issues in your classroom, year level or unit?
Discussion starter 2

Read the following quote and consider the discussion starter questions

The student is the ultimate user of assessment information elicited to improve learning. There are negative and positive aspects of this fact. When the classroom culture focuses on rewards, ‘gold stars’, grades, or class ranking, then students look for ways to obtain the best marks rather than to improve their learning. One reported consequence is that, when they have any choice, students avoid difficult tasks. They also spend time and energy looking for clues to the ‘right answer.’ Indeed, many become reluctant to ask questions out of a fear of failure. Students who encounter difficulties are led to believe that they lack ability, and this belief leads them to attribute their difficulties to a defect in themselves about which they cannot do a great deal. Thus they avoid investing effort in learning that can lead only to disappointment, and they try to build up their self-esteem in other ways.

The positive aspect of students' being the primary users of the information gleaned from formative assessments is that negative outcomes – such as an obsessive focus on competition and the attendant fear of failure on the part of low achievers – are not inevitable. What is needed is a culture of success, backed by a belief that all students can achieve. In this regard, formative assessment can be a powerful weapon if it is communicated in the right way. While formative assessment can help all students, it yields particularly good results with low achievers by concentrating on specific problems with their work and giving them a clear understanding of what is wrong and how to put it right. Students can accept and work with such messages, provided that they are not clouded by overtones about ability, competition, and comparison with others. In summary, the message can be stated as follows: feedback to any student should be about the particular qualities of their work, with advice on what he or she can do to improve, and should avoid comparisons with other students.

Black, P. & Wiliam, D. 1998. Inside the Black Box: Raising standards through classroom assessment, King’s College London

Discussion starter questions

  • What are some of the negative and positive aspects of the students being the ‘ultimate user of assessment’ in your school?
  • How is a ‘culture of success’ developed in your school or class?
  • How is feedback used in your school or class?
Discussion starter 3

Read the following quote and consider the discussion starter questions

… we should first note that the main problem that those who are developing self-assessments encounter is not a problem of reliability and trustworthiness. Students are generally honest and reliable in assessing both themselves and one another; they can even be too hard on themselves. The main problem is that students can assess themselves only when they have a sufficiently clear picture of the targets that their learning is meant to attain. Surprisingly, and sadly, many students do not have such a picture, and they appear to have become accustomed to receiving classroom teaching as an arbitrary sequence of exercises with no overarching rationale. To overcome this pattern of passive reception requires hard and sustained work. When students do acquire such an overview, they then become more committed and more effective as learners. Moreover, their own assessments become an object of discussion with their teachers and with one another, and this discussion further promotes the reflection on one's own thinking that is essential to good learning.

Thus self-assessment by students, far from being a luxury, is in fact an essential component of formative assessment. When anyone is trying to learn, feedback about the effort has three elements: recognition of the desired goal, evidence about present position, and some understanding of a way to close the gap between the two. All three must be understood to some degree by anyone before he or she can take action to improve learning.

Such an argument is consistent with more general ideas established by research into the way people learn. New understandings are not simply swallowed and stored in isolation; they have to be assimilated in relation to pre-existing ideas. The new and the old may be inconsistent or even in conflict, and the disparities must be resolved by thoughtful actions on the part of the learner. Realising that there are new goals for the learning is an essential part of this process of assimilation. Thus we conclude: if formative assessment is to be productive, students should be trained in self-assessment so that they can understand the main purposes of their learning and thereby grasp what they need to do to achieve.

Black, P. & Wiliam, D. 1998. Inside the Black Box: Raising standards through classroom assessment, King’s College London

Discussion starter questions

  • Does this happen in your school or class?
  • How can students know and articulate more of what and why they are doing something?
  • What forms of self-assessment do you use in your classroom? What is the effect on student learning?
Discussion starter 4

Read the following quote and consider the discussion starter questions

A particular feature of the talk between teacher and students is the asking of questions by the teacher. This natural and direct way of checking on learning is often unproductive. One common problem is that, following a question, teachers do not wait long enough to allow students to think out their answers. When a teacher answers their own question after only two or three seconds and when a minute of silence is not tolerable, there is no possibility that a student can think out what to say.

There are then two consequences. One is that, because the only questions that can produce answers in such a short time are questions of fact, these predominate. The other is that students don't even try to think out a response. Because they know that the answer, followed by another question, will come along in a few seconds, there is no point in trying. It is also generally the case that only a few students in a class answer the teacher's questions. The rest then leave it to these few, knowing that they cannot respond as quickly and being unwilling to risk making mistakes in public. So the teacher, by lowering the level of questions and by accepting answers from a few, can keep the lesson going but is actually out of touch with the understanding of most of the class. The question and answer dialogue becomes a ritual, one in which thoughtful involvement suffers.

There are several ways to break this particular cycle. They involve giving students time to respond; asking them to discuss their thinking in pairs or in small groups, so that a respondent is speaking on behalf of others; giving students a choice between different possible answers and asking them to vote on the options; asking all of them to write down an answer and then reading out a selected few; and so on. What is essential is that any dialogue should evoke thoughtful reflection in which all students can be encouraged to take part, for only then can the formative process start to work. In short, the dialogue between students and a teacher should be thoughtful, reflective, focused to evoke and explore understanding, and conducted so that all students have an opportunity to think and to express their ideas.

Black, P. & Wiliam, D. 1998. Inside the Black Box: Raising standards through classroom assessment, King’s College London

Discussion starter questions

  • Consider your practice and discuss how questioning occurs in your classroom and discuss.
  • Give and find examples of how good questioning can be used and to what effect.
  • In what ways can you improve the questioning in your classroom from tomorrow?
Discussion starter 5

Read the following quote and consider the discussion starter questions

Teachers must deal with two basic issues that are the source of many of the problems associated with changing to a system of formative assessment. The first is the nature of each teacher's beliefs about learning. If the teacher assumes that knowledge is to be transmitted and learned, that understanding will develop later, and that clarity of exposition accompanied by rewards for patient reception are the essentials of good teaching, then formative assessment is hardly necessary. However, most teachers accept the wealth of evidence that this transmission model does not work, even when judged by its own criteria, and so are willing to make a commitment to teaching through interaction. Formative assessment is an essential component of such instruction. We do not mean to imply that individualised, one-on-one teaching is the only solution; rather we mean that what is needed is a classroom culture of questioning and deep thinking, in which students learn from shared discussions with teachers and peers. What emerges very clearly here is the indivisibility of instruction and formative assessment practices.

The other issue that can create problems for teachers who wish to adopt an interactive model of teaching and learning relates to the beliefs teachers hold about the potential of all their students for learning. To sharpen the contrast by overstating it, there is on the one hand the ‘fixed I.Q.’ view – a belief that each student has a fixed, inherited intelligence that cannot be altered much by schooling. On the other hand, there is the ‘untapped potential’ view – a belief that starts from the assumption that so-called ability is a complex of skills that can be learned. Here, we argue for the underlying belief that all students can learn more effectively if one can clear away, by sensitive handling, the obstacles to learning, be they cognitive failures never diagnosed or damage to personal confidence or a combination of the two. Clearly the truth lies between these two extremes, but the evidence is that ways of managing formative assessment that work with the assumptions of "untapped potential" do help all students to learn and can give particular help to those who have previously struggled.

Black, P. & Wiliam, D. 1998. Inside the Black Box: Raising standards through classroom assessment, King’s College London

Discussion starter questions

  • What are your beliefs about learning?
  • Does your classroom reflect your beliefs?
  • What are the ‘obstacles to learning’ in your classroom? How can they be cleared away?
  • How do you use formative assessment in your classroom?
  • How can you improve the use of formative assessment in your classroom?

Useful websites

Assessment for Learning Curriculum Corporation - developed by the Curriculum Corporation, this site contains professional development modules, assessment tasks and the following professional learning links:

Australian Council on Educational Research (ACER) - provides educational research, products and services, including assessment and test administration services. The website contains research, test, publications, professional learning opportunities and information about their library services.

South Australian Curriculum Standards and Accountability Framework (SACSA) - provides educators with information and processes about monitoring, recording, reflecting on, and making consistent and reliable judgments about learners and their achievement.

Association for Achievement and Improvement through Assessment - this is a well developed web site containing a wealth of materials and links for assessment in education.

Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) - provides information on education work undertaken by the OECD. Work includes thematic reviews in specific policy areas, and collection of detailed statistical information on education systems, including measures of the competence levels of individuals.

Rubistar - a free tool to help teachers develop quality rubrics.

The Online Learning Centre - Ministry of Education, New Zealand - enables you to locate information about assessment, including recent developments, research and new tools. The site contains online workshops, including workshops on:

The Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (USA) - contains tools to help classroom teachers become better assessors of student learning. The tools aim to integrate assessment and to see assessing as a process rather than a product. The tools also encourage students to be active participants who share responsibility in the assessment process, practise self-evaluation, reflection, and collaboration and conduct a continuous dialogue with their teachers.