Effective assessment

Assessments of all types provide evidence for the practitioner to make decisions, often in collaboration with the learner, about the next steps forward in the learning program.

Assessment tasks

Assessments may be formal or informal and they may be formative or summative. Assessment tasks vary from informal questions during a learning activity to a formal written tests at the end of a learning program. Assessments of all types provide evidence for the practitioner to make decisions, often in collaboration with the learner, about the next steps forward in the learning program. 

​​​​​Formative assessment

Practitioners engage in both formal and informal assessment as learners progress along the learning continuum. Much informal assessment occurs during a class or group session when practitioners ask questions of individual learners attempting a learning activity and when they engage the group in discussion or ask them to perform an action, for example retrieve a file or throw a ball.  

Practitioners undertake informal assessments to understand how well the learner is progressing towards achieving the learning intentions and success criteria, and the assessment is often tailored to the individual learner. These formative assessments provide the practitioner with evidence of the learner’s progress and concepts, knowledge and skills not yet understood. The practitioner uses this evidence to adjust the learning program to meet the learner’s needs. 

Formative assessments may be conducted in a more formal manner. Formal assessments are often written tasks that require the learner to respond in a particular way, for example to write an essay, perform a dance, or create a movie. The response will be assessed according to a rubric or marking scheme developed against the success criteria.  

A common type of formal assessment is the written test. Writing effective written tests is a whole topic in itself and advice about these will be provided in the coming months. Tests are usually timed assessments and may comprise multiple choice, short answer, and extended answer questions sometimes in response to case studies or scenarios. The practitioner selects particular types of tests and questions depending on the purpose of the assessment, the depth of response required and how quickly they wish to give feedback. Multiple choice tests can be marked quickly and feedback given almost immediately but tests requiring extended responses take longer to mark and the feedback will be slower in reaching the learners.  

Summative assessment

Summative assessments are often developed as formal assessment tasks that provide evidence of the learner’s mastery of knowledge, skills and understandings at a point in time. They measure what the learner has achieved against the achievement standards. The practitioner may use summative assessments for reporting to the learner and their parents about the learner’s achievement.  

Whilst a summative assessment provides evidence of a learner’s achievement at a point in time, it can also be regarded as formative assessment since the evidence indicates what a learner has mastered and what knowledge, skills and understandings they still need to learn. As summative assessment usually occurs at the end of a learning program, unit or semester, the evidence can be provided to the next practitioner to work with the learner so that they will understand where the learner is on the learning continuum. They can then plan a more appropriate learning program. 


Qualities of effective formal assessment tasks

Practitioners may develop their own formal assessment tasks that are specific to their learning domain and the context in which they are teaching, for example assignments, role plays, and simulations. It should be noted that when practitioners engage learners in co-construction of an assessment task learners are more likely to take ownership of their learning. 

Effective assessment tasks are transparent and co-constructed so the learner knows the purpose of the task, what is expected and how the task will be assessed. 

The type of assessment task set depends on the purpose of the task. Sometimes there is an emphasis on tasks that are authentic, open-ended and require deep understanding of an area of content. In other circumstances administering a simple multiple choice assessment will provide the practitioner with useful information. An effective assessment is always appropriate to its purpose and able to be readily administered by the practitioner.  In selecting an appropriate assessment, consideration is given to these characteristics: reliability, validity, inclusivity, objectivity and practicality.  

Effective formal assessment tasks

Practitioners need access to a wide repertoire of assessment tasks to gather evidence of the different forms of learning across the curriculum. Increasingly as learning encourages more open-ended aspirations, tasks need to be developed that are fit for the purpose of gathering information about a wider variety of skills and understandings, for example critical and creative thinking and collaboration. 

Practitioners provide learners with the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, skills and understanding if the assessment tasks: 

  • directly relate to the learning intentions or particular learning outcome
  • are explicit about what learners are required to do
  • are time efficient and manageable
  • include clear and explicit assessment criteria
  • provide challenge for the full range of learners being assessed
  • are fair to all students including those with additional needs
  • are scored or marked based on transparent rubrics
  • are appropriate to where learners are in their learning

Assessment criteria

Learners can effectively demonstrate what they know, understand and can do if they are provided with, or collaboratively develop with the practitioner, the assessment criteria for an assessment task. Effective assessment criteria: 

  • are known to the learners​​
  • are clear and explicit
  • focus on the important criteria and substance of the task (not every tiny detail)
  • allow learners to achieve at a high level
  • provide for a range of quality in the work

Assessment materials

Informing learners about the materials or activities they are expected to submit for an assessment task ensures they have the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, skills and understanding in the form expected by the practitioner and that all elements of a task are completed. Learners should be provided with: 

  • stimulus material, case study, problem
  • questions/activities to be completed
  • assessment criteria or rubric​
  • list of what must be submitted​​

Designing effective assessment tasks

An assessment task is a tool, device or constructed situation that creates the opportunity for learners to demonstrate or display the nature and depth of their learning. 

Effective teachers design assessment tasks that require students to demonstrate knowledge and skills at man levels.  Tasks will include lower order processes like comprehension, and higher order processes like synthesis and evaluation. 

  • When teachers explain the connections between learning goals, learning activities and assessment tasks, then the students can use learning goals to monitor and progress their learning. 
  • Assessments should be:
  • Authentic, fit for purpose and reflect the learning program and objectives.
  • Aligned to curriculum achievement standards.
  • Integrated into a learning sequence.

Assessment tasks should include a  range of formative and summative assessment strategies, and teachers will be able to clearly explain the connections between learning goals, learning activities and assessment tasks so that students can use learning goals to monitor and progress their learning. 

Further reading

Department of Education and Training, 2018. High impact teaching strategies Principle one 

Department of Education and Training, 2018. Practice principles for excellence in teaching and learning – Rigorous assessment practices - Principle six 



A rubric is a set of criteria for evaluating learner performance on an assessment task.

Rubrics are most effective when learners and practitioners co-construct them as they assist learners to take responsibility for their own learning.

​​​​​Assessing with rubrics

A rubric is a tool that describes the expected qualities to be evident in learner responses to an assessment task. It states the assessment criteria and the characteristics of different levels of performance in responses to the elements of the task. The assessment criteria should be drawn from the success criteria that accompany the learning intentions for the topic, unit of work or learning program.

A rubric provides a clear indication to learners of the expectations about the depth and breadth of knowledge and skills required to be demonstrated.  Learners can use the descriptions of performance characteristics to unpick the assessment criteria and develop understanding about what they mean.  Since the rubric is open and known to everyone the assessment is seen as fair.

When learners are involved in co-constructing the rubric with the practitioner at the beginning of the learning program they develop ownership of the assessment and the learning associated with it. They can use the rubric to plan, guide and review their work as they proceed thus becoming self-directed learners. Understanding the requirements and taking control of their learning engages and motivates learners to improve their performance.

A rubric enables learners to self-assess and review their work as they progress with the task. They may also seek feedback from peer review to indicate what others perceive they need to improve.

Rubrics may be designed in many formats and the example shows a common format.

Success criterion Very high HighMediumLow

Sample rubric template

This format suggests a simple marking scheme ranging from 4 for Very high to 1 for Low might be appropriate but this is not helpful to learners.

Each cell in the Rubric should contain a description of the characteristics of the work expected at that level.

This will provide feedback to the learner about what they know, understand and can do well and what they need to work on to progress their learning.

A rubric is most often used for the summative assessment but it is also a formative assessment tool in that the comments about the levels the learner has achieved provide feedback about what the learners needs to work on to progress their learning.

A rubric might also be completed sometime during the task as formative assessment to the learner and this can be compared with the final summative assessment to show how the learner has progressed during the course of the assessment period.

Tips for creating effective rubrics​

  • rubrics are more powerful when used in conjunction with samples of learners' work or exemplars
  • consider ready-made rubrics only as starting points –constantly modify them with learner input
  • consider having learners assess a model piece of work using a rubric
  • use rubrics as guides during the process of completing an assessment
  • practise creating rubrics with learners about a familiar topic, ensuring that you take into account developmental stages and background experience
  • collaborate with learners to put rubrics into learner-friendly language.
  • encourage learners to highlight or checkmark rubrics, using them as a visual guide while completing assessments

Further Reading

Assessment techniques

Effective questioning

Much assessment occurs during classroom interactions between practitioner and learners. The quality of questions asked by the teacher and learners, the depth of answers supplied by learners, the quality of class discussions and the detailed observations practitioners make of learners at work all provide evidence of learning including shallow or deep understanding and misconceptions.

Questioning is quick, effective method for gathering evidence of learners' understanding of ideas, knowledge and concepts and skills to be applied. Effective questions encourage learners to think more deeply and provide the practitioner with greater insight into the level of understanding of whole groups and individuals.  The practitioner can quickly adjust their practice to meet the learner's needs as identified through using effective questioning techn​iques.​

Effective questioning techniques

​Learners' responses to questions give the practitioner feedback about their level of understanding if the questions are open-ended and formed to elicit informative responses.​

A more comprehensive discussion about the types of questions that encourage learners to think and reveal their level of understanding is found in the McComas and Abraham paper, Asking more effective questions.

Digital portfolios, or learning journals in whi​ch learners record their learning goals and learning experiences provide the practitioner with useful evidence about what learners understand and what skills and knowledge they believe they need to develop.

Further reading