Assessment in principle

Assessment promotes further learning and achievement when the practitioner works collaboratively with the learner, the learner’s family, peers and colleagues to plan the learning program. ​

Assessment principles

​​​​Learning and development

​Substantial research exists that describes learning and development and the implications for assessment. Professor Geoff Masters articulates the following set of principles summarising this research which reflects the purpose and meaning of effective assessment from birth to adulthood.

Foundational principles

Principle 1:
Learning and development are continuous, lifelong processes

Assessment should be ongoing and based on a continuum of learning/development.  Learning and development are maximised when opportunities are matched to current readiness, building on what has already been experienced, learned and developed.

Principle 2:
Assessment should provide information about where individuals are in their learning and development, and inform practitioners in planning and delivering progressive learning opportunities. 

Emotions, beliefs and relationships play a crucial role in learning and development

Principle 3:
Assessment should build positive attitudes and self-confidence in children, young people and learners by assisting them to see what they have achieved and the progress they are making. 

Feedback and reflection are important elements of effective learning and development

Principle 4:
Assessment should promote further learning and development when combined with
constructive feedback and opportunities for reflection. It should enable individuals to see and appreciate the progress that they have made and recognise that they are being successful in their learning. 

Learning and development is advanced with opportunities, support and engagement within families and in partnership with practitioners

Principle 5:
Approaches to assessment should maximise collaboration and sharing of knowledge between families and practitioners, to allow all parties to support and participate in children and young people's learning and development.

Developed by, and adapted in consultation with Professor Geoff Masters, Australian Council for Educational Research

Assessment and the learning continuum

Learning occurs in a continuum from birth to adulthood and throughout life. Assessment of where a child is at on this learning continuum enables the practitioner, learner and family to understand what knowledge, skills and understandings the child has developed so far and to plan an appropriate learning program to further learning.​

​​​​​​​Insights into learning

​​​Research in the fields of neuroscience an​d cognitive science has provided insights into the capacity of the brain to learn continually throughout life.  Learning occurs continually and incrementally along a​ learning continuum. The rate and pace of learning along the continuum is not fixed and constant; there may​ be plateaus and even setbacks and different children learn at different rates. ​​

The Victorian Early Years Learning Development Framework (VEYLDF) describes five outcomes for children from birth to 8 years. The Framework recognises that every child will take a unique path to the five Outcomes and that all children will require different levels of support, some requiring significantly more than others.

The Victorian Curriculum F-10 achievement standards recognise that learning in any learning domain occurs along a continuum and children at school from around 5 to 16 years learn at different rates thus the achievement standards are ​​presented in levels from Foundation-10. Any one group of learners may include children who are operating at a wide range of levels across the learning continuum. 

For practitioners to provide the learning opportunities that promote excellent progress along the learning continuum, it is helpful to assess where the child is at in their learning and development and what progress they have made so far.  This assessment enables the practitioner to understand what the child has learned and determine what the child needs to learn next.  They can then set goals for further improvement, design a learning and development program in collaboration with the learner and their family and monitor progress together. In monitoring progress, the practitioner continually makes​​​ assessments (for example by observation, setting tests, and discussion); the learner self-assesses and they collaboratively adjust the learning program to meet the learner’s needs.

Geoff Masters discusses these concepts in depth in Reforming Educational Assessment: Imperatives, principles and challenges​​

Assessment and the teaching and learning cycle

Assessment is integral to the teaching and learning cycle. The practitioner uses the evidence from assessment to provide feedback to the learner and to adapt the learning program in response to the learner needs identified by assessment.

Assessment at all stages of learning

Assessment scaffolds understanding. It informs both learners and teachers equally about what learners currently understand and how to proceed with subsequent teaching and learning. Practitioners ensure that learners are clear about what they are going to learn and how they should proceed.

As learning progresses, assessment is used to gather evidence about where the learners are in their learning so that teaching and learning can be adapted to meet learner needs. Assessment is again carried out at the completion of developmental activities or units of work to determine the extent of progress and achievement.

Assessment for understanding

Understanding the learner​​​

Effective assessment enables the practitioner to understand what knowledge, skills and concepts the learner can demonstrate by saying, making, writing or doing and what they have misunderstood or not yet mastered. Once, the practitioner has analysed the data gathered from an assessment, decisions can be made about what the next steps in the learning process should be. Data analysis can be relatively simple for a class or group of learners or quite detailed and comprehensive for a whole cohort; for example NAPLAN or VCE exam analyses.

​Assessment is ongoing and integrated in the teaching and learning cycle. Formal assessment tasks provide rich evidence about learning achievement that the practitioner then discusses with the learner when giving feedback about their performance. Ongoing informal assessment during classroom or group activities provides rich evidence from which the practitioner provides immediate feedback to the learner.  This informal assessment and the feedback from it enable the practitioner to adjust their teaching strategies and the learner to adjust their learning strategies during the class or in the next session to promote further learning.​

Assessment and domain expertise

Learner development​​

Assessment is more than forming judgements about a learner’s mastery of a body of curriculum content. It is monitoring the learner’s incremental understanding of the language, concepts and skill​​s of a learning area or domain and what they need to do to succeed. The practitioner requires an understanding of how learning develops within a domain, what skills and knowledge learners need in order to progress and also what are the common misunderstandings that hinder learning. 

​Domain expertise and knowledge of the learning continuum enable practitioners to effectively assess where learners are on the continuum. Assessment results then provide the basis for planning by identifying what learners need to learn next.

Assessing learners with additional needs

Practitioners need to ensure that assessment activities are equitable for, and accessible to, all learners.  Learners should have appropriate opportunities to demonstrate their level of proficiency.

Equity for all learners​

Learning settings need to ensure that assessment activities are accessible for all learners and provide all learners appropriate opportunities to demonstrate their level of proficiency. This requires leaders and practitioners to provide for groups with diverse needs by structuring assessment activities for Koorie students and students with additional needs in a way that respects culture and protects these groups’ rights. Assessment activities also need to appropriately challenge high achieving students and provide opportunities for them to demonstrate the full scope of their abilities.

Further Reading

  • Reforming educational assessment: imperatives, principles and challenges, Masters, 2013
    Masters argues that assessment is an essential requirement for ongoing learning, especially the learning requirements of the twenty-first century. His article draws extensively on research evidence about how people learn and presents the case for moving to using assessment not to judge mastery of content but to understand what knowledge, skills and understandings the student has developed about that learning domain at a point in time.
  • Inside the black box: raising standards through classroom assessment, Black P and Wiliam D,1998
    In this article, Black and Wiliam argue that ongoing or formative assessment is at the heart of effective teaching and learning and essential for the improvement of student achievement.
  • The nature of learning: using research to inspire practice, OECD, Dumont H et al, 2012
    This article summarises the findings of an OECD project into the nature of learning required for the knowledge economy. It explains the importance of emotion and motivation in learning and describes how innovative learning environments promote learning. Ongoing assessment, which provides feedback to support learning, is an essential element of the set of principles upon which innovative learning environments are based.
  • The role of formative assessment in effective learning environments, Wiliam D, 2010
    Wiliam writes about the role of formative assessment in improving the quality of teacher decision-making. He describes five key strategies that teachers can use to improve learning.
  • ​Putting understanding up front, Perkins D and Blythe T, Teaching for Understanding, ASCD, 1994 
    This article presents a simple four-part framework to enhance lessons so that students develop deeper understanding. Ongoing formative assessment and feedback are central to the framework.
  • Ways to assess student learning during class, TEP, 2013
    This site presents ideas for informal assessment activities. For more ideas about informal assessment see the Feedback and Reporting section.