Understand assessment design

The what, when and how of assessment.​

Considering assessment design

Generating rich, robust and comprehensive evidence of student learning requires assessment design.

Assessment design is an important aspect of unit design, ensuring that formal and informal assessment reveals students progress toward intended learning goals.

Assessment design considers the what, when and how of assessment.

For team dialogue

  1. How well do our unit designs clarify what is important for students to know, understand, do and become (intended learning)?
  2. To what extent will our assessment design enable us to assess growth and progress in the intended learning?
  3. What do we notice about the strengths and areas for further development in our unit and assessment designs?

What students need to learn

The 'what' of intended learning is what students are expected to know, understand, do and become, or the development of:

  • knowledge and understanding
  • capabilities and skills
  • attitudes, motivations and dispositions.

In Victoria what students need to learn is set out in the Victorian Curriculum F–10 . It incorporates the Australian Curriculum and reflects Victorian standards and priorities. Victorian government schools are required to use the Victorian Curriculum F–10.

Content descriptors in the Victorian Curriculum F–10 are generally defined in terms of:

  • concepts to understand
  • skills to acquire
  • the knowledge needed to engage with a discipline.

Level standards offer advice on assessment and a progression of learning over time. The rationale for each discipline often defines significant dispositions students need to develop for success.

Capabilities that are important for learners in today's world are also defined in the Victorian Curriculum and elaborated in other sources such as the new pedagogies for deep learning.

The Melbourne declaration on the educational goals for young Australians defines what all educators should be working towards. This shows that all students should become:

  • successful learners
  • creative and confident individuals
  • active and informed citizens.

Extensive research by respected academics such as Guy Claxton and Carol Dweck identified the importance of cultivating dispositions and mindsets necessary to become successful learners.

Research on motivation, engagement and agency, such as that of Valerie Hannon and Learning Futures, also links students attitudes and motivations to their academic achievement.

For team dialogue

  1. How will we find out what our students bring to this learning—what they already know, understand and can do?
  2. How will we learn about their attitudes, motivations and dispositions towards this learning?
  3. As well as being informed by the expectations set by the formal curriculum, how might we partner with students to create a motivating context for new learning?

When to assess

The 'when' of assessment illuminates where students are in their learning at the start, middle and end of a unit, which includes determining:

  1. the entry levels of students in relation to intended learning
  2. how to monitor learning progress as curriculum or unit designs are implemented, so that teaching can be adapted to better target student learning needs
  3. the overall impact of a unit's learning experiences, which can be determined through a culminating assessment plus other targeted assessments.

For team dialogue:

  1. How well are we gauging the entry levels of our students in relation to new intended learning?
  2. How effectively are we monitoring learning progress throughout a unit?
  3. How well do our final assessments reveal growth and development?

How to assess

An additional consideration is how best to uncover different dimensions of learning. This involves inviting students to say, make, write or do something to reveal:

  • the depth of their knowledge and understanding
  • the level of proficiency in their skills and capabilities
  • how disposed they are to learn.

Knowledge and understanding

The most common ways to uncover and monitor growth in knowledge and understanding involves asking students to say or write something to make their thinking visible. Common techniques include:

  • standardised assessments such as written tests
  • concept maps that can be revisited over time to show growth in understanding of big ideas
  • KWWL (know, want to know, why, learned) charts
  • visual organisers such as linking charts that help students reflect on new learning
  • the development of rubrics for deep learning.

Skills and capabilities

As skills and capabilities generally mean doing something, design considerations involves working out what best enables student to reveal their levels of proficiency.

This may involve:

  • school-wide assessments, such as testing
  • your observations of your students
  • the performance of a self-assessment task by students.

Attitudes, motivations and dispositions

Designing to assess attitudes, motivations and dispositions requires thinking through how best students, in a safe context, can reveal:

  • how they see themselves as learners
  • how they are disposed to be in relation to the intended learning.

This can be assessed by translating research in this area into indicators or reflective prompts that students can respond to. You can then follow this up with a conversation, 'digging deeper' into what their responses mean.

Another data source can be found in the annual Attitudes to Schools Survey (AToSS) survey items where these start with 'I ...' and therefore reveal something about the learner.

For team dialogue

  1. What do we all think it means to “uncover different dimensions of learning”?
  2. What assessment opportunities do we privilege in terms of inviting students to say, make, write or do something to reveal where they are in their learning?
  3. Which students benefit from the ways we choose to assess learning? What are some equity implications?

Other considerations

Multiple sources of data and evidence collection

Any account of a student’s learning and development needs to be rich, robust and comprehensive. Quality assessment design ensures that multiple sources of data and evidence are collected.

Data triangulation - that is, using at least three sources of assessment data - capitalises on strengths and reduces weaknesses that can stem from using a single source.

Sources of assessment data and evidence can include:

Standardised assessments from government authorities and reputable suppliers

  • Standardised assessments from government authorities and reputable suppliers play an critical role in supporting triangulation of data and evidence when they are aligned with unit and assessment design. For example, the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) provides access to a range standardised assessments on the insight assess portal.
    VCAA on demand offers a selection of adaptive assessments in English and mathematics.
  • Please note that for reasons of equity, we do not include links to commercial tools or resources in the absence of systemic endorsement or provision of these tools.

Locally generated assessments mapped to the Victorian Curriculum

  • Quality assessment design can include locally generated assessments mapped to curriculum achievement standards. They can provide rich opportunities for building the assessment capability of adults and students.

Teacher judgments against curriculum standards

  • Teacher judgements against curriculum standards give a broad indication of where students already are in their learning. Judgements are available at least twice a year and, taken together over any twelve or twenty-four month period (depending on the learning area or capability), cover the breadth of the formal curriculum. Teacher judgements provide comparable datapoints that, when combined with other data and evidence, shed light on how well students have progressed in the intended learning.

For team dialogue

  1. To what extent are assessment approaches in our school triangulated? What is working well? What might be strengthened?
  2. To what extent are the consistency and quality of teacher judgements in our school supported by collaborative moderation and other verification processes? What is working well? What might be strengthened?

Designing assessments that reveal progress

Locally generated assessments are strongest when they are:

  • built on the foundation of your deep understanding of the student in relation to the formal curriculum, domains of learning and stages of learning and development. This often requires a significant investment of time for teachers to work together to 'unpack' the formal curriculum and come to understand it personally and collectively
  • developed in ways that build students' assessment capability, so that they understand the purpose of assessment, what is expected of them and how they will be assessed by their teacher, self or peers.

We offer several resources for consideration in generating local assessments that will reveal growth over time. These include:

  • validated research and other documents, which elaborate on the continuum of learning in the Victorian Curriculum. This resource offers several examples of such research that can deepen and extend our conception of what students are expected to know, understand, do and become
  • assessment tools and examples developed by schools and researchers to support the collection and interpretation of evidence of student learning growth.