Dean of Learning

Dean of Learning

Assessment – a key tool for learning

Although tests, especially standardised tests, may be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘assessment’, comprehensive assessment encompasses a wide range of methods for evaluating students’ social, emotional and academic abilities. In fact, schools utilise a number of alternative types of classroom-based assessments in addition to traditional tests and the standardised tests mandated by educational authorities.

​Assessment is the ongoing process of gathering, analysing and reflecting on evidence to make informed and consistent judgements to improve future student learning. Assessment is carried out to see what students know, understand and are able to do. It is very important for tracking progress, planning next steps, reporting and involving students and parents  in learning. There are three main purposes for assessment.

  1. Assessment FOR learning is used to understand what students are thinking so teachers are able to decide the next direction in instruction. Factors considered are  the knowledge students have acquired, the interests students have, the skills they have developed and what needs to be strengthened. It assists in thoughtfully selecting small groups for guided instruction, goal setting both individually and in groups, and support based on varying needs. Learning is scaffolded through supportive guidance, specific feedback, questioning and practice.
  2. Assessment AS learning is used to help students become self-reflective and self-monitoring thinkers so they know when to ask for help and where to go for help.  Students develop as learners as they experience a variety of learning opportunities to enhance skills. It is the most commonly used form of assessment where teachers model for, and guide students in, their thinking and learning.
  3. Assessment OF learning is used in order to make a judgement or decision on student learning. It provides evidence to report findings to students and parents.

The distinction between these purposes of assessment can overlap and they are not always mutually exclusive. For example, some assessments for learning, whose primary function is for support and feedback, can have some low weighted grades, such as for engaging and participating in the activity. In addition, some assessments of learning whose primary function is for grades may have a feedback component, for example, an essay. Through both, assessment as learning can occur as students develop their ability to self-monitor and learn how to judge their own performance.

Using classroom assessment to improve student learning is not a new idea, but recently, the emphasis on assessments as tools for accountability has diverted attention from this more important and fundamental purpose. As long as we continue to view assessments only as a means to rank schools and students, we will miss its most powerful benefits: that it is an integral part of the instructional process and a central ingredient in helping students learn.

Click here to view the Assessment for Learning diagram from the Association of Independent Schools of NSW.

You can read NESA’s guide to school assessment here  and NESA’s guide for parents to the new Stage 6 syllabuses and assessment here.


Mme Maryse Martin

Dean of Learning