Effective Assessment for Your School

Effective Assessment for Your School

The debate about the optimum amount of testing in schools has been going on across the educational landscape for decades. Testing advocates contend that there are several benefits of more frequent testing such as:

  • Increasing instructional effectiveness,
  • Encouraging learners to study and review their work more often, and
  • Providing opportunities for teachers to correct learner errors, to reward good performance, and to give learners a good indication of what they are expected to learn.

But others have raised concerns about frequent testing. One of the arguments is that over-testing takes time away from instruction. Researchers have produced many studies that are relevant to this debate. It is not, however, the purpose of this article to enter into this debate. This article seeks to address the following question:

What assessment practices have the potential not only to measure and report learning effectively but also to promote or enhance learning and teaching?

Difference between testing and assessing:

One major concern raised by those against frequent testing is that learners are over tested. Counteracting this argument, other assessment experts have maintained that it is true that in some education systems learners are over-tested; but they are under-assessed.

These experts (Reeves, D.B 2003) argue that there is a distinction between testing and assessing. They describe the distinction as follows:

  • Testing implies an end-of-year, summative, evaluative, process in which learners submit to a test and the results–typically many weeks later.
  • Assessment refers to a practice where learners are required to complete a task and then very soon–within minutes, hours, days, or no more than two weeks – they receive feedback that is designed to improve their performance.

How “assessment” is defined in high performing schools

In high performing schools, the general term “assessment” is used to refer to all those activities undertaken by teachers that provide information to be used as feedback to modify teaching and learning activities and to adapt their teaching to meet learner needs.

Teachers in top performing schools use different phases of the assessment loop effectively to improve learning and teaching.


While other schools rely upon the personal assessment practices of individual teachers, high performing schools develop common assessment practices. They re-in force these common practices using quality and well-developed assessment items to determine whether or not learners have learned the content and skills taught.

Teachers in all content areas use a wide range of research-based and empirically tested assessment practices to advance learning and teaching. These practices are discussed below.


Assessment experts argue that diagnostic assessments (sometimes known as “preassessments” or “assessments before teaching”) is as important to teaching as a physical exam is to prescribing an appropriate medical regimen. While certain learners are likely to have already mastered some of the skills or concepts that the teacher is about to introduce is his or her lesson, others are likely to be deficient in prerequisite skills or harbour some misconceptions.

So why do teachers in high performing schools conduct diagnostic assessments?

These teachers identify the following as benefits for diagnosing what learners already know or can do:

  • To check learners’ prior knowledge and skill levels, abilities, strengths and weaknesses in order to avoid overestimating or underestimating what learners know.
  • To identify learner misconceptions so that teachers can confront them before they persist even in the face of good teaching.
  • To gather information that would assist teacher planning and guide differentiated instruction.
  • To profile learners’ interests, reveal learning-style preferences and establish learning barriers.
  • To establish a baseline to which future learning can then be compared


The beneficial outcomes of formative assessment, otherwise known as assessment for learning, which have been highly touted by researchers and educators alike, are prevalent in the schools that work. Teachers in these schools use formal and informal formative assessment methods including quizzes, oral questioning, teacher observations, draft work, short-focused tests as continual checks for learner understanding.

Teachers use on-going assessments to:

  • Provide them and learners with specific feedback on learning progress for the purpose of guiding teaching to improve learning.
  • Gain more information about learner proficiency to adjust or modify their teaching and maintain or remediate the learning process on a continual basis.
  • Help learners assess their current position in relation to the set goals and targets, and to equip them with the tools to bridge the gap between the their present performance and set targets.

Teachers in high performing schools help learners answer the following questions:


Where am I going? To answer this question, every learner has concise learning targets


Where am I now? To answer this question, learners must know where they are in relation to the set targets.


How do I close the performance gap? To answer this question, teachers support learners to move from their current position to meet the school’s and their own learning targets in different subjects.


Where do I end up? To answer this question, learners, having taken responsibility for their own learning, get good results in the quarterly, mid-year and end-of-year examinations.


Teachers describe the analysis of assessment results as an important phase of the assessment loop. To derive meaning from assessment results, teachers dig deeper into their results than just calculating average percentages per class and presenting the spread of performance in terms of the proportions of learners who achieved specific levels of performance, i.e., levels 1 to 7.

In this phase, high performing schools do four interrelated activities chronologically. They:

  • Analyse assessment results using question, item and error analysis
  • Identify topics or concepts which are commonly found to be challenging
  • Identify teachers and learners who are having problems with particular topics
  • Discuss results, make informed decisions about curriculum delivery and what actions to take


Analysing assessment results is not the end in the top performing schools. Teachers in these schools give feedback to learners based on the careful analysis of formative assessment results. Their feedback practices measure up in that they meet four criteria reported in the literature as key aspects of effective feedback. These criteria are as follows:

  • Teachers provide feedback designed to improve learners’ performance promptly
  • Schools provide significantly more frequent feedback to learners
  • Teachers provide specific feedback to learners about their strengths and weak points
  • Teachers give learners opportunities to act on the feedback


Taking actions based on the assessment results is identified in literature as the final step in the assessment loop, hence this phase of the assessment loop is sometimes called “closing the loop.” Armed with diagnostic information and formative assessment results, schools that work take three critical post learner assessment actions as follows:

Teachers, learners, parents and SMT members are held accountable for learner performance

Teachers make continual adjustments in their classroom practices. This includes:

  • Adapting aspects of teaching or revising methodologies in the classroom
  • Reteaching problematic topics, differentiating instruction or providing extra classes
  • Using team-teaching to address specific skills or concepts that learners find challenging
  • Engaging in professional development programmes to empower themselves to address deficiencies

Learners take responsibility for their education, Taking ownership and responsibility for their learning involves:

  • Exhibiting appropriate behaviours such as coming to class prepared, completing assignments and homework well and on time, and seeking additional help when they are struggling (e.g. attending extra classes)
  • Engaging actively in class activities, asking questions when they are confused, studying, monitoring their own progress in meeting school and their own academic performance targets, and using kids-teach-kids (peer support) programme to master material with which they struggle.


Teachers in high performing schools rely heavily on diagnostic and formative assessments because they feel strongly that summative assessments (also called assessment of learning) are insufficient tools for maximizing learning “because by the time learners and their parents get to know how learners have performed, the assessment results are ancient history in their eyes”

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