Assessment has four major purposes. These are as follows:

Instruction To determine whether a school is effective, you can match desired outcomes to the work that students produce. Evidence of students’ growth is found in what they write, what they say, what they build, what they design, and what they compute. Hence, the rethinking of assessment has swept the country as children are being prepared for a more demanding world. Targeting assessment throughout the school year leads to deeper accountability.

Assessing students serves many purposes. For example, assessment can be used to screen for placement, diagnose individual student needs, and provide accountability.

Assessment has four major purposes. These are as follows:

1. Monitoring Student Progress – Assessment provides ongoing feedback to students. This assessment informs the teacher and student about growth and takes place during instruction. Feedback has two specific characteristics. “First, it must be timely. Second, effective feedback must be specific to the content being learned” (Marzano, 2003, pp. 37-38).

2. Making Instructional Decisions – Assessment should take place on a regular basis. Teachers gather data on student learning and the application of that learning. Instruction can then be tailored to meet the needs of individual students.

3. Evaluating Student Achievement – Assessment data are used to evaluate student achievement during instruction. The data should be gathered throughout an instructional unit and used to determine a student’s achievement throughout daily instructional activities.

4. Evaluating Programs – Assessment data tell how well a designed unit of study or teaching strategy worked to achieve instructional goals. Assessment data gathered on student knowledge, understanding, and processes are considered in an overall evaluation of a program.

Summative, or formal, assessment takes place after learning is supposed to have occurred and essentially is used to state a student’s learning status at a certain point in time. This may include assessments such as end-of-unit or semester tests, state- mandated assessments, and standardized tests.

Most standardized tests are summative (formal). They are not designed to provide immediate feedback useful for helping teachers and students during the learning process. Summative information can shape how teachers organize their courses and determine what schools offer their students.

Formative, or informal, assessment measures what students can do and how they perform, as opposed to measuring what they can recall. Formative assessment takes

place during the learning process and is used to diagnose student needs, plan instruction, give feedback, and improve the quality of students’ work. It provides an ongoing process for monitoring students, which helps drive teacher instruction.

Formative assessments also measure factors beyond factual learning, such as skills necessary in society and critical thinking. They also provide immediate feedback for students. Feedback can be given orally, in written format, or even as a gesture such as a smile or a nod to help students know they are on the right track. Some examples of formative, informal assessments are observations, skills checklists, portfolios, and projects.

Teachers are responsible for using a variety of assessment strategies. They assess student learning and achievement to promote better teaching and determine the effectiveness of instruction. Teachers use assessment to monitor instruction and make adjustments that meet student instructional needs. Assessment monitors the success of classroom activities in meeting the needs of the students. Teachers use assessment results to diagnose student misunderstandings, identify missed connections, and adjust the rate of instruction by modifying, remediating, or extending activities.

Assessing Student Learning

Three general avenues are available for assessing a student’s achievement in learning. You can assess:

1. what the student says (e.g., the quantity and quality of a student’s contributions to class discussions);

2. what the student does (e.g., a student’s performance or participation in learning activities); and

3. what the student writes (e.g., items such as homework assignments, projects, and written tests).

Assessing What a Student Says and Does

When evaluating what a student says, you should listen to the student’s oral reports, questions, responses, and interactions with others. You should observe the student’s attentiveness, involvement in class activities, creativity, and responses to challenges. While listening to what the student says, you should also be observing the student’s nonverbal behaviors. For this type of assessment, you can use rubrics such as the one below.

Assessing What a Student Writes

For assessing what a student writes, follow these guidelines:

1. Student writing assignments, test items, and scoring rubrics should correlate to and be compatible with specific instructional objectives.

2. The teacher should read everything the student writes. If student work is important enough to assign, then it is important for you to give your professional attention to the full product of the student’s efforts.

3. You should provide written or verbal comments about the student’s work, and be positive in those comments.

If you really wish to know what your students have learned, allow them to present that learning in a way that makes sense to them. If students are allowed to choose how to demonstrate their learning, emotions come into play. The students will have to evaluate how to best present the material as well as what material to emphasize. Examples might include preparing a brochure to advertise the important aspects of the content, writing in journals, designing surveys, writing and performing a play, building a model, drawing, creating a PowerPoint presentation or mind map, designing a game, or participating in a debate. Perhaps you could let students write questions for an upcoming test after you have established the guidelines. The list is endless.

Assessment provides feedback to students so they know what they have learned or have not learned. Feedback is essential if connections to new learning are to be transferred into long-term memory. Feedback must be timely, immediate, or as soon as possible, appropriate to the learning that you hope has taken place, and perhaps most importantly, ongoing. Eric Jensen’s book Brain-Based Learning (2008) provides these tips for feedback that are summarized in the table below.

Principles and Purposes of Assessment

Purpose Description

To assist in student learning

This is the first purpose that is typically thought of when speaking of assessment.

To identify student strengths and weaknesses

This is necessary for two reasons: to structure and restructure the learning activities and to restructure the curriculum. Data on student strengths and weaknesses in content and process skills are important to planning

appropriate activities for skill development and intellectual development.

To assess the effectiveness of a particular instructional strategy

It is important for the teacher to know how well a particular strategy helped accomplish a certain goal or objective. Accomplished teachers continually reflect on and evaluate their strategy choices.

To assess and improve the effectiveness of curriculum programs

Components of the curriculum are continually assessed by committees composed of teachers and administrators.

To provide data that assist in decision making about a student’s future

Assessment of student achievement is important to guide decision making about course and program placement, promotion, school transfer, class standing, eligibility for honors and scholarships, and career planning.

To provide data in order to communicate with parents and guardians and to involve them in their children’s learning

Parents, communities, and school boards all share accountability for effective student learning. Teachers play an important role in communicating with, reaching out to, and involving parents and the community.

Assessment for English Language Learners

Teachers who are new to teaching second language learners often find it a challenge to truly understand how to assess this group of students. On the one hand, the teacher knows that the student probably cannot produce any meaningful text in response to a science experiment or orally defend his or her decision to use a particular material during a group project in social studies. On the other hand, this same teacher knows that the students must take standardized tests. “How,” she asks, “can I prepare this student for these tests if I don’t hold my expectations high?”

Teachers should have high expectations for all students, but requiring an ELL student to respond to an assessment in the same way as a fluent English speaker is unrealistic and, in fact, may set the student up for failure. Utilizing a form of alternative assessment would be a better idea.

Assessment Strategies for Special Education Teachers

Perhaps the most important concept when instructing students with disabilities is understanding the continuous process of assessment and teaching. Special education teachers must know at all times whether a student is making adequate progress toward specified instructional objectives and goals included in the Individual Education Plan (IEP). To monitor student performance, many educators use curriculum-based assessment (CBA) to establish performance standards. Assessment measures are developed using the general education curriculum and include these four stages:

1. Material selection from a variety of materials related to the target academic area,

2. Test administration on selected academic materials from the general education curriculum,

3. Performance display and interpretation of individual as well as group results, and

4. Decision making to guide instruction. (Arizona Department of Education, 2014)


Arizona Department of Education. (2014). Retrieved from

Garrsion, C., & Ehringhaus, M. (2007). Formative and summative assessment in the classroom. Retrieved from /ArticleID/286/Formative-and-Summative-Assessments-in-the-Classroom.aspx

Jensen, E. (2008). Brain-based learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Marzano, R. (2003). What works in schools: Translating research into action. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.