What are the fundamental principles and purposes of assessment?

Assessment is a key professional standard which requires teachers to:

  • Know and understand how to assess the relevant subject and curriculum areas, including statutory assessment requirements
  • Make use of formative and summative assessment to secure pupils’ progress
  • Use relevant data to monitor progress, set targets and plan subsequent lessons
  • Give pupils regular feedback, both orally and through accurate marking and encourage pupils to respond to the feedback.

                   Teachers’ Standards, DfE, 2011 (updated 2013), page 12

What is assessment?

We would define assessment as the systematic collection, interpretation and use of information to give insight into what pupils know and understand, their skills and abilities and what their learning enables them to do.

What are the principles that underpin assessment?

Quality assessment is underpinned by the following principles. It should be:

  • Complementary to and supportive of learning
  • Valid
  • Consistent and reliable
  • Be fit for purpose and manageable
  • Supportive of teachers’ professional judgements
  • Inclusive and equitable

What are the purposes of assessment?

This question has a number of potential answers as assessment is used to serve multiple purposes which may conflict in terms of impact and consequences.* However, the primary purpose of assessment is to improve pupils’ learning and teachers’ teaching as both respond to the information it provides.

The following characteristics are essential if assessment is to serve this purpose successfully, and for recording and reporting to be based on valid and reliable information.

To be effective assessment must:

  • Be integral to learning and teaching; a dynamic process that supports learning and moves it on
  • Recognise and celebrate learning as a journey, not a race over hurdles to a finishing line
  • Be underpinned by the belief that all learners have the potential to achieve and that effort, resilience and practice are essential for success
  • Have a clear understanding of the standards required for and criteria upon which assessments will be made
  • Actively involve learners in decision making, motivate them to take responsibility for their learning and help prepare them for life
  • Focus on learning through purposeful interventions and interactions that actively encourage self and peer evaluation and reflection.
  • Utilise a variety of appropriate approaches that take into account the nature of the activity and the context in which learning is taking place
  • Extend beyond knowledge and understanding to include skills, attitudes and capabilities
  • Be constructive so that learners develop their confidence and self-esteem
  • Generate feedback for both learners and teachers that highlights success and indicates how improvement can be realised
  • Result in clear, consistent and accurate information that is useful for pupils, parents, teachers, school leaders and governors

*For an exploration of the various forms of assessment, their uses and the consequent effects on learning and teaching see James, M. and Mansell, W. (2009) Assessment in schools: Fit for Purpose?

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