10 Principles of Assessment

Principle #1

Assessment and evaluation practices must be aligned with essential curricular concepts, content, expectations and learning goals.

To enhance validity, assessment methods should be in harmony with the instructional objectives to which they are referenced. Planning an assessment design at the same time as planning instruction will help integrate the two in meaningful ways. Such joint planning provides an overall perspective on the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviours to be learned and assessed, and the contexts in which they will be learned and assessed.

—Principles for Fair Student Assessment for Education in Canada, 1993

In order for students to be successful, they must clearly understand the learning goals or targets of the unit/project/assignment. Students need to see clearly where they are going and how they can get there. These learning targets identify the achievement expectations, the content of the unit, and the learning that will be assessed. Along this path, formative assessments are completed so students can measure their progress. Both teachers and students need to take responsibility for the learning. Students can use self assessment to monitor their progress as they move towards the learning targets.

Assessment methods need to be clearly aligned with the goals and objectives of instruction. Using backward design frameworks such as Understanding by Design (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005) to plan curriculum and carry out instruction ensures assessment practices are aligned with the goals and purpose of assessment. Backward design provides students with a direct path to understanding the important ideas of the unit and allows them to apply their learning to new situations.

The backward design model outlines the following three stages for planning:

  1. Determine Desired Results– identify the learning standards that will be the focal point of instruction and learning

2. Plan Assessment – determine what evidence of learning needs to be collected to inform the ongoing instruction and learning

3. Plan Learning Tasks and Activities – evaluate student learning with respect to the identified learning standards.

Authentic assessment allows students to demonstrate their understanding, knowledge and skills by tackling problems and challenges encountered in the real world and applying their learning to new situations. Students can be asked to solve worthy problems or answer questions of importance in the same manner that adults – citizens, consumers or professionals – would in the real world (Wiggins, 1993).

Though the tasks need not be complex, there are some points to consider when creating an authentic task:

  • What learning will be demonstrated by doing the task?
  • What is the context of the task?
  • Does the content set up a fair and unbiased assessment for all students? • will the task measure what is intended to be measured?
  • Will the task reveal growth of skill or ability of what has been learned?

Note that “authentic assessment” can also be defined as an assessment that evaluates what has been taught, modeled, and practised by students; and the assessment strategy or assessment task selected is one that accurately reveals what the student knows, understands and is able to do (i.e., is a good match for intended standards).

Classroom Examples/Teacher Testimonials

1. An Elementary Teacher teaches a language arts unit where the learning target is the creation of a persuasive piece of writing. At the beginning of the unit, an assessment rubric is created with the students, using specific language from the Ministry Prescribed Learning Standards and/or BC Performance Standards for Writing. Throughout the unit, lessons are broken down into topics that pertain to specific aspects/criteria outlined in the rubric. In addition, the teacher focuses formative assessment and feedback to students specifically on these aspects of writing. Students are clearly aware of the expectations, which provides greater clarity for improving their writing.


2. A Secondary Teacher uses backward design as an integral part of Law 12. The structure of the course is designed with the final assessment in mind: a large group mock trial. The year long teacher’s plan is designed to expose students to the necessary knowledge, understanding, and skills to perform the mock trial. All assignments lead to the performance assessment – the trial. The students write in their journal about their learning process. Journal entries provide feedback to the teacher regarding possible achievement gaps and allow the teacher to reconstruct lessons.

Teacher Tips

1. Use backward design (Understanding by Design) frameworks for lesson/unit planning to provide greater clarity and alignment between key learning goals (Big Ideas and Enduring Understandings), formative and summative assessments, and instructional designs. When designing assessments connected to learning goals, continually ask these three questions:

1) What is essential for students to know?

2) What is essential for students to understand?

3) What is essential for students to be able to do?

2. Be mindful that all lessons should serve a purpose in a longer learning trajectory towards the learning goal. It is not a learning target unless both the teacher and students aim for it during the lesson. Setting and committing to specific, appropriate, and challenging goals leads to increased student achievement and motivation to learn (Moss & Brookhard, 2012, p12)