10 Principles of Assessment

Principle #2

Assessment methods must be appropriate for and compatible with the purpose and context of the assessment.

…aligning our assessments to our curriculum is the only way to ensure that our assessments yield accurate information about our students’ levels of proficiency. Knowing what we’re assessing should always drive our assessment methods. Balanced assessment isn’t about favouring one type of assessment; it’s about favouring the assessment method that is the most accurate fit for the curricular content or competency being assessed. This is especially true at the classroom level where we know assessment (and the subsequent descriptive feedback) can move learning forward, lead to greater student engagement, and allow teachers to make pinpoint decisions about what comes next.

— Tom Schimmer

How teachers assess students’ learning can have profound and lasting effects on their willingness, desire, and capacity to learn. As a result, many important factors must be considered when making decisions about assessment practices and methods. Throughout each unit of study, multiple assessment methods should be used. A combination of written, oral and performance assessments provide the teacher with a well-rounded picture of the students’ skills.

Prior to creating an assessment, Wiggins and McTighe suggest teachers ask themselves the following questions:

  • What would be sufficient and revealing evidence of understanding?
  • What performance tasks should anchor the unit and focus the instructional work?
  • What are the different types of evidence required?
  • Against what criteria will we appropriately consider work and assess levels of quality?
  • Will the assessment reveal and distinguish those who really understand from those who only seem to understand?

vs. Criterion-Referenced Assessment

Norm-referenced evaluation compares a student’s achievement to that of other learners within a particular cohort. In the past, classroom teachers relied heavily on norm-referenced assessments, often applying a “bell curve” approach to grade students according to the expected normal distribution of results (a few students on the low end, the majority clustering in the middle, and a few students scoring on the high end).

Schools in the North Vancouver School District conduct routine screening and assessment, which sometimes involves norm-referenced assessment tools, in order to monitor progress of students in the areas of literacy, numeracy, social emotional learning, and other aspects of growth and development. Please refer to Appendix D for a detailed year-long calendar of North Vancouver School District Assessments, and to Appendix E for a table of Standardized Scores.

Learning Services teachers, School Psychologists, Speech and Language Pathologists and Counsellors may use specific norm-referenced assessment tools. This might include Level B and Level C tests or a Functional Assessment of Behaviour. For more information about these tests, please refer to pages 8 and 9 of the Inclusive Education 44 Handbook.

While norm-referenced evaluation has its place in large-scale system assessments and diagnostic (standardized) testing, with bigger cohort groups, it should not be used for regular classroom assessment purposes. By contrast, criterion-referenced evaluation, which measures student performance based on learning standards for a particular subject and grade or course, is best suited for measuring student performance in classrooms. Criterion-referenced evaluation involves the following steps:

1. Choose learning standards from the curriculum.

2. Establish criteria, involving students in the process whenever possible.

3. Plan learning activities that will help students acquire the knowledge or skills outlined in the criteria.

4. Provide examples of the desired levels of performance.

5. Implement the learning activities.

6. Use various assessment methods based on the particular assignment and students.

7. Review assessment data and evaluate each student’s level of performance or quality of work in relation to the criteria.

8. Report the results of evaluation to students and parents. (Ministry of Education, 2009 p. 23)

Assessment For, As, and Of Learning

Teachers use a variety of assessment methods that fall within three types or purposes of assessment. The following table outlines the key differences between assessment for, as, and of learning:

Click here to view table
Classroom Examples/Teacher Testimonials

1. An Elementary Teacher explains, prior to the start of the lesson, the learning goals and the types of formative and summative assessments that will be used to help students progress towards their learning targets. As the lesson develops, students reflect on their progress and set goals for continued improvement in preparation for the summative assessment snapshot (e.g., performance, composition, oral presentation, test, etc.)

2. A Secondary Teacher, who used to rely only on quizzes, homework assignments, and final tests to measure student progress in relation to the learning standards, now uses a variety of alternative or performance assessments, including open-ended questions, entrance and exit slips, oral presentations, compositions, and portfolios of student work. Students are given multiple opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of new concepts and receive feedback that allows them to focus their energy towards specific learning goals.

Teacher Tips

1. Prior to designing any assessment task, ask: “Who will use the assessment information and how will this information be used?” One assessment cannot address all needs. Different kinds of assessments are required in a balanced assessment approach (Chappuis, 2012, p. 20).

2. Quizzes, or a set of practice questions, can be used as formative assessment and can be posted online before the quiz date. Students know the material that is expected and what they need to review, which builds confidence.