10 Principles of Assessment

Principle #7

Assessment methods must be differentiated to meet students’ diverse needs, interests, and learning styles.

Differentiated instruction is much more complex than simply offering student choice with respect to how they will learn and how they will demonstrate their learning. While determining students interest and learning preferences is necessary to optimize learning, the most important… task, facing the teacher in the mixed ability class, involves determining students’ current knowledge and skill level and adjusting instruction accordingly. The differentiation model is powerful because it places the teacher’s response to learners’ needs as the starting point for all subsequent decisions.

—Damian Cooper

Differentiated Assessment Practices

In British Columbia, the following principles of learning, outlined in the Integrated Resource Packages (IRPs) should also guide the differentiation of assessment methods (BC Ministry of Education, 2009b):

1. Learning requires the active participation of the student.

2. Students learn in a variety of ways and at different rates.

3. Learning is both an individual and group process.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and differentiation provide systemic approaches to setting goals for students and developing sound assessment practices. Differentiated assessment requires that teachers develop a range of adaptations or accommodations to support student learning and progress over time.

The starting point for instructional planning must be the “teacher’s response to learners’ needs” (Cooper, 2011, p. 10), determined through routine diagnostic assessments. These types of pre- assessment data allow teachers to determine students’ readiness prior to instruction, develop entry points for instruction, and design specific lesson topics and formats to optimize learning.

Diagnostic assessments provide teachers with valuable information about students’ prior/ background knowledge. This kind of information helps to dispel any misconceptions or gaps in students’ learning related to the skills, knowledge, and understanding of the topics under study.

Diagnostic assessments thus provide teachers with baseline data in order to effectively and accurately measure students’ progress from the beginning to the end of the instructional period. Cooper (2011) emphasizes the importance of assessing not only student achievement but also a student’s progress throughout the instruction period in relation to the learning standards for the grade or course, or in relation to goals outlined in an Individual Education Plan.

Diagnostic assessment data often take the form of:

  • summative assessments of the previous learning unit or grade
  • short formative assessments focusing on key concepts and understanding

Classroom Examples/Teacher Testimonials

1. An Elementary Teacher allows students to choose different methods of expression. When students work on a novel project, students can choose to write, create mind maps, or use graphic organizers to demonstrate their understanding of the learning goals e.g., finding main ideas, summarizing.

2. A Secondary Teacher uses the Traffic Lights strategy to help students determine their readiness for a review of key concepts in math prior to a summative assessment. Three groups are determined with different sets of questions and assessment tasks. Students identifying their level as green work independently with more challenging questions and tasks; students selecting yellow work on moderately challenging activities with the support of peers; and students identifying their level as red work in a small group with the guidance of the teacher (Cooper, 2011, p. 29).

Teacher Tips

1. Provide multiple ways for students to demonstrate their understanding and progress in relation to the learning standards for the subject or course, but ensure that all students are assessed based on the same core learning goals. Differentiation occurs in the design of assessment and learning activities, but all students should be working towards the same essential learning goals.

2. Assess and grade each student’s learning in relation to provincial learning standards for the grade or course (or to established learning goals in the student’s IEP), not by comparison to other students in the same class.

3. Have the student do the tests/quizzes or assignments in parts and at different times and submit each one separately. Take this opportunity to provide feedback prior to going on to the next part of the activity. Assess each part as they are being completed. This supports students’ challenges and allows them to feel successful.