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The purposes of assessment

Within the educational system everyone has a stake in the outcomes of schooling: students, parents,
business and industry, government and society. Each group for different reasons feels the need to be
aware of the progress that is being made in students’ learning. Assessment is the means by which this
learning can be monitored and improved (Brady & Kennedy: 2009). Therefore each group has its own
views on the purpose of assessment, so as to answer their questions and fulfil their needs.

Eisner (2001) has put forward, what he believes to be the five major purposes of assessment. The first
being, to describe the ‘Educational Health’ of the country. This purpose can be seen as the governments’
main aim in assessments. As the expenditure of education represents a significant proportion of the
government’s budget, they wish to monitor this closely (Brady & Kennedy: 2009). This requires testing,
and examining the students nationally, collating the national information and determining how well
Australian students are performing compared with the rest of the world. Thus providing grounds for
further decisions on expenditure of education depending on results.

The second purpose is to direct students along certain pathways (i.e. preparing them for specific jobs).
This purpose can be implied, as business and industry supported. The owners of business and industry
are interested in what graduating students can contribute directly to their economic activities. “They are
concerned with knowledge and skills that can be applied immediately to specific work requirements”
(Brady & Kennedy: 2009, pg 5). This requires assessments to identify students with strengths in certain
skills, as well as providing opportunities to be ranked or streamed. This leads to identification of
students’ potential for further education and recommendations to the appropriate facilities (i.e. Tafe, tech
schools, university or specialist colleges).

The third purpose of assessment is to provide feedback to teachers, parents, students and the community
about the student’s work and progress. Parents and the greater community want to know how their
children and the youth of our society are performing at school. “Celebrating student achievement is a
key to further success of students at school. By providing feedback and celebrating student achievement,
we encourage, and build the self esteem of our students, supporting and empowering them to achieve
further” (personal communication, E. Heyman practising high school teacher, March 7, 2009).

The fourth purpose is to determine whether a KLA/topic outcome has been achieved. In an educational
sense this is the main purpose of assessment, as the ultimate goal of education is to encourage and
facilitate learning. To do this we must know where students are at, in order to take them further (Masters
& Forster: 2000).

The last major purpose is to indicate how effective a unit/ program has been. This purpose is teacher
orientated, it looks at teacher evaluation and whether the unit/ program was satisfactory or whether it
needs modifying to better suit students’ needs. A teacher should always be constantly assessing and
adapting teaching strategies and content, to information obtained through; students’ results, observations
of students and feedback from unit lessons (Brady & Scully: 2005).
The principles of assessment

1. Assessments should facilitate learning, looking at both the process and the product of the
assignment. Assessment should encourage the desire to learn within students. An assessment should be
used as a teaching tool in itself to teach children how to learn. We are only now just beginning to realise
how assessments themselves, can help students to learn and that it is important to acknowledge both the
process and the product of work (Broadfoot: 1991).

2. Assessments should refer to criteria that are explicit. Communication of assessment criteria is a vital
component to the students’ understanding and to the successful completion of the assessment according
to the teachers’ set standards. Therefore regular and explicit clarification of the assessment criteria is
required for each assessment (Fair Test: 2007).

3. Assessments should provide more than one opportunity for students to meet requirements and
should be predominantly informal. The primary purpose of assessments is to support, improvement in
learning. Therefore there should be numerous opportunities for students to display their knowledge, as
various factors can influence student performance when being assessed (Groundwater-Smith, Ewing &
Le Cornu: 2007). Assessments should also be predominately informal so that student learning is natural
(pressure free) and used to inform teachers, in order to prepare further lessons. (Brady & Scully: 2005).

4. Assessments should enable self and collaborative assessment. Self and collaborative assessment is an
important tool in enhanced teaching and improved learning, as it gives students opportunities to produce
work that leads to deeper development of their knowledge, skills and understanding (Board of Studies
NSW: 2006).

5. Assessments should provide opportunities to work together and negotiate required tasks. Student
input and teamwork are vital components of the classroom. Student input provides new points of ideas
and creates a sense of ownership of the students’ education, creating higher morale and greater
enthusiasm towards the assessment. Peer collaboration (teamwork) creates internal scaffolding within
the students’ learning context allowing students to learn from one another. The importance of providing
opportunities for students to work together and negotiate required tasks is highlighted by the
incorporation of this principle in the Tasmanian Department of Educations’ ‘Assessment Principles’

6. Assessments should be sensitive to gender, culture, linguistic, physical disability, socioeconomic

status and geographical locations by using a range of assessment strategies addressing different
learning methods. It is against the law to discriminate against people on the basis of various factors
including gender, race and religion. Therefore assessments need to be sensitive to all these
disadvantaged groups. This can be achieved through a range of assessment strategies which address the
different learning methods of humans. Since the primary purpose of assessment is to improve student
performance and an excellent assessment is based on an understanding of how students learn,
assessment requires the use of a variety of strategies (NSW Department of Education & Training:

7. Assessments should be formative, continuous and diagnostic. Assessment works best when it is
ongoing rather than episodic. All assessment methods should allow students to receive feedback on their
learning and performance so assessment serves as a developmental activity aimed at improving student
learning. Assessment should also provide students and staff with opportunities to reflect on both their
practice and their learning overall (Victorian Curriculum & Assessment Authority: 2007).
The practice of assessment

“Assessments should facilitate learning, looking at both the process and the product of the assignment.”

• CCS3.1 Explains the significance of particular people, groups, places, actions and events
in the past in developing Australian identities and heritage.
• CCS2.1 Describes events and actions related to the British colonisation of Australia and
assesses changes and consequences.
• CUS1.4 Describes the cultural, linguistic and religious practises of their family, their
community and other communities.

For a Stage 3 class learning about ‘Change and Continuity’, the topic of study could be ‘The Gold Rush’
looking at the various events and migrants that came to Australia and shaped the nation. Within this
topic assessment strategies such as ‘checklists’ and ‘rating scales’ can be effectively used in conjunction,
with an assignment activity such as role play to facilitate learning, as well as looking at both the process
and the product of the assignment. Here the students are required to produce a product both verbally and
kinaesthetically. Through the use of ‘checklists’ and ‘rating scales’ the teacher can assess the role play
production, to determine the students’ understanding of the topic. To produce an effective assignment,
the students would be required to research and learn large amounts of information on the gold rush topic
to understand, and create their final product. Therefore the ‘checklists’ and ‘rating scales’ would
facilitate learning, and would assess the assignment from the beginning of production, looking at both
the process and the final product of the assignment.

In terms of a Stage 2 class looking at ‘Change and Continuity’, the topic of study would be ‘The First
Fleet, and the colonisation of Australia’. In this topic the use of the assessment strategy ‘projects’ would
be an obvious choice for an assignment. Similar to the use of checklists and rating scales in combination
with role play in Stage 3, the use of a ‘research project’ would facilitate learning as well as looking at
both the process and product of the assignment as it requires the same ‘backstage’ work as a role play
except that the ‘research project’ would be produced in a written format.

Lastly a Stage 1 class within the HSIE KLA could be learning about ‘Cultures’, and more specifically
within this strand, they could be looking at the ‘cultural, linguistic and religious’ differences between
themselves and the rest of their classmates. Using the assessment strategy of ‘concept maps’ in addition
to the teaching method of ‘collaborative discussion’, students and the teacher can discuss research and
share information with each other about their culture. Students can then collate and display their
knowledge in a simple and neatly structured pro forma concept map. If the teacher deems the concept
map to be too complex for their class, the use of a simple table can be substituted. Through the use of
this assessment strategy, learning is facilitated and the appreciation of the process of learning as well as
the product is taken into account.
“Assessments should refer to criteria that are explicit.”

• SSS3.7 Describes how Australian people, systems and communities are globally
interconnected and recognises global responsibilities.
• SSS2.7 Describes how and why people and technologies interact to meet needs and
explains the effects of these interactions on people and the environment.
• SSS1.8 Indentifies roles and responsibilities within families, schools and the local
community, and determines ways in which they should interact with others.

Within a Stage 3 class studying the strand ‘Social Systems and Structures’ the topic of the lesson may be
‘universal human needs and the efforts of organisations to meet these needs’. An assessment strategy
that could be used in relation to this topic is ‘short answer questions’. In terms of assessments referring
to criteria that are explicit, this can be achieved within ‘short answer questions’ by bolding the relevant
verb within the question e.g. Describe or Evaluate. Additionally specifying how many lines or words
you expect can be provided in brackets at the end of the question e.g. (3-4 lines) or (100 words).
Furthermore the identification of the worth on the question in terms of its marks, within a formal
assessment (such as a unit test) can be used to inform students of the quality of work expected for each
question e.g. (2 marks) usually refers to a sentence or two points where as (4 marks) refers to a
paragraph or four points.

Likewise when teaching a Stage 2 class about how changes in technology have affected lifestyles and
the environment, ‘short answer questions’ can be used again, and the same principles of providing
explicit criteria are applied. The only difference between teaching the two stages and the topics, is that
the content and the quality of working expected from each stage is usually different.

Furthermore in relation to Stage 1 and providing assessments with explicit criteria, this is especially
necessary. For example when teaching Stage 1 the topic of ‘roles, rights and responsibilities’, the use of
the assessment strategy ‘interviews’ is highly recommended as students at this age usually find it easier
to verbally express themselves compared to writing a short answer response. Additionally through the
use of ‘interviews’, this allows teachers to set explicit criteria and communicate this to every student
when they are interviewed. This results in the desired outcome, with the teacher receiving more depth
and knowledge (through further probing questions if need be), than normal if the teacher had just asked
the students to write a response to set questions.

AUSTRALIAN CURRICLUM STUDIES ASSOCIATION (1994). Principles of Student Assessment:

An ACSA Policy Statement. Curriculum Perspectives, 14(2), 38-9.

BOARD OF STUDIES NSW (2006). General Principles for Planning, Programming, Assessing,
Reporting and Evaluating. Accessed on 11 March 2009 from

Brady, L. & Kennedy, K. (2009). Celebrating student achievement: assessment and reporting (3rd Ed.).
Frenchs Forest: Pearson Education Australia.

Brady, L. & Scully, A. (2005). Engagement inclusive classroom management.

Frenchs Forest, N.S.W.: Pearson Education Australia.

Broadfoot, P. (1991). Assessment: A celebration of learning. Canberra: ACSA.

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION (2008). Learning, Teaching and Assessment principles.

Accessed on 11 March 2009 from <http://www.education.tas.gov.au/curriculum/ltap>.

Eisner, E. (2001). The educational imagination: on the design and evaluation of school programs
(3rd Ed.). Prentice Hall: Macmillan.

FAIR TEST (2007). Principles and Indicators for Student Assessment Systems. Accessed on 11 March
2009 from <http://www.fairtest.org/principles-and-indicators-student-assessment-syste>.

Groundwater-Smith, S., Ewing, R. & Le Cornu, R. (2007). Challenges and dilemmas (3rd Ed.).
Sydney: Thomson.

Masters, G. & Forster, M. (2000). The assessments we need. Melbourne:

Australian Council for Educational research.

NSW DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND TRAINING (2007). Principles for Assessment and
Reporting in NSW Government Schools. Accessed on 11 March 2009 from


Accessed on 11 March 2009 from <http://vels.vcaa.vic.edu.au/assessment/assessprinciples.html>.