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Why assess?

These topics support teachers and schools to understand the theoretical and practical aspects of assessment. 

Assessment is central to teaching and learning

The nature and purposes of assessment are described on pages 39–41 of the New Zealand Curriculum. The primary purpose of assessment is to improve students’ learning, as both student and teacher respond to the information that it provides. Information is needed about what knowledge, understanding, or skills students need. By finding out what students currently know, understand, and can do, any gap between the two can be made apparent. Assessment is the process of gaining information about the gap, and learning is about attempts to reduce the gap.

Most assessment is informal and "of the moment"

Assessment occurs naturally through everyday classroom interactions. Teachers and students gather information, and subsequent analysis and interpretation allow them to adjust their teaching and learning accordingly. This is not always a conscious reaction but occurs spontaneously as a result of discussion or feedback.

There is also a need for more formal assessment

Formal assessment ensures consistency in the interpretation of both progress and achievement by students and teachers. It also helps to ensure that other stakeholders in education (including syndicates or departments, senior school management, boards of trustees, parents and family, and the Ministry of Education) get the types of information that they need in order to be able to support teaching and learning. These assessments use formal tools and are often conducted across classes, cohorts, or whole school.

Formal assessment tools need to provide the most valid and reliable information

It is the responsibility of teachers and schools to choose formal assessment tools that will provide the most valid and reliable information on student learning.

Good formal assessment is valid (based on what students have learned) and reliable (results can be replicated), and should provide information on what students have learned, what they need to learn, and, where appropriate, how they measure up against expectations for their cohort.

Assessment is done "with the student", not "to the student"

As is the case with teaching and learning, assessment is a collaborative endeavour between the teacher and the student – where both want to determine what the student knows and what might be learnt next. Therefore, a major role for the teacher is to manage the learning culture of the classroom in order to maximise students' motivation to engage keenly with assessment. If the student is not motivated to try with the assessment, it is likely that the results will not really show what the student knows or can do. Such a result will not help either the teacher or the student to plan next steps.

Teachers should always involve students in assessment decision-making

Whether informal or formal, assessment should always involve the students in decision-making about as many aspects of the assessment as possible. These include the timing, the design, and the assessment criteria so that students are able to properly see themselves as co-constructors of the assessment, with equal ownership of the results. Some tools lend themselves to greater student involvement than others, depending on how they have been designed. However, even where there is little opportunity for student input into the actual assessment construction, students should be supported to see the assessment results as providing them with valuable information about what they know and what they might choose to learn next.

Other Assessment fundamentals