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Standards-based assessment

Standards-based assessment allows us to make judgments about the level of an individual's learning with respect to shared benchmarks of expected performance, supported by exemplars.

It is a type of assessment which makes direct and extensive use of teachers' qualitative judgments. It requires external, visible standards for the use of both teachers and students, defined by exemplars and verbal descriptions.

This type of assessment shows what a student can do in relation to broad descriptions of the standard, supported by exemplars of expected achievement. Each standard has a number of components that students need to bring together to achieve the standard. Teachers’ judgments are a judgment on the work as a whole, as opposed to the result from a single snapshot assessment. In standards-based systems, teachers improve the consistency of their judgments through engaging in moderation practices. Moderation of judgments enables teachers to develop a shared understanding of the meaning of standards and how to apply them in a range of cases.

Standards-based assessment is consistent with the New Zealand educational emphasis on assessment for learning rather than assessment of learning (New Zealand Curriculum, 2007; Absolum et al, Directions for Assessment in New Zealand, 2009). This paradigm calls for deep changes both in teachers’ perceptions of their own role in relation to their students and in their classroom practice. In particular, it suggests a move to a more student-centred pedagogical approach, placing the student in a more active role in the learning, teaching and assessment cycle, thus creating a partnership between student and teacher. The clarity and transparency of assessment standards help teachers provide students with information of what they know and can do and, more importantly, a clear picture of what they need to do to improve so they can take charge of their own learning (Black & William, 1998; Crooks, 1988).

What is the difference between norm-referenced assessment, criterion-referenced assessment and standards-based assessment?

Norm-referenced assessment shows how students are achieving compared with a statistical sample of others of an equivalent group at a given point in time. Such tests often provide results in percentiles or stanines.

Criterion-referenced assessment shows what students can or can’t do in relation to a specific list of tasks or skills. Teachers’ judgments are about whether the student has achieved each individual skill or task. When writing, for example, a student may be able to succeed at each task or skill but still not be able to write a compelling piece which meets the needs of an audience.

Standards-based assessment shows what a student can do in relation to broad descriptions, supported by exemplars of expected achievement. The descriptions are broader than criteria. Each standard has a number of components that students need to bring together to achieve the standard.

Further reading