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Developing a school-wide assessment strategy

In building a school-wide assessment strategy, leaders need to take into account three broad levels of assessment:

  • ongoing formative assessment in the classroom
  • mid-range informal assessment, such as pre-tests, quizzes, topic tests
  • formal cross-cohort assessment to establish school-wide benchmarks.

In the case of making overall teacher judgments, all of the above types of assessment will be used in making a judgment on a student’s progress.

On-going formative assessment in the classroom

Formative assessment practices should be part of the school’s pedagogical expectations. Schools will want to make those expectations clear to teachers and include them as part of policy and induction for new teachers.

Glen Taylor School includes a section in each of its school schemes about pedagogical expectations. It is called: 

Word 2007 icon. What does effective teaching look like? (Word 2007 15 KB)

Find out more about formative assessment in this section of our website: Assessment in the Classroom

Mid-range informal assessment

Assessment at this level is informal but necessary to monitor progress and inform next steps in teaching and learning. The emphasis on the need for ongoing information on learning, for both students and teachers, will drive expectations for these types of assessments. If students are sufficiently engaged with the learning, it could be expected that they will ask for and enjoy those testing opportunities so they can measure progress for themselves.

This level of assessment could include:

  • pre-testing of topics to establish learning needs
  • mid- or post-testing of topics to assess value-added and ongoing learning needs
  • running records
  • informal quizzes
  • teacher/student-developed rubrics
  • relevant items from the Assessment Resource Bank
  • questions from previous NCEA papers.

Teachers will want to share the resources needed for this type of assessment with each other. It may be useful to set up a resource bank, or include them with the planning for each topic.

  • Have a look at this video clip from Technology Online, in which Cheryl Pym discusses how to approach student progress tracking within programme planning. What she talks about in the Technology curriculum applies equally to other curriculum areas.

Formal assessment

In developing a schedule for formal assessment (excluding NCEA), the primary consideration should be the purposes of the assessment. For example, the purpose of an assessment may be to provide teachers and students with next steps in learning, or to provide information to the BOT for determining school professional development needs. It is a great advantage to a school if one assessment can serve multiple purposes such as:

  • setting teaching and learning priorities
  • grouping for needs
  • formulating learning goals with students
  • contributing to Overall Teacher Judgments for reporting to parents, BoTs and the Ministry of Education
  • assessing value-added
  • school review.

Schools need to choose assessment tools and assessment times with these purposes in mind.

Choosing assessment tools

Selecting an assessment tool is a resource for teachers and schools to help them determine the most appropriate assessment tool to suit their particular purpose. A good place to start is the section that discusses considerations when selecting an assessment tool.

When to schedule formal assessments?

It can be difficult to develop a well-balanced assessment schedule that provides quality information about student learning when it is needed but does not burden students and teachers with too many formal assessments.

Beginning of year:

Having quality, formal assessment at the beginning of the year is important. Doing so establishes both group and individual learning needs of students and serves as a baseline for identifying progress. At the end of the year, students can reflect on the improvement and progress they have made.

Some schools carry over end-of-year assessment data to the following year and this serves as beginning-of-year data. While this is useful in terms of reducing the number of formal assessments in a year, there are some pitfalls.

  • If high student turnover exists in the school, the carried-over data may not represent the student population at the beginning of the following year.
  • Often a learning dip occurs over the summer break. If this is the case, the data may be overstated or inaccurate.

Read this article Beating the summer effect from the Education Gazette, October 13, 2014, telling the story of how Rata Street School in Lower Hutt in Wellington has made positive changes that have negated much of the 'summer slump' in writing. The school success story is backed up by data collected over more than five years and includes practical strategies to help others achieve similar success.

End of year:

End of year formal test data has a number of purposes, such as:

  • calculating the school’s efficacy in raising student achievement
  • contributing to decisions about what future programmes, resources or professional learning are needed to raise student achievement
  • contributing to the Overall Teacher Judgment decisions reported to parents and BOTs
  • contributing to school target setting for the following year.

While end-of-year data has formative value at the school-wide level, it is less useful for using with students to support their learning, simply because it is available only at the end of the year. However, it can be used with students to celebrate improvement and, as mentioned above, can be used at the beginning of the following year to identify learning needs.


The main purpose for collecting formal assessment data mid-year is to check the progress that is occurring for students while there is still an opportunity to address issues before the end of the year. While many schools monitor this progress through formative assessment and mid-range informal assessments, some schools prefer to administer a formal assessment to improve the reliability of this information. However, there is some evidence to suggest that the proximity of beginning- and mid-year data, at least for individual student results, is such that the standard error of measurement calls into question the reliability of data (see "Too much testing?" under Further Reading).

Whether to collect mid-year formal assessment data should be a decision made with careful consideration for the purpose and use of the information.

Further reading

In this article Too much testing? Finding the signal amongst the noise, Charles Darr and Hilary Ferral discuss the effect of measurement error and its implications for the planning of assessment.