You are on page 1of 5


What a
a word
Assessment FOR learning
rather than
assessment OF learning
helps students succeed


ithout question, assessment remains among the very
hottest topics in school improvement. High-stakes state
accountability assessments and adequate yearly progress
continue to represent the driving forces of school
improvement these days. But, as accountability systems
evolve, attention to this topic has turned in an interesting direction. Educators
have concluded that testing once a year does not provide sufficient evidence to
inform many crucial, more frequently made instructional decisions, which has
generated renewed interest in formative assessment.
Traditionally, the term has referred to assessments used to support learning.
But, in the current environment, formative assessment as defined by the test
publishers has taken on a narrow meaning. In this context, it refers to a system
of more frequent summative assessments administered at regular intervals (often
quarterly) to determine which students have not yet met state standards — an
early warning system, if you will.
We both applaud and, at the same time, challenge this thinking. On the

one hand, it helps us identify students cess from the outset and we generate ment for learning during our prepara-
who need help when we still have an ongoing flow of descriptive feed- tion to teach. It remains the case that
time to help them. On the other back that permits students to watch colleges of education often fail to
hand, while this very expensive assess- themselves grow. In this case, students include this kind of assessment train-
ment process helps us identify the and their teachers become partners in ing in their programs. And lest we
problem, it doesn’t help those stu- the classroom assessment process, believe that teachers can turn to their
dents find greater success. For that, relying on student-involved assess- principals for assistance in this regard,
we must expand our definition. Enter ment, record keeping, and communi- be advised that assessment training of
assessment for learning. cation to help students understand any sort remains virtually nonexistent
Assessment for learning happens what success looks like, see where they in leadership training programs across
in the classroom and involves students are now, and learn to close the gap the nation.
in every aspect of their own assess- between the two. We know what teachers need to
ment to build their confidence and The good news is that research know and understand to apply princi-
maximize their achievement. It rests has shown for years that consistently ples of assessment for learning effec-
on the understanding that students, applying principles of assessment for tively in their class-
Research has shown that
not just adults, are data-driven learning has yielded remarkable, if not rooms. We know what
consistently applying
instructional decision makers. Several unprecedented, gains in student will happen to their stu-
key features differentiate assessment achievement, especially for low dents’ confidence, moti- principles of assessment
for learning from formative assessment achievers (Black & Wiliam, 1998). vation, and achievement for learning has yielded
as currently being sold by test pub- Results verify positive impacts across if they learn those les- remarkable, if not
lishers: To begin with, state standards grade levels and school subjects. sons. We know how to unprecedented, gains in
are deconstructed into classroom-level However, the troubling news is deliver these tools to student achievement.
learning targets, which we translate that we weren’t given the opportunity their hands in an effi-
into language our students understand to learn to apply principles of assess- cient and effective manner.
so they know what they are responsi-
RICK STIGGINS is the founder of Assessment
ble for learning. In addition, we turn Competence in assessment
Training Institute and JAN CHAPPUIS is a
those classroom-level targets into professional development associate at ATI. for learning
dependably accurate classroom assess- You can contact them at the Assessment The chart on p. 12 details five
ments, aspects of which we integrate Training Institute, 317 S.W. Alder St., Suite keys to classroom assessment quality,
1200, Portland, OR 97204, phone (800)
into daily instruction. In short, every- 480-3060, fax (503) 228-3014, with each broken down into specific
one understands the definition of suc- e-mail: competencies teachers need to master

Sound classroom assessment practice
1. Clear purposes a. Teachers understand who uses classroom assessment information and know their information
Assessment processes and
b. Teachers understand the relationship between assessment and student motivation and craft
results serve clear and
assessment experiences to maximize motivation.
appropriate purposes.
c. Teachers use classroom assessment processes and results formatively (assessment for
d. Teachers use classroom assessment results summatively (assessment of learning) to inform
someone beyond the classroom about students’ achievement at a particular point in time.
e. Teachers have a comprehensive plan over time for integrating assessment for and of learning
in the classroom.

2. Clear targets a. Teachers have clear learning targets for students; they know how to turn broad statements of
content standards into classroom-level learning targets.
Assessments reflect clear
b. Teachers understand the various types of learning targets they hold for students.
and valued student
c. Teachers select learning targets focused on the most important things students need to know
learning targets.
and be able to do.
d. Teachers have a comprehensive plan over time for assessing learning targets.

3. Sound design a. Teachers understand the various assessment methods.

b. Teachers choose assessment methods that match intended learning targets.
Learning targets are
c. Teachers design assessments that serve intended purposes.
translated into assessments
d. Teachers sample learning appropriately in their assessments.
that yield accurate results.
e. Teachers write assessment questions of all types well.
f. Teachers avoid sources of mismeasurement that bias results.

4. Effective a. Teachers record assessment information accurately, keep it confidential, and appropriately
communication combine and summarize it for reporting (including grades). Such summary accurately reflects
current level of student learning.
Assessment results are
b. Teachers select the best reporting option (grades, narratives, portfolios, conferences) for each
managed well and
context (learning targets and users).
communicated effectively.
c. Teachers interpret and use standardized test results correctly.
d. Teachers effectively communicate assessment results to students.
e. Teachers effectively communicate assessment results to a variety of audiences outside the
classroom, including parents, colleagues, and other stakeholders.

5. Student involvement a. Teachers make learning targets clear to students.

b. Teachers involve students in assessing, tracking, and setting goals for their own learning.
Students are involved in
c. Teachers involve students in communicating about their own learning.
their own assessment.

SOURCE: Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: Doing it Right—Using it Well by Richard Stiggins, Judy Arter, Jan Chappuis, and Steve
Chappuis. (Portland, OR: Assessment Training Institute, 2004). Reprinted with permission.

to tap the full potential of assessment • What kind of information will be ourselves. Neither can we communi-
for learning (Stiggins, Arter, helpful? cate them clearly to students.
Chappuis, & Chappuis, 2004). The assessment must produce that Third, we develop and use assess-
First, we need to know why we’re information, and it must take into ments in a manner that yields accu-
assessing. If assessment is the process account the needs of the student as a rate results. We select proper assess-
of gathering evidence to inform crucial decision maker. ment methods, high-quality items and
instructional decisions, teachers must Second, quality assessments can scoring guides, and plan for careful
begin the assessment process by ask- arise only from a clear vision of the sampling of achievement. And we
ing: achievement to be mastered. We can- minimize distortion in results due to
• What decisions? not dependably assess targets we have bias.
• Who’s making the decisions? not completely defined and mastered Fourth, results must feed into

effective communication systems that entiate between strong and weak specific learning each item addresses,

deliver accurate information into the work. They do not help teachers and keeping students in the dark
hands of the intended user(s) in a understand what kinds of feedback about the learning for which they are
timely and understandable manner. are most effective or how to find the responsible.
For students, this includes receiving time to provide that feedback. They If teachers assign lower grades to
descriptive feedback while there is still do not help teachers show students late work, give zeros for cheating, or
time to use it to improve. how to assess their own strengths and factor attendance into grades, a work-
And finally, students must be weaknesses, nor do they emphasize shop on grading is unlikely to change
taught the skills they need to be in the motivational power of having stu- such unsound practice. It takes an
control of their own ultimate academ- dents track and share their learning. ongoing investment of cognitive effort
ic success: self-assessment and goal They cannot substitute for the profes- for teachers to think and come to
setting, reflection, keeping track of sional development needed to cause embrace arguments for not doing
and sharing their learning. changes in assessment practice in the these things, to dis- Students must be taught
classroom. cuss reasons for want-
the skills they need to be
Becoming competent Neither can we “workshop” our ing to continue those
in control of their own
in assessment for learning — what way to assessment competence. A pro- grading practices, and
won’t work and why fessional development model designed to work out accept- ultimate academic success:
No Child Left Behind has lit an to provide a quick workshop fix or to able substitutes that self-assessment and goal
assessment fire in our nation: All economize on time at the expense of both hold students setting, reflection, keeping
things assessment-related sell fast. But deep understanding will fail. accountable for devel- track of and sharing their
we can’t buy assessments that will cir- Developing assessment expertise goes oping good work learning.
cumvent teachers’ need for deeper beyond teaching people how to create habits and communi-
assessment expertise. Off-the-shelf a test. It goes beyond showing how to cate effectively about those work
assessments may be marketed as convert rubric scores to grades or how habits.
“formative assessments,” but they to develop a standards-based report Changing habits is not easy. It
don’t help teachers understand or card. It examines well-established takes work in and out of class to build
apply the strategies that have been assessment practices that are harmful assessment for learning environments
proven to increase student learning. to students and their learning, like that meet the student’s information
They do not show teachers how to factoring practice work (such as needs along with the teacher’s.
make learning targets clear to stu- homework) in the final grade, giving Increasing descriptive feedback while
dents, or how to help students differ- tests without first understanding what reducing evaluative feedback means

that the teacher must figure out ways
to comment on the quality of student
Resources in assessment for learning
work and then schedule time for stu-
dents to act on that feedback before Research on assessment’s impact on student achievement:
being graded. Teaching students to • “Creating a system of accountability: The impact of instructional assessment
assess their own work takes class time on elementary children’s achievement scores,” by Samuel J. Meisels, Sally
as well as practice. It is difficult to Atkins-Burnett, Yange Xue, Donna DiPrima Bickel, and Seung-Hee Son. (2003).
delete content coverage in order to Educational Policy Analysis Archives, 11(9), 19. Retrieved from
accommodate these activities on a reg-
ular basis — there is already more to • “The impact of classroom evaluation on students,” by Terence J. Crooks.
teach than there is time. (1988). Review of Educational Research, 58(4), 438-481.
Developing assessment competen- • “The role of classroom assessment in student performance on TIMSS,” by
cies requires that people rethink both Michael C. Rodriguez. (2004). Applied Measurement in Education, 17(1), 1-24.
what they do now and what beliefs • “The search for methods of group instruction as effective as one-to-one
led them to adopt those practices. It tutoring,” by Benjamin Bloom. (1984). Educational Leadership, 41(8), 4-17.
requires that they make decisions
about what to give up and what to Valuable professional development materials:
retool. The workshop model of pro- • Assessment FOR Learning: An Action Guide for School Leaders, by Steve
fessional development cannot offer Chappuis, Richard J. Stiggins, Judith Arter, and Jan Chappuis. Portland, OR:
the support needed for such changes. Assessment Training Institute, 2005.
• Capturing All of the Reader Through the Reading Assessment System, by
What will work? Learning teams Rachel Billmeyer. Omaha, NE: Dayspring Printing, 2004.
In the learning team approach to • Creating Writers, by Vicki Spandel. New York: Addison Wesley Longman,
professional development, participants 2001.
engage in a combination of independ- • How to Grade for Learning, by Ken O’Connor. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin
ent study and ongoing small-group Press, 2002.
collaboration with a commitment to • Scoring Rubrics in the Classroom, by Judith Arter and Jay McTighe.
helping all group members develop Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2001.
classroom assessment expertise. The
process begins with an infusion of
new ideas that can come from several
sources: attending workshops, reading of each partner. When teams commit and act collaboratively to ensure that
books and articles, watching videos, to shaping the ideas into new class- our classroom assessment practices
and observing other teachers at work. room practice, reflecting on the maximize, not just measure, our stu-
It continues with results, and sharing the benefits with dents’ achievement.
Few teachers currently use ongoing opportuni- each other, professional growth sky-
the words “assessment” ties to discuss and rockets. Teams reach their ultimate REFERENCES
and “joy” in the same work through the goal of changing classroom assessment Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998).
sentence. cognitive conso- practices in specific ways that benefit Assessment and classroom learning.
nance and disso- students. Educational assessment: Principles, poli-
nance that arise when practice and This is challenging work and can cy and practice, 5(1), 7-74. Also sum-
beliefs conflict. But most importantly, be even painful at times; few teachers marized in “Inside the black box:
it requires that each team member currently use the words “assessment” Raising standards through classroom
transform new assessment ideas into and “joy” in the same sentence. Yet if assessment,” Phi Delta Kappan, 80(2),
actual classroom practices with which we don’t begin this dialogue, this 139-148.
they experiment. In this way, they and study of assessment for learning, we Stiggins, R., Arter, J., Chappuis,
their students learn valuable lessons are relegating assessment to its J., & Chappuis, S. (2004).
about what works for them and why. accountability role and passing up its Classroom assessment for student learn-
When the experiences of such potential benefits to students. Let us ing: Doing it right—using it well.
hands-on learning are shared among fundamentally rethink how assess- Portland, OR: Assessment Training
teammates in regular team meetings, ment is used in our classrooms, elimi- Institute. n
all members benefit from the lessons nate its negative effects on students,