Why Assess?

Assessment of Learning vs. Assessment for Learning

Teachers who understand the multiple purposes of assessment recognize the need for a balance of assessments. Report card grades and SOL tests are examples of assessment of learning and allow students, teachers, school administrators, and policymakers to make inferences regarding the extent to which students have learned the intended curriculum. Assessment of learning is also called "summative" assessment. While assessments of learning do provide valuable information regarding a student's cumulative level of competence, they fail to provide the day-to-day contextual information that informs teaching and learning.

When teachers assess for learning, they build a continuous stream of information. These assessments are used throughout instruction describe students' needs, plan or adjust interventions, provide students with feedback to facilitate learning, and help students monitor their learning. When assessment is used for learning, teachers provide descriptive rather than evaluative feedback with students. Assessment for learning engages students in on-going self-assessment. Assessment for learning involves interaction between the teacher and the student.

Assessment for learning is student-involved formative assessment in which both students and teachers play active roles:

Students: Where am I going?

Teachers: help students identify clear learning target(s), provide examples and models of strong and weak work to help students identify what elements are evident in order to clarify expectations

Students: Where am I now?

Teachers: offer regular and descriptive feedback, help students self-assess and set goals

Students: How can I close the gap?

Teachers: design lessons to focus on one aspect of quality at a time, teach students focused revision, engage students in self-reflection, and let them keep track of and share their learning

Adapted from Stiggins, 2004.

Table 3: Comparing and Contrasting Assessment of and for Learning

  Assessment for Learning Assessment of Learning
Reasons for Assessment Promote increases in achievement to help students meet more standards; support ongoing student growth; improvement Document individual or group achievement or mastery of standards; measure achievement status at a point in time for purposes of reporting; accountability
Audience Students about themselves Others about students
Focus of Assessment     Specific achievement targets selected by teachers that enable students to build toward standards Achievement standards for which schools, teachers, and students are held accountable
Place in Time Process of learning An event after learning
Primary users Students, teachers, parents Policy makers, program planners, supervisors, teachers, students, parents
Typical users     Provide students with insight to improve achievement; help teachers diagnose and respond to student needs; help parents see progress over time; help parents support learning Certify student competence; sort students according to achievement; promotion and graduation decisions; grading
Teacher's role Standards into classroom targets; inform students of targets; build assessments; provide feedback to students; adjust instruction based on results; involve students in assessment Administer the test carefully to ensure accuracy and comparability of results; use results to help students meet standards; interpret results for parents; build assessments for report card grading
Student's role     Self-assess and keep track of progress; contribute to setting goals; act on classroom assessment results to be able to do better next time Study to meet standards; take the test; strive for the highest possible score; avoid failure
Primary motivator Belief that success in learning is achievable Threat of punishment, promise of rewards
Examples Using rubrics with student; student self-assessment; descriptive feedback to students Achievement tests; final exams; placement tests; short cycle assessments


Adapted from Stiggins, 2004.