Newsletter 162 - NEEDU - Schools That Work II - Effective use of Assessment


Assessments are used regularly to measure what students know and are able to do, and to evaluate teachers’ teaching strategies. Teachers described how they use the assessment loop as a routine teaching process in their work to help learners know what to do to move from their current position to the final learning goal. While encouraging teachers to use different forms of assessment to enhance learning and teaching appears counterproductive considering the most frequently heard complaint across the educational landscape that learners are over-tested, Reeves (2003) cogently argues that

“many students are over-tested; but they are underassessed.” Teachers in the present study use different phases of the assessment loop effectively to improve learning and teaching. The assessment loop can be expressed as follows:


PHASE 1 DIAGNOSTIC ASSESSMENT to assess learners’ prior knowledge

PHASE 2 FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT to monitor learner progress during the learning process

PHASE 3 ANALYSIS OF RESULTS to identify areas of underperformance and decide on actions to take

PHASE 4. FEEDBACK TO LEARNERS that is prompt, specific and frequent

PHASE 5 TAKING ACTION to respond to assessment results and retesting to assess the impact of the intervention .

PHASE 6 SUMMATIVE ASSESSMENT to assess what learners have learned at the conclusion of a learning programme.


Many schools continue to rely upon the idiosyncratic assessment practices of individual teachers. In contrast, schools in the current study develop common assessment practices. They re-inforce those common practices using quality and well-developed assessment items to determine whether or not learners have learned the content taught. Teachers in all content areas use a wide range of research-based and empirically tested assessment practices to advance learning and teaching. Classroom assessment practices that teachers use to provide the kind of specific, personalized, and timely information needed to guide both learning and teaching are consistent with those reported in research findings. They are discussed below.



Teachers use three forms assessment (diagnostic, summative and formative) to serve different



Data gained from summative assessment (sometimes referred to as assessment of learning) is used to assign marks, summarise learning and used as a baseline to set future goals. However, teachers understand that summative assessments are insufficient tools for maximizing learning “because by the time learners and their parents get to know how well learners have learned, the assessment results are ancient history in their eyes”



Teachers use diagnostic assessments (also called pre-assessments) to pre-test learners’ prior content knowledge for different objectives. Armed with diagnostic information, teachers said that they are able to:

· Gain insight into learners’ prior knowledge, before delivering a lesson, including such things as skill gaps, skill levels, learners’ misconceptions, abilities, strengths and weaknesses.


· Establish a baseline to which future learning can be compared.

· Assist lesson planning in terms of knowing how to pitch the lessons and guiding differentiated



The beneficial outcomes of formative assessment, otherwise known as assessment for learning, which have been highly touted by researchers and educators alike, are prevalent in top performing schools in our sample. Used as a teaching practice focused on continual checks for learner understanding, teachers report that they use both formal and informal formative assessments methods regularly to:

· Provide teachers and learners with specific feedback on learning progress for the purpose of guiding teaching to improve learning.


· Gain more information about learner proficiency to adjust or modify their teaching and maintain or remediate the learning process on a continual basis with a view to helping learners realise their full potential in the classroom. The frequency of monitoring learner progress ranged from monthly to weekly formative assessments among schools. Variations also existed among different subjects within the same schools. It is important to note that a common practice among most schools is that these assessments are not constructed by teachers. Teachers prefer to draw questions from the NSC past papers. One beneficial outcome of regular formative assessment that is widely touted in many schools resonates well with Reeves’ (2003) findings that the consequence of learners performing badly is not an admonishment to “wait until next year” but rather the promise that “you can do better next week.”


Teachers describe the analysis of assessment results as an important phase of the assessment loop. The next step that teachers take after administering an assessment is the analysis of results to inform actions: “whether to proceed and teach the next concept or re-teach the concept if most learners did not perform well,”.  In this phase, schools do four interrelated activities:

Analyse assessment results, identify teachers and learners who are having problems with particular topics, identify topics or concepts which are commonly found to be challenging, and discuss results and actions to take. To derive meaning from assessment results teachers dig deeper into their results than just calculating average percentages per class and presenting the spread of performance in terms of the proportions of learners who achieved specific levels of performance. These teachers conduct item and error analysis to:

· Track questions where learners are performing well and badly

· Identify topics which are commonly found to be challenging

· Identify teachers and learners who are having problems with particular topics:

· Establish the nature and extent of the common errors and misconceptions made by learners in the questions where poor performance is noted

· Identify causes of errors

· Establish the basic concepts, skills and content areas that would help learners to correctly answer the questions in which they made common errors


Analysing assessment data in this way, stands out in striking contrast to many of the teachers in the typical performing schools who conduct assessment only to comply with the prescribed assessment requirements. Unlike schools which blame the learners, government, lack of parental involvement, or something else, but not themselves, when their learners perform poorly, teachers in the highperforming schools take some responsibility for their learners’ performance. Expressing views held by many teachers in these schools. Discussing assessment results among teachers is another good practice that distinguish top performing schools from typical-performing or low-performing schools. In the former, assessment results are discussed among teachers in department meetings to determine further meaning behind the results and what actions to take. Discussing results among teachers is only natural in some schools given that, as one teacher notes, “we do team-teaching and so we are ‘team-assessing’”

However, in typical or low performing schools, learner assessment is an idiosyncratic activity between a teacher and his or her class,


Analysing assessment results is not the end in the top-performing schools. Teachers give feedback to learners based on the careful analysis of formative assessment results. There is consistency in research findings about criteria that must be met if formative assessment feedback given to learners has to enhance learning. Feedback practices in the top-performing schools measure up in that feedback given to learners meet at least three of the empirically-tested criteria namely, that it must be frequent or regular, prompt or timely, and specific or understandable to the learner.

· Firstly, the schools with good results provide significantly more frequent feedback to learners than is typically the case with quarterly reports. “We provide feedback on a weekly basis. This is beneficial on two fronts: One, it keeps learners on their toes—no time to sit on your laurels. Two, it says to learners ‘Don’t be discouraged if you got it wrong this time, you’ll have another chance very soon to do better.”

· Secondly, teachers provide feedback, either positive or negative, promptly designed to improve learners’ performance by identifying any gaps between a desired learning goal and the learner’s present status towards that learning goal. “Making learners wait for weeks before they find out how they did in a test will not help them identify their weak points in time to do something about it.”

· Thirdly, schools comply with the ‘specificity test.’ McTighe and O'Connor (2005) argue that pinning a symbol (B-) or a number (82%) on a student's work is no more helpful than such comments as “nice job” or “you can do better.” Contrast this to the best practice in top performing schools in the present study, in which teachers provide feedback that helps learners understand both their strengths and the areas in which they can improve. NEEDU researchers heard many examples of feedback from different schools, which met the ‘specificity test.’ In other schools, complying with the ‘specificity test’ means reporting progress against set goals and targets. One school has set a “goal line” for every learner. Goal line is the line between where the learner is in relation to where he or she should be in terms of the set goals and targets. Depicting a learner’s performance to indicate whether it falls significantly above or below the goal line provides useful feedback about the rate of progress a learner is making to reach the set goal from the current baseline or the lack of progress.


Taking actions based on the results of assessment is identified in literature as the final step in assessment, hence this phase of the assessment loop is sometimes called "closing the loop.” Top performing schools in the current study identify gaps between a desired learning goal and the learners’ present status towards that learning goal. These schools respond to the analysis of formative assessment results by holding everybody accountable for learner performance, taking actions to improve teaching methodologies, and empowering learners to take responsibility for their education.

These post-learner assessment actions are discussed below.

· Holding everybody accountable for learner performance:

Driven by the analysis of assessment data, the top performing schools hold everybody accountable for learner performance. Teachers take actions to modify their teaching practices and learners are challenged to take ownership of their own learning and parents are expected to play their role at home.

Schools hold a view that learning (including learner performance) is a shared responsibility among teachers, learners and their parents. Different mechanisms are used to hold the trio accountable for learner performance. Echoing the sentiments of teachers in most schools, teachers quoted below describe how this is done in their schools.

ü Holding teachers accountable


ü Holding learners accountable

ü Holding parents accountable

ü Holding all parties accountable


We then look for possible explanations in the evidence about each learner, teacher, parent and SMT member that we keep at the school. This evidence is prepared ahead of time and is brought to the accounting session:

About the learner:

We look at

Ø his/her attendance and tardiness record

Ø whether she/he ‘bunks’ classes (plays truant)

Ø her/his conduct in class and at school

Ø whether she/he attends extra classes as required

Ø whether she/he does her /his class work and homework

If the record shows that she, for example, bunks classes and she does not do her homework, then we put it to her that she is contributing to her lack of success. The recommended action for her is that she has to improve on these two things next time.

About the parent:

We show him [the parent] the number of times he has been informed by the school that his child:

Ø is absent from schools

Ø arrives late in the morning

Ø bunks

Ø misbehaves in class and at school

Ø does not attend extra classes as required

Ø does not do his class work and homework

We then put to him [the parent] that his failure to respond when the school notifies him about these issues and his failure to work with the school to address them have contributed to his child not doing well. The recommended action for the parent is to take the necessary actions immediately when the school alerts him about things that would results in his child not achieving the set targets.

About the teacher:

We present evidence about:

Ø the number of occasions when he or she came late to class

Ø the number of occasions he or she missed a period (for whatever reason)

Ø the number of occasions he or she arrived late at school in the morning

We then put to him that there is no way learners would learn if he continues to miss his periods or whatever the case may be. The recommended action is that the teacher must improve on these indicators. He or she must make-up for the lost time and this must be documented.

For the SMT member:

We present evidence about what he did when he realised that the parent was not responding to the communique from the schools, and when the teacher was not honouring her periods. If he sat with this information and did nothing with it, then we put it to him that he contributed to the learner’s poor performance. At the end of it all, everybody is held accountable. We all don’t like accountability sessions because we all have to account in front all four stakeholders [the learner, the parent, the teacher and the SMT member]. We all have to sit on that hot seat. Imagine when you have to account in front of the learner for not doing your work. Who wants that? So, to avoid making yourself look bad, you make sure that you cross all your t’s and dot all your i’s.


Teachers, learners and parents also monitor progress learners are making against learners’ individual performance targets. Teachers encourage learners not only to set individual goals but also to set performance targets. This is done for three main reasons:

ü To help them (learners) decide what they want to achieve, not only at school but also in preparation for their post-school careers

ü To encourage learners to assess their current position in relation to set goals and targets

ü To equip learners with the tools to bridge the gap between their current performance (in any given assessment) in relation to set goals and set targets


Teachers provide frequent, prompt and specific formative assessment feedback to learners to enable them to monitor and analyse progress made toward attaining their goals and targets.


· Actions taken by teachers:

Following their discussion of the formative assessment results, teachers make continual adjustments on the part of both teacher and student as the means to achieve maximum performance. Teachers make the following adjustments:

ü Engage in professional development programmes to empower themselves to address deficiencies revealed by formative assessment data;

ü Adapt aspects of teaching or revising methodologies in the classroom to improve learning with a view to meeting learners’ needs;

ü Use team-teaching for specific skills that learners find challenging in formative assessments in order to ensure academic growth

ü Re-teach ‘problematic’ topics or provide extra classes

ü Differentiate instruction to address learners’ diverse learning needs—paying more attention to struggling learners


· Learners taking ownership of their education:

Teachers provide formative assessment feedback to move learning forward (by closing the gap between the baseline or individual performance targets and formative assessment results) and create a structure for learners to act on the feedback provided.

ü Exhibit appropriate behaviours such as coming to class prepared, completing assignments and homework well and on time, and seeking additional help when they are struggling (e.g. attending extra classes).

ü Engage actively in class activities, asking questions when they are confused, studying, monitoring their own progress in meeting school and their own academic performance targets, and using kids-teach-kids (peer-support) programme to master material with which they struggle.

ü Demonstrate life skills such as initiative, self-direction, and accountability.

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