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Assessment: The key to effective and efficient teaching and learning

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Back in 2019, I started a series of posts that describe my view of what quality teaching looks like, outlining the steps involved to deliver a learning program where all students learn. Since then, I have had many conversations about the model and worked with many teachers to implement it. These conversations usually focus on one key idea.

That key idea is simple. Assessment, more than activities, is the key to delivering an effective and efficient learning program where more students learn and more students succeed.

In this blog, I want to promote the idea that planning assessment is the first and most important aspect of planning. Once the assessment pieces are in place, we can be more selective and adaptive in terms of activities that will support and motivate our students to succeed.

Step 1. Summative assessment.

The learning goal and the summative assessment are the key foundational pieces of a quality planning process. They answer the key questions- What is it that we expect our students to learn? and How will we know when they have learned it? The summative assessment is designed to engage students in an activity where they can demonstrate all they have learnt during the lesson sequence. The summative assessment is the ‘aim of the game’, the opportunity to demonstrate learning in new and creative ways.

Without a quality summative assessment, teachers do not have an end point. They lack the anchor that helps select and use vital teaching moments to help students understand and learn. The role of the teacher, during the learning process, is to provide high quality learning activities specifically designed to prepare students to achieve the learning goal and find success in the summative assessment.

Summative assessment is assessment of learning. It provides evidence of student learning and demonstrates achievement of the learning goal. Knowing the expectations of the unit of work or lesson sequence provides students with a sense of purpose around what they are learning in class. Our goal is to have as many students demonstrate achievement and therefore, summative assessment provides the target that we all aim for.

Step 2. Pre-assessment.

Completing the bookends of a quality learning program is the pre-assessment task(s). Not only is it important to know where we are going (summative assessment), we also need to know where to start (pre-assessment). A well-crafted set of pre-assessment tasks provides evidence of the students’ current level of knowledge and skill in relation to the summative assessment and learning goal. Knowing these levels provides the teacher with data that will assist in adjusting activity focus, the time required, and what content will require a more concentrated focus.

The pre-assessment is not the summative assessment. This would require students to demonstrate learning that they have not yet acquired. The pre-assessment tasks highlight the pre-requisite skills needed in order to advance learning. We need to ensure that these pre-requisite skills are in place so that students are in the best place to continue their learning.

Pre-assessment is assessment for learning. The tasks enable teachers to use evidence of current levels of knowledge, understanding and skills to inform the learning sequence. The information can also be useful for students, providing them with feedback about how to improve their learning.

Step 3. Formative assessment

As is always the case, we feel that there is not enough time to teach all we need to teach and assist students to learn all there is to learn. In this environment, we need pre-determined checkpoints to ensure we make the most effective and efficient decisions about the learning program underway. Formative assessment provides the teacher with vital, in-time information so that they can adjust teaching strategies, time, and activities to ensure more learning.

Formative assessment assists in answering another two important questions about student learning- How will we respond when some students don’t learn? and How will we respond when some students already know it? Without the formative assessment data, it is difficult for teachers to navigate a path towards the summative assessment, whilst keeping all students on a learning path.

Formative assessment is assessment as learning. Formative assessment is information for the teacher and the students so they can be involved in ongoing learning. For the teacher, it provides insight into what is working and what needs to be changed. If students are learning, we keep at it, if they are not, we need to rethink our strategy and look for alternative ideas. For students, this information provides direction about next-step learning, helping them understand what is working and what else they need to focus on in order to achieve the learning goal.


Once, these steps are in place, we can choose a range of activities that will assist us support student learning. We must be always ready, to adapt, to change or to remove planned activities when we notice that they are no longer needed, or that they are not appropriate for the level of learning we have discovered through assessment. Our goal is always to ensure students have the best chance of being successful at the summative assessment task(s) and therefore achieving the learning goal.

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Peter Hayes


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