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Rethinking familiar assessment strategies (archived)

Most teachers are very familiar with the use of rubrics specifying levels of achievement, and they often develop these to describe learning progress. The matrices published as part of The New Zealand Curriculum Exemplars have been widely used for reporting aspects of achievement. Some early examples of using the matrices for assessing aspects of key competencies have been circulated, but their appropriateness for such assessment may be limited for the following reasons:

  • Rubrics typically differentiate between levels of performance at one moment in time and based on one source of evidence.
  • Only one aspect of a task can be manageably assessed - to do more would require the assessor to remember too many descriptors, with the result that judgments could become unreliable.
  • Contexts are not usually taken into account; rubrics tend to specify a very general performance.
  • Except where a rubric is used for self-assessment, students are judged by others and are not directly involved in determining the meaning of their demonstration of learning.
  • The theoretical basis on which progression across the levels of the rubric has been established is often unclear. For example, progression could be seen as developmental or indicative of growing expertise or improving self-regulation. Alternatively, progression could be related to task complexity or conceptual difficulty or the degree of abstraction of required knowledge and so on.
  • Even if there is a clear theory of what progress looks like, this is likely to apply to either knowledge or skills (but not both) and is most unlikely to take dispositions into account.

This does not mean that rubrics should be discarded. The challenge is rather to use them in ways that involve the student in the learning and/or assessment conversations and that creatively address the limitations listed here. This is most likely to happen when the whole school community works to build a collective understanding of the school's vision of learning and of valued achievement goals (see, for example, Boyd and Watson, 2006; and Hipkins, Roberts, and Bolstad, 2007). The example that follows is from one school at an early stage on a learning journey.

Example – Using the exemplars matrices for self-assessment

A secondary science team selected one aspect from the 'skills' matrix of the science exemplars (Ministry of Education, 2004b) to focus on a specific aspect of 'using language, symbols, and texts' for each topic to be studied. They edited the selected scale to match the planned learning focus and then printed the scale on large laminated sheets, one sheet for each progress step. These sheets were displayed in the classroom, and their meaning was discussed with the students. Students wrote their names on a sticky and posted it on the scale. As the unit proceeded and they produced evidence of their achievement, they could move their name up the scale.


This could be a good 'starter' activity because it increases use of self-assessment within a familiar unit of work. Empowering students to discuss their learning progress is a strength and would be further enhanced if students had helped construct the scale. A challenge is that the development of one small aspect of competency does not add up to the greater whole, nor does it provide evidence that students will be disposed to use this aspect of competency beyond this learning context. Also, the traditional focus on each student's learning does not address the challenge that learning is supported in a context and typically takes place during interactions with other people and resources.

Next – Opportunities to learn

Published on: 17 Mar 2008