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Assessment for learning

Active participation in assessment is an essential aspect of students learning to learn. If they see assessment as something done to them or a judgment of them, learners are less likely to look objectively at their progress, to be open to feedback, and to take responsibility for their next steps.

Student–teacher collaboration is vital if assessment feedback is to help students understand how they are going and where they might go next.

Active reflection is fundamental to teachers and learners who are serious about producing and sustaining the conditions for effective learning. A learning-focused relationship based on principles of openness, honesty and mutual respect requires that both teacher and student spend time, individually and together, considering how they genuinely have experienced the learning process, assessing the effectiveness of the learning, and reflecting on the quality of the learning.

Absolum, 2006, page 142

Effective feedback

Feedback contributes most constructively to learning when it is:

  • provided in the context of a genuine learning conversation
  • given at the time of the learning so that learners can make improvements as they go
  • initiated by the learner and in conjunction with self- and/or peer assessment.

Teachers need to:

  • gauge when (and what kind of) feedback is needed
  • provide strategies to help the learner to improve
  • allow time for the learner to act on the feedback
  • check the adequacy of the feedback with the learner.

Documenting learning

  • Learning logs or journals provide a way for learners to identify learning goals, record evidence of success, and reflect on learning needs.
  • Learning stories accumulated over time provide a picture of the learner’s developing competencies. Stories are typically developed collaboratively and may include photographs and other evidence.
  • Portfolios hold evidence of learning compiled over time. Learners select items to include and write descriptive reflections of what each item shows about their learning.

Adapted from Hipkins, 2008

Case study

Peer assessment

In her new entrant classroom, Julie encourages the children to evaluate their own and others’ work using clear criteria that reflect their learning goals.

Julie begins by modelling for them how to set learning goals, evaluate how well they have done, and identify what they want to improve. This helps them to develop the necessary language and concepts for assessing their own and others’ work and develop confidence in what they are doing.

To support self- and peer assessment of writing, Julie provides simple symbols for success criteria on laminated cards.

When the students complete their writing task, they refer to the cards to self-assess and then seek their partner to peer assess, using the same process.

After completing his story, Jordan reads it to his partner, Reuben, who listens carefully. Jordan then asks Reuben if he has met each of the criteria on his card. For each criterion, Reuben carefully scans the text to see if indeed Jordan has put in a full stop or used spaces and confirms that Jordan has met each criterion.

“Do I feel happy?” asks Jordan. “Yes, because I put in an ‘and’”, and he ticks the smiley face on his assessment card.

Quotation and case study (adapted) from Absolum, 2006, pages 105–107

Self- and peer assessment

Self-assessment enables learners to assess how well their work meets success criteria and to revise it accordingly. As they get older, learners should be given more practice in judging their own learning. This supports them to become less reliant on others’ input and more confident of their own successes.

Well-managed peer feedback provides opportunities for collaborative learning and gives students a wider range of ideas about their work. It requires:

  • collaboration in discussing and co-constructing the process to clarify the purpose, expectations, and success criteria for the learning
  • practice (led by the teacher through coaching, modelling, and feedback)
  • appropriate partners or groups (generally of the same ability).

Guiding questions He pātai

  • Do we always share the purposes, results of, and processes for assessment with our learners?
  • How well do students and parents understand our assessment tools and information?

> References and other useful resources


Absolum, M. (2006). Clarity in the Classroom: Using Formative Assessment. Auckland: Hodder Education.

Absolum, M., Flockton, L., Hattie, J., Hipkins, R., and Reid, I. (2009).
Directions for Assessment in New Zealand: Developing Students’ Assessment Capabilities. Wellington: Ministry of Education.

Artelt, C., Baumert, J., Julius-McElvany, N., and Peschar, J. (2003).
Learners for Life: Student Approaches to Learning: Results from PISA 2000. Paris: OECD.

Black, P., McCormick, R., James, M., and Pedder, D. (2006). “Learning How to Learn and Assessment for Learning: A Theoretical Inquiry”. Research Papers in Education, vol. 21 no. 2 (June), pp. 119–132.

Claxton and Carr (2002). Quoted from ECE Educate.

Gibbs, R. and Poskitt, J. (2010). Student Engagement in the Middle Years of Schooling (Years 7–10): A Literature Review. Report to the Ministry of Education.

Hipkins, R. (2008). Assessing Key Competencies: Why Would We? How Could We? Wellington: Ministry of Education. See Newer assessment strategies to consider.

Ministry of Education (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum. Wellington: Learning Media.

Download the full print version: Issue 21: May 2012 (PDF, 1 MB)