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Assessment and making learning visible

"The primary purpose of assessment is to improve students’ learning and teachers’ teaching as both student and teacher respond to the information that it provides."

The New Zealand Curriculum, 2007, page 39

Inclusive schools confidently use assessment as an ongoing process for making the learning of all students visible. During the past two decades, teachers have gained a great deal of knowledge about the power of assessment to improve students’ learning and support a greater understanding of their progress. There has been a shift in emphasis from summative to formative assessment, from assessment of learning to assessment for learning. The principles and practices of assessment for learning allow students and teachers to be absolutely clear about the learning process and its results.

Assessment for learning encourages students to take responsibility for their learning by continually asking themselves questions about their progress, achievement, and next steps. Focusing on greater student participation within the assessment process is important because students’ understandings and beliefs about their capacity as learners can influence their achievement (Black & Wiliam, 1998). When school staff openly and honestly share their understandings about assessment approaches and language with a student and their whānau, conversations about teaching, learning, progress, and achievement are more effective. Such conversations can offer everyone an opportunity to contribute their unique knowledge of the student and to participate in planning for and responding to their learning pathway.

Assessment for learning gives students ownership of their learning and supports agency, self-regulation, and metacognition. It underpins the learning-focused relationships that are key to successful teaching and learning. It plays a key role in creating a classroom in which “there is no power differential between teacher and students, where both have equal agency and the locus of control is jointly maintained so that the learner is able to maximise his/her ability to regulate his/her own learning” (Absolum, 2006, page 39).

Assessment for learning is in keeping with the principles of the New Zealand Curriculum. For example, it promotes the active participation that is an essential aspect of students learning to learn – of understanding how they are going and where they might go next. And it plays a role in supporting inclusion across the school, when it is well embedded in school practice and regularly monitored and evaluated by school leaders.

It is important that you consider a wide range of assessment approaches for all students in your class, rather than, for example, assuming from the start that you will need to take a different approach for students with additional learning needs. Working in this way will help you to better identify when you need to differentiate or adapt approaches to ensure you are being responsive to the needs and abilities of individual students. For this reason, this section provides a broad overview of assessment approaches used by New Zealand schools and teachers, with examples to illustrate how these approaches have been used for students with additional needs.


Assessment for students with significant learning needs often requires individualised approaches. The section "Supporting students working at one curriculum level for an extended period" is currently in development and will provide information on and links to such assessment approaches.

Foundations for learning

As Figure 6 shows, there are three interrelated foundations for learning within the New Zealand Curriculum. For all students, skills and understandings in literacy and numeracy are critical for accessing all elements of the curriculum and for daily living1. Assessment of progress and achievement in literacy and numeracy needs to encompass a wide range of contexts in which students can demonstrate their capabilities and use their skills and knowledge.

Figure 6 also shows the critical role of the key competencies in students’ learning. The key competencies are a useful lens for understanding a student’s openness to learning and ability to learn, particularly when a specific competency requires focus and development. Appropriate tasks and activities will provide you with multiple opportunities to observe your students’ ability to apply the competencies in increasingly complex and diverse situations. You also need to provide your students with rich opportunities to develop and apply the complex behaviours and dispositions associated with the key competencies.

Finally, as students work within the learning areas of the New Zealand Curriculum, they both draw on and build their understandings and skills in literacy, numeracy, and the key competencies2.

Figure 6: Foundations for learning within the New Zealand Curriculum 


Aleki is a year 7 student with Down syndrome. His class is currently exploring the perspectives of volunteers as part of an inquiry on how people respond individually and collectively to challenges in their community. Aleki and his peers have interviewed a range of local volunteers. Their task is now to identify the key points and perspectives from their interviews and to group them into themes. Aleki shares his key points with a small group and, with support from a peer, writes them on sticky notes. In the grouping task, he is able to identify and collate points and perspectives from other interviews similar to what he has identified. Aleki has demonstrated an understanding of the social sciences achievement objectives the class is working toward and that he can draw on the key competencies of relating to others and participating and contributing.


As a group, reflect on what effective assessment looks like in practice in your school. The questions in the table below are to support the discussion.

Characteristics of effective assessment
(NZC, page 40)

Questions to consider

Our responses to these questions

It benefits students

  • How do you ensure all your students understand what they know and can do and what they still need to learn (and why this is important)?
  • Are your students motivated and confident because of your assessment practices? How do you know?

It involves students

  • How do you support students to reflect on their goals and progress with you, their parents, and their peers?
  • What strategies do you use to develop students’ capacity for self- and peer assessment?

It supports teaching and learning goals

  • How well do your students understand the desired outcomes and the criteria for success in their learning experiences?
  • How does the feedback you give support students to reach their learning goals?

It's planned and communicated

  • To what extent do your students know in advance how and why they are to be assessed?
  • How do you ensure your planning is flexible and responsive to new information, opportunities, or insights on a daily basis?

It's suited to the purpose

  • What assessment approaches do you use?
  • In what ways do they fit the learning being assessed, the diversity of your students, and the purpose for which the information is to be used?

It's valid and fair

  • How do you ensure the assessment approaches you use are appropriate and within the capability of all your students, including those with additional needs?
  • How confident are you that the judgments you make are valid? For example, are the approaches you choose actually assessing what they are supposed to? 

[1] Literacy and numeracy are not learning areas of the curriculum but are capabilities and understandings that all young people need in order to access the curriculum and progress within it. Figure 6 shows them as nested inside the key competencies because they are key to thinking, relating to others, managing self, participating and contributing, and using language, symbols, and texts.

[2] Figure 6 shows the key competencies as nested inside the learning areas because the competencies are context dependent, and every context can be linked to one of the learning areas.

Next – Approaches for making learning visible

Published on: 31 May 2016