Classroom Assessment

Three key ideas on assessing student learning from week one of #PME827

Our learning in classroom assessment is off to a great start. You, too, can follow along here. For the first week, we examined the fundamental role of assessment in instruction. In doing so, I was inspired to create the following graphics to capture three ideas arising from that study.

  1. The role of assessment in instruction.

In teaching as in surgery, the trained professional engages in purposeful acts. A teacher teaches and a surgeon, well, performs surgery. Performance of those actions are rarely an end, but a deliberate means to achieving some purposeful ends. Accordingly, the professional is intrinsically motivated to find out if their efforts have amounted to some intended effects—i.e., the teacher wants to know if their student has understood what was taught to them, and the surgeon wants to know if their repair has improved function and wellbeing. So, in contexts of teaching and learning, assessment is the means by which we arrive at that understanding. So, put differently, assessment is the systematic collection of information about student learning so we may answer questions of educational importance.

2. Assessment as Inquiry

When we assess, we are conducting an inquiry. We try to make visible what students have learned via the use of some instruments (e.g., a test, a portfolio). This results in information about what students have learned. We can then compare that information against what we have predetermined to be meritorious demonstration of the assessed performance (referencing to curriculum standards, other test-takers, or to prior performance). In doing so, we arrive at some claim about the learner’s performance (e.g., pass/fail; admission/not; promotion to the next grade/retention).

3. Assessment is purpose-driven.

The purpose for assessing learning determines other assessment decisions. These decisions all ‘hang together’.


By Chi Yan Lam

Dr. Chi Yan Lam is a Credentialed Evaluator and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of evaluation at the Faculty of Education and the Faculty of Health Sciences, Queen’s University; he is also a full-time evaluator practicing in public service. He specializes in evaluating large-scale, complex programs and incorporates multi-, mixed- and design methods in his evaluations to answer questions of importance to program administrators and policy makers working on educational and social programs. His articles on evaluation have been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the American Journal of Evaluation and the Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation. He has been a holder of the professional designation in evaluation since 2014.

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