Assessment to Support Learning

Educators have known for many years that the traditional assessment model of letter or percentage grades, is imperfect to say the least. This is why many schools are going through a process to bring our assessment practices in line with research based best practices. As our school recently engaged the middle school parent community on this topic, we had an opportunity to clarify our objectives when it comes to meaningful student assessment. Below are some of the concepts which were presented during a recent parent meeting. The presentation began with the school mission.

All of our efforts are focused on our ultimate goal for our students.
Why do we assess ? To give students meaningful feedback to help them learn. While grading has other purposes, in the end this is why we assess.
Based on the work of D. Reeves, parents were asked to determine a final grade based on the above series of grades.
The disparate parent responses reflected those collected by Reeves’ from 10,000 teachers, as indicated in this slide from HKIS (Hong Kong International School)
The reality is that there are many independent factors which potentially make up a grade. Typically, they are applied differently by different teachers, causing inconsistency or worse.
An exerpt from the work of Tom Guskey demonstrates how students performing quite differently can end up with the same grade or different grades depending on the mathematical procedure used.
A traditional letter or percentage grade has many limitations which in the end doesn’t communicate meaningful information to the student or parent. Not much has changed since 1889!
The advantage of “standards-based” recording and reporting is that it presents the learner with a clear understanding of their progress and the parent with an accurate reflection of student learning.

The involvement of parents is of crucial importance as a school goes through the change process. An understandable concern often raised is how standards-based reporting might effect high school transcripts and college admissions. In fact, with an approach which more accurately reflects learning, college admissions officers would have greater confidence that the high school transcript is an accurate rendition of student achievement. Schools that use a standards based assessments would of course ensure that high school transcripts remain appropriate for university admissions.

In order to best serve the needs of student learners, many schools around the world are grappling with ways to improve assessment practices. Ultimately, moving to a standards based approach will positively impact classroom practice as well, as it focuses the teaching on learning outcomes as opposed to other extraneous factors. Dispositions such as late work, effort and behavior are of course important competencies and should be assessed separately from student achievement.


  1. The most important aspect of Standard Based Assessment grading is that it “paints a real and clear picture” of where the student is at and where he needs to get giving both, student and teacher, direction and purpose for future teaching and learning.

    Approaches to learning or learning competencies are aspects of the learning process that students demonstrate, or not, but do not impact in the final grade. I do believe, though, that solid students with a a strong history of consistency in learning competencies, end up being the ones who achieve the standards better. The one piece that needs to be added to the standard based assessment is the “Formative and Summtuve Common assessments”, indispensable tools to really gather data about “all” students across the same class without the subtle details of who teaches the class. I believe that standard based Assessment is the right thing to do, problem is parents and teachers are still too attached to the letter grade and don’t take too keenly on comments such as “approaching”, “proficient” or “exceptional” so they still ask the teacher: is that a B? a C? and A?


    1. Good points. This is a culture shift for most people, teachers, parents and students included. We are all creatures of habit and it’s hard to step outside of our letter grade comfort zone.


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