Definitions of Assessment for Learning

There are a number of assessment terms that will appear in any discussion of assessment. Listed below are common interpretations of some of these terms:

Assessment A working definition of Assessment for learning from a widely cited article contends:

    "the term ‘assessment’ refers to all those activities undertaken by teachers, and by their students in assessing themselves, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged.

Since this seminal article, educators have differentiated assessment according to its purpose:

Assessment for learning

    comprises two phases—initial or diagnostic assessment and formative assessment
    assessment can be based on a variety of information sources (e.g., portfolios, works in progress, teacher observation, conversation)
    verbal or written feedback to the student is primarily descriptive and emphasizes strengths, identifies challenges, and points to next steps
    as teachers check on understanding they adjust their instruction to keep students on track
    no grades or scores are given - record-keeping is primarily anecdotal and descriptive
    occurs throughout the learning process, from the outset of the course of study to the time of summative assessment

Assessment as learning

    begins as students become aware of the goals of instruction and the criteria for performance
    involves goal-setting, monitoring progress, and reflecting on results
    implies student ownership and responsibility for moving his or her thinking forward (metacognition)
    occurs throughout the learning process

Assessment of learning

    assessment that is accompanied by a number or letter grade (summative)
    compares one student’s achievement with standards
    results can be communicated to the student and parents
    occurs at the end of the learning unit


    judgment made on the basis of a student’s performance

Diagnostic assessment (now referred to more often as "pre-assessment")

    assessment made to determine what a student does and does not know about a topic

assessment made to determine a student's learning style or preferences used to determine how well a student can perform a certain set of skills related to a particular subject or group of subjects

    occurs at the beginning of a unit of study
    used to inform instruction:makes up the initial phase of assessment for learning

Formative assessment

    assessment made to determine a student’s knowledge and skills, including learning gaps as they progress through a unit of study
    used to inform instruction and guide learning
    occurs during the course of a unit of study
    makes up the subsequent phase of assessment for learning

Summative assessment

    assessment that is made at the end of a unit of study to determine the level of understanding the student has achieved
    includes a mark or grade against an expected standard