Four Ideal Student Assessments

For the past 2 years, the Calgary Board of Education has been working hard to actualize Personalized Learning.  At the Board, we believe Personalized Learning begins with engagement, is active and effortful, is assessment rich, is meta-cognitive and transformative.

As a Principal in the Board, my role is to develop understanding of each of these points, and put them into action.  As such, we have been working at our school to systematically do so.  Previously I posted ideas from our work on student engagement as much of our work this year has been focussed in this area.  It is impossible however to focus on one point, in exclusion of the others.  That is how student engagement has led us to assessment.

On the surface, an assessment rich learning environment seems simple enough.  However, what we are coming to understand about learning and the effects different types of assessment have on student learning are making things more complex.  We are now charged with using multiple forms of assessment, including Formative Assessment, Summative Assessment and Specialized Assessment.  The key we are finding is that one type of assessment cannot give us all we need.

“Assessment that works in the interests of children will enhance their ability to see and understand their learning for themselves, to judge it for themselves, and to act on their judgments.”

 –  Mary Jane Drummond

We must know what we want to assess, and have a tool-bag of assessment tools ready to use.  We must know which assessment tool, is most effective and will give us the information we are seeking.  We must know the ideal method and other possible methods.

Adapted by the Calgary Board of Education















When it comes to assessment there is no one size fits all but there are assessment tools that are better than others.

1.  Teacher Made Tests; ideal method for finding out what item knowledge a student holds.  I prefer to suggest this tool be used as  a pre-lesson or pre-unit.  Before a teacher starts planning or teaching, find out what knowledge the student holds.  Of course, a test of any kind only illicits the information it asks for.  What if the student holds knowledge about a topic but has nowhere to explain or demonstrate on a teacher made test?  That is where the combination of tools becomes critical.  One way gives on piece of information.  Although researchers feel Teacher Made Tests are the ideal method to assess student knowledge, I would counter that all the methods listed in this chart are necessary in order to find out all a student knows.

2.  Performance Tasks; ideal method for assessing understanding.  Understanding is what we are all about.  Not what does the student know, but how can they demonstrate their understanding?  Don’t tell me, show me!  Performance tasks are often under-utilized by teachers because they don’t know how to grade a play or a debate or a demonstration.  This is where knowing your outcomes and  your success indicators are necessary.

3.  Observation; the ideal method for assessing processing skills.  Finally, observation of students us being backed in a strong way.  The key here is for teachers to record what they see, record how students are processing and interacting with knowledge.

4. Self Assessment; ideal for assessing attitudes.  Ideal for asking students what they want to learn, how they want to learn it – what works for them, and how they will know if they have learned.  Self assessment enables students to understand the main purposes of their learning and thereby grasp what they need to do to achieve.

A note about Feedback: as you can see, feedback is a strong assessment method in every area we assess.  It makes sense that if you are going to work to improve one area of your assessment practices, feedback would be it as you can use it repeatedly and across all forms of student learning.  What is effective feedback?  Read my previous post Feedback vs Feedforward to find out.

My challenge to teachers:

What I like about this chart is that it clearly lays out 12 assessment tools every teacher needs in their tool bag.  No matter how we do it, whether I test you, observe you, ask you to show me or ask you to self-assess, decide what tools you have, what tools are broken and need to be fixed, and what tools you don’t have at all.  Make it your purpose to know and use each one of these assessment tools.

Related Articles:

Feedback vs FeedForward (

Rethinking High Stakes Exams (


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  1. Rethinking High Stakes Exams » At the Principal's Office
  2. Feedback or Feedforward » At the Principal's Office
  3. The Walk-About » At the Principal's Office

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