Key Points

Establishing students’ progress and current level of functioning in relation to a variety of cognitive and non-cognitive variables is an essential dimension of teachers’ professional practice.

If we do not know how much students have learned as a result of their engagement in school, it is impossible to judge the value of their educational experience, the effectiveness of our teaching and what steps to take next. Assessment of learning offers ways to summarise information about how students are doing in school. This information is important to students, parents, teachers, school leaders, educational administrators and the public. The information may be used by various interested parties, but it cannot be used effectively if it is of poor quality or absent altogether. Assessment serves valuable functions in relation to certification, reporting, accountability and student motivation, amongst many others. These purposes can be achieved through judicious use of a range of appropriate methods, many of which involve systematic implementation of formal assessment approaches such as coursework, examinations and standardised tests, with robust procedures employed to ensure consistency across classrooms and schools.

Assessment, however, can also result in well-documented unintended consequences for students, teachers and educational practices more generally. Getting the balance right between assessments that are used to highlight students’ levels of achievement and assessment purposes that are more specifically centred on supporting learning is challenging, but crucial.