What are the Best Assessment Techniques used by Educators in the Classroom?

Gone are those days when only a few students reached the learning standards and the rest stayed below the line of merit. Our 21st century educational system recognizes the fact that every student is unique and has a core set of values, perspectives, 

concerns and agendas in the learning environment. 

Not all the students learn equally, some learn quickly while many others take time: this doesn’t mean that they’re different but the way they learn and the learning style in which they are comfortable may differ from one student to another. Ironically, traditional methods used to provide a single teaching approach for all the students and it caused a great difference in grades among students in a classroom.  Teachers need to provide them with personalized instructions and curriculum  in order to make them learn uniquely but somehow traditional methods are no longer providing educators as well as students with sufficient time. Individualized instructions and personalized instructions are originated from a strategy called, “assessment”.  

Assessment is an integral part of instruction and it determines whether or not the learning standards are being met. It enables educators to know whether or not their teaching strategies are helpful to students. It also affects instructions about learning styles, lesson curriculum,  resources, etc. Assessment is of two kinds: Formative assessment and Summative assessment.

Formative assessment: The goal of formative assessment is to monitor student learning and provide ongoing feedback to instructors to improve their teaching and to students to improve their learning.

Summative assessment: The goal of summative assessment is to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit by comparing it against some standard or benchmark.

The following are some of the best assessment techniques which educators use in their classroom.

Formative Assessment techniques by Paul Black and Chris Harrison:

“Formative assessment is not just a set of tricks for running things better in a classroom, it’s actually revolutionary in changing the way teachers relate to their pupils, and the way pupils see themselves as learners.”- Paul Black.

 “I’m passionate about promoting the sort of classrooms where children get learning experiences that take them forward and help them not just with their learning now, but the future ways they learn.”- Dr. Christine Harrison

Paul Black and Christine Harrison, authors of the influential pamphlet, “Working inside the black box”, derived some principles of assessment in secondary education.

 “The key feature is that the teacher finds ways of helping the student to be active in the classroom, and helping the student to speak out and express their ideas. Until that happens, the teacher doesn’t know what’s needed.”, said Paul Black.

If the teacher continues to teach things without knowing what students are understanding, he can’t make them learn what they are actually supposed to. Chris Harrison suggests that in formative assessment, there are many different areas that teachers and learners need to work on and feedback is the best tool to drive assessment. Feedback will occur if we allow students to express their ideas. Students should also be encouraged to do self and peer-assessments, this helps them improve themselves individually as well as through group orientations to learn and think better.

At Lord William’s School, Oxfordshire, two educators Karen Vear and Jon Ryder helped Paul and Chris with their initial research.  Both educators’ motto is to make students independent learners and they feel that there is a need to make students realize what steps they need to take next to progress in their learning. So, here are the features of Formative assessment as follows:

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Effective Questioning:

Basic formative assessment is an approach in which teachers ask some well thought out questions that include questions from their research and experience, the questions that students have doubts on or some open questions which people can answer in various ways. Effective questions are the questions that evoke great ideas related to what the learning has to achieve.

Jon Ryder’s Open questioning approach:

For Example, Science teacher Jon Ryder follows the approach of open questioning to stimulate discussion amongst pupils in his year 11 class. He asks students to form groups, asks questions to discuss among the group and also suggests one of the group members to note down the highlighted ideas. 

“If I just do quick question answer, they don’t have time to think and process information, they also have to take risks in terms of peer pressure in putting their hands up and answering the question.”, said Jon Ryder. But if we put them in a group, they discuss, share and exchange their ideas, gets more involved and become confident. They listen to each other, contribute their works and come up with a good solution.


In the past what teachers used to do was, giving students feedback in the form of marks, grades or levels based on their performance. It isn’t always useful to children as it just shows where they’re at but not what to do for betterment. Chris suggests teachers to deliver some instructions on how to improve or what’s needed next.

“The way you give feedback or advice to students affects their self esteem”, said Paul Black. If the feedback is about marks, something by which they can compare themselves with other people or something that expresses whether they’re a winner or a loser in a competition, then that will not help their self esteem. It seems ok for top guys, although it doesn’t challenge them enough and it discourages many of the rest. There is a need to follow a new approach.

Karen Vear’s comment-only approach to marking mathematics:

For example, Karen Vear has been developing a comment-only approach to marking Mathematics. Instead of awarding students with marks, she interacts with them through comments in their notebooks about their performances and improve them through individualized instructions. Instead of assessing just through marks, Karen and Ryder feel that it becomes an effective assessment, if we provide students with instructions and also encourage them to reply back.

Peer and Self assessment:

Most of the teachers feel it difficult to follow the comment-only approach because it takes a lot of time to write in kids’ books. What Ryder follows is that he will make the comment-only approach once in four weeks and check students’ work through self and peer assessment approach.

“It’s important in learning that you get wise about how to steer yourself”, says Paul.

A good learner is one who learns independently or with colleagues even in the absence of a teacher, so, educators need to improve students’ self as well as peer assessment skills. 

Karen says that if we make two students sit together, they will be quite frank with each other in a peer assessment, where teacher can’t always be there, they’ll discuss their works and assess each other by marking, advising and correcting.

Summative Assessments:

Paul says that formative assessments and summative assessments are having different practices and conflict each other yet both of them are important to improve learning. Summative assessment can be seen as a review of learning, preparing for that review can involve pupils in thinking through what they’ve achieved in the learning. After taking the test, the written answers can resemble what they’ve learnt, where they are good or where they need some more practice. Karen follows real mark schemes when it comes to formative assessment and she believes that it is necessary to make children understand why they’ve got the mark and why they’ve missed it.

Ryder says that, we have to use summative assessments at one stage as they’re important, at the same time, formative assessments are even more necessary to advance students’ learning.

We hope this information is useful for you to know about few of the best assessment techniques educators are using currently.  We’d like to know about more assessment strategies you’re following in your classroom. Please feel free to share with us in the comment box.

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About the Author
Author: Santosh Bhaskar KWebsite: http://www.twitter.com/SantoshBhaskarK
Devotee of Dr. Abdul Kalam. Following his path of Creating Creative Education in India. Contributing my works in "India Vision 2020". Former EdTech Blogger/Researcher at ETR India

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