Assessment in Mathematics Assessment Logo

Types of Classroom Assessment

Making assessment an integral part of daily mathematics instruction is a challenge. It requires planning specific ways to use assignments and discussions to discover what students do and do not understand. It also requires teachers to be prepared to deal with students' responses. Merely spotting when students are incorrect is relatively easy compared with understanding the reasons behind their errors. The latter demands careful attention and a deep knowledge of the mathematics concepts and principles that students are learning… The insights we gain by making assessment a regular part of instruction enable us to meet the needs of the students who are eager for more challenges and to provide intervention for those who are struggling.
Burns 2005, p. 31

Assessment is integral to the teaching–learning process, facilitating student learning and improving instruction, and can take a variety of forms. Classroom assessment is generally divided into three types: assessment for learning, assessment of learning and assessment as learning.

Assessment for Learning (Formative Assessment)

The philosophy behind assessment for learning is that assessment and teaching should be integrated into a whole. The power of such an assessment doesn't come from intricate technology or from using a specific assessment instrument. It comes from recognizing how much learning is taking place in the common tasks of the school day – and how much insight into student learning teachers can mine from this material.
McNamee and Chen 2005, p. 76

Assessment for learning is ongoing assessment that allows teachers to monitor students on a day-to-day basis and modify their teaching based on what the students need to be successful. This assessment provides students with the timely, specific feedback that they need to make adjustments to their learning.

After teaching a lesson, we need to determine whether the lesson was accessible to all students while still challenging to the more capable; what the students learned and still need to know; how we can improve the lesson to make it more effective; and, if necessary, what other lesson we might offer as a better alternative. This continual evaluation of instructional choices is at the heart of improving our teaching practice.
Burns 2005, p. 26

Assessment of Learning (Summative Assessment)

Assessment of learning is the snapshot in time that lets the teacher, students and their parents know how well each student has completed the learning tasks and activities. It provides information about student achievement. While it provides useful reporting information, it often has little effect on learning.

Comparing Assessment for Learning and Assessment of Learning

Assessment for Learning
(Formative Assessment)

Assessment of Learning
(Summative Assessment)

Checks learning to determine what to do next and then provides suggestions of what to do—teaching and learning are indistinguishable from assessment.

Checks what has been learned to date.

Is designed to assist educators and students in improving learning.

Is designed for the information of those not directly involved in daily learning and teaching (school administration, parents, school board, Alberta Education, post-secondary institutions) in addition to educators and students.

Is used continually by providing descriptive feedback.

Is presented in a periodic report.

Usually uses detailed, specific and descriptive feedback—in a formal or informal report.

Usually compiles data into a single number, score or mark as part of a formal report.

Is not reported as part of an achievement grade.

Is reported as part of an achievement grade.

Usually focuses on improvement, compared with the student's “previous best” (self-referenced, making learning more personal).

Usually compares the student's learning either with other students' learning (norm-referenced, making learning highly competitive) or the standard for a grade level (criterion-referenced, making learning more collaborative and individually focused).

Involves the student.

Does not always involve the student.

Adapted from Ruth Sutton, unpublished document, 2001, in Alberta Assessment Consortium, Refocus: Looking at Assessment for Learning (Edmonton, AB: Alberta Assessment Consortium, 2003), p. 4. Used with permission from Ruth Sutton Ltd.

Assessment as Learning

Assessment as learning develops and supports students' metacognitive skills. This form of assessment is crucial in helping students become lifelong learners. As students engage in peer and self-assessment, they learn to make sense of information, relate it to prior knowledge and use it for new learning. Students develop a sense of ownership and efficacy when they use teacher, peer and self-assessment feedback to make adjustments, improvements and changes to what they understand.

For more information about assessment for, as and of learning, see the WNCP publication Rethinking Classroom Assessment with Purpose in Mind.