Assessment, in the form of examinations, has been a constant feature of education since the 18th Century. Some researchers indicate that the first printed examinations at school started in 1830 with the Sixth form at Harrow.[1, 2, 3]. For over 150 years, examinations have been our principal assessment tool and they are still important in 21st Century teaching and learning. The examination has a place in our arsenal of tools but is it the flag ship of assessment? More and more we are seeing a shift away from the examination.


This is an ebook we created on assessment, rubrics, feedback etc.

What is the purpose of assessments?

We often ask questions about assessment. We assess for a variety of purposes. These are worthwhile considering. Assessments can be used to:
  • tell a student how well they have learnt and where they need to develop further understanding.
  • Reinforce the learning process and measure success.
  • Determine the performance of the teacher and the school.
  • Determine educational performance across the country and internationally.
  • Determine the level of funding/resourcing required to get suitable educational results.
  • To provide employers with an understanding of the students abilities.
Broadly we can categorise assessment into three types:
  • Diagnostic - Diagnosing what the student knows or can do and equally importantly what the do not know or can not do.
  • Formative - An assessment which providing feedback on what the student knows/can do and what they need to do as the next stages of their development.
  • Summative - A snapshot of what a students know at a certain point in time.


Diagnosing what the student knows or can do and equally importantly what the do not know or can not do.


Formative Assessment is assessment that can be interpreted and used to give directions, advice, constructive criticism or make decisions about next steps in learning process.
This is assessment used to shape the course of a students learning and is used to help structure what the student will:
  • need to learn,
  • need to revise,
  • areas of weakness,
  • areas of strength.

Summative Assessment

Assessment that summarizes the development of the student at a particular time. What the student knows or doesn't know, can or can not do. This is usually the final assessment for the students unit or period of study. The most common version is the examination or test, but assignments, reports, essays, presentation, products etc all fit here to. It is the end point.

Fitting them together.

All three forms of assessment fit together and have their place. They also match with the stages of the learning process

Knowledge Acquisition

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Knowledge Deepening

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Knowledge Creation

Preparing for new learning
Presenting new learning

Deepening and reinforcing Learning

Applying and celebrating learning

Diagnostic assessment

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Formative Assessment

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Summative Assessment

Looking Back
preparing forward

Feeding back
Feeding forward

Feeding back
Snap Shot

Diagnostic assessment help us understand what our student know and what they don't,what they can and can not do and from this we can prepare our teaching.
Formative assessment give the students and the teachers a measure of the learning that has taken place, it indicates strengths and weaknesses and enable learning to be modified and adapted. Obviously diagnostic and formative assessment are closely related, as both give direction to learning. For Formative assessment to be effective there must be a level of trust between the teacher and the student. This is critical. Formative feedback must be learning focused, enabling the student to make improvements, rather than indicating errors.

Summative is the record of what a person knows or can do at a point or moment.

Structure of 21st Century Assessment?

Firstly, the assessment must have a purpose, it must be deliberate and considered. Given the world our students live in, a media and information rich, collaborative, connected and technological supported world, - a 21st Century Assessment will enable students to perform rich real world tasks (this gives relevance and context), often collaborative and should involve higher order thinking. The tasks will reflect and mirror 21st Century learning. They will be clear and transparent, with the student, their peers and the teacher intimately involved in the marking process.

21st Century Assessments are focused on both the learning process and the assessment outcome.
So why are these component in this formula?

Rich Real World Tasks.

Our students have the worlds at their fingertips. They are exposed to vast volumes of information in a variety of modes. For learning tasks to be relevant and for our students to be motivated to engage the tasks need to be rich. Relevance refers to the purpose and objectives of the task and to the media in which the task maybe carried out.external image 21st-c-assess-v2-249x300.jpg
A written report is a suitable medium and requires a certain type of literacy skills. But equally as suitable are other rich media like, video podcast, enhanced podcasts, cartoons and comics. These media are as suitable to engage higher order thinking processes as they plan, design, create and present their solutions.
Allowing students input into the development of the assessment is a key step to achieving student ownership and engagement. Why should our students not have involvement in their own learning?
The process of learning is as important as the end product. We must value the outcomes of our learning and the process of reaching those outcomes.

I have not failed, I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work”
Quote attributed to Thomas Edison [7]

Higher Order Thinking.

Examinations do have a place. A good well structured examination will assess higher order thinking. Examinations can also gain a measure of the the students written literacy/fluency.
However some examinations only test lower order thinking skills. If we were to look at the keywords commonly associated with lower order thinking (Bloom's Taxonomy) they are:
  • list (Remembering)
  • state (Remembering)
  • identify (Remembering)
  • name (Remembering)
  • describe (Remembering)
  • comment (Understanding)
  • discuss (Understanding)
  • explain (Understanding)
  • exemplify (Understanding)
How often do we see these keywords forming a majority of the content of an examination. Examinations should also include:blooms_revised_taxomony.jpg
  • compare (Analyse)
  • analyse (Analyse)
  • evaluate (Evaluate)
  • judge (Evaluate)
  • review (Evaluate)
  • design (Create)
  • constructing (Create)
  • devise (Create)
  • critque (Evaluate)
  • plan (Create)
  • develop (Create)
21st Century assessments must be inclusive of higher order thinking. Necessary to in higher order thinking are the lower order elements of recall and understanding. To be able to analyse, evaluate or create we must be able to understand, remember and apply.


Collaboration is part of tertiary education. The ability to collaborate is a skill employers value. Students spend much of their time collaborating and communicating. They are developing fluency in a variety of media; instant messaging, txt with cell phones, chat in embedded chatrooms on their facebook or bebo pages, twittering and working collaboratively on google documents; students constantly collaborate.
Collaboration is not a 21st century skill it is a 21st century essential.
In the UNESCO report “The four pillars of Education, Learning: The Treasure within” Collaboration and communication are identified within each of the four pillars.
  • Learning to know
  • Learning to do
  • Learning to live together
  • Learning to be
( [8]
Ian Jukes, David Warlick, Marc Prensky and many other 21st Century Educationalists emphasise the importance of collaboration.
The question of equitable work contribution is raised as a reason not to do collaborative projects or assessment purposes. However self and peer assessment can overcome issues around this. In my experience students are brutally honest in their appraisal of their own performance and that of their peers.

Timely and appropriate feedback.

The impact of timely and appropriate feedback is enormous. Without feedback, assessment is NOT a learning activity, it is a compliance task.
To maximise learning regular detailed feedback is needed. This is not just end point feedback, which is often the review of the test at the end of the unit or what you could have done to make your project better. Rather, this is regular feedback and reflection as students undertake the various tasks that lead to their learning endpoint.
Feedback is essential to refine the learning process, to maintain focus, to provide assistance & direction, to shape and adapt intrapersonal and interpersonal processes and actions.
Teacher feedback must be:
  • Timely – The end of the task is too late, we must provide feedback often and in detail during process.
  • Appropriate and reflective – The feedback must reflect the students ability, maturity and age. It must be understandable
  • Honest & Supportive – Feedback can be devastating, our role as teachers is to nurture and shape. We must provide feedback that is honest and supportive in a manner and mode that does not ostracize the recipient, but gives encouragement to go on.
  • Focused on learning and linked to the purpose of the task
  • Enabling – receiving feedback with out the opportunity to act upon it is frustrating, limiting and counter productive. Students must be able to learn from and apply this feedback. See below for Dr Jodie Nyquist's model of effective feedback
When suitable and appropriate, once a safe and open class or group environment has been established, peer feedback is a powerful learning tool. Obviously clear guidelines need to be established.

Structure of feedback

Dr Jodie Nyquist (2003) [9] provides an excellent model for feedback. It shows a continuum from weak feedback to strong.

Strong Feedback
KCR, e & Activity

KCR, e & a specific action to reduce the gap

KCR & explanation (e)

KoR & Knowledge of Correct Results (KCR)
Weak Feedback
Knowledge of results (KoR)
To work through an example - lets look at an examination.

1. Knowledge of Results (KoR)

Weak or poor feedback occurs when a student is provided only the Knowledge of their Results (KoR). This could be an examination or test score. For example, if a student scored 57% on the examination, he or she knows the grade, but does not know how to improve on it. This is what often happens with final examinations. Students receive their final grades but they have no opportunity to develop or learn.

2. Knowledge of Correct Results (KCR)

The next stage develops from the previous one. A student is given his or her KoR and is also given Knowledge of Correct Results (KCR). For example, handing back an examination or test with a grade and working through the correct answers with the students. Learners can see the difference between their answers and the correct ones. Only reading out the correct answers is not particularly useful. This is still weak feedback, but better than just giving the student a grade. Although there is some opportunity to learn, it is limited.

3. Knowledge of Correct Results and Explanation (KCR + e)

If the teacher takes the time to provide the student with an explanation of the difference between their results (KoR) and the Knowledge of Correct Results (KCR), this is a more powerful form of feedback. The learner can begin to understand and clarify the differences between what they did and what the expectations were. We call this Knowledge of Correct Results and Explanation (KCR + e)

4. KCR + e and Specific Actions to Reduce the Gap

The next stage takes the logical progression of having students know the results and the correct answer. The difference between the two have been explained and they are provided with specific actions that they can do to reduce the gap and make improvements.

5. KCR + e and Activity

The students are provided with KCR + e, specific steps to reduce the gap, and an activity that reinforces the processes, skills, concepts, or learning.
Dylan Wiliams (9) take adds another layer to the model by putting an apt description of each level of feedback in Nyquists Model

Strong Feedback
KCR, e & Activity
Strong Formative assessment

KCR, e & a specific action to reduce the gap
Moderate Formative assessment

KCR & explanation (e)
Weak Formative assessment

KoR & Knowledge of Correct Results (KCR)
Feedback Only
Weak Feedback
Knowledge of results (KoR)
Weaker feedback Only

Transparent Schema

How often do we provide our students with the rubrics or assessment schemes for their learning tasks and assessments? Do we involved them in developing such schemes and rubrics?
Crucial to students successfully achieving is transparency, students must know the end points they have to reach. They must clearly understand not only the objectives of the task but the criterion by which they will be judged.
It is a worthwhile practice to involve students in developing rubrics and marking schemes for tasks. It becomes part of the learning process. It provides a process of goal setting important in planning a higher order thinking skill. Student involvement in developing criteria for assessment will lead to greater ownership of the task and increased engagement.

Self and Peer assessment

Students are frank and honest in their assessment of their performance and that of their peers.
Peer assessment supports students and teachers alike, reducing workload, increasing engagement and understanding. Students insights and observations are valued. This is important because it helps them to reflect on and understand the process of their own learning, in short meta-cognition.
Students often have a better grasp on group dynamics and relationships than the teacher. Peer assessment stresses and reinforces the importance of collaboration.
Encouraging reflection and from this self assessment adds a powerful dimension. Reflective practice is a powerful tool for teachers and students alike. Reflecting via a blog or a journal on the days learning allows the person to:
  • consider their actions,
  • reflect on decisions,
  • solidify concepts and
  • consider/plan future processes and actions.
Reflective practice is something we should encourage in our students and ourselves, after all we are life time learners.
So in conclusion, if we take all of these factors
  • rich real world tasks,
  • using higher order thinking,
  • incorporating Collaboration,
  • with timely and appropriate feedback,
  • assessed against transparent schema and
  • self & peer assessment,
link these to assessments that are focused on the learning processes and outcomes rather than compliance, we will have 21st Century Assessment.


  1. Wilbrink, Ben. Assessment in historical perspective. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 1997, 23, 31-48. retrieved from
  2. Taylor, Mark. The debate over examinations is little more than a War of the Poses. 2007.
  3. Bhushan, Rachna. History Of Examination. May 2006.
  4. Churches, Andrew. Bloom's Digital Taxonomy, 2008
  5. Churches, Andrew. Bloom's and the three story intellect. 2007.
  6. New Zealand Qualifications Authority, Chemistry Level 2 2007 90308 Describe the nature of structure and bonding in different substances. 2007. NZQA.
  7. Edison, Thomas. Quote attributed to him. Retrieved from Wikiquote. Http://
  8. Delors, J. UNESCO Report. “The four pillars of Education, Learning: The Treasure within”.
  9. Wiliam, Dylan. Intergrating assessment with instruction, what will it take to make it work?
  10. Nyquist, Jodie. (2003). The benefits of reconstructing feedback as a larger system of formative assessment: A meta-analysis. Unpublished master's thesis, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN.