Establishing and enhancing assessment programs

Quality teacher assessment is a positive influence on student success. Having a vision for assessment excellence is the first step in ensuring quality.

  1. Consider the following features of assessment excellence.
  2. How do you rate your own and your school’s current practices?
  3. Compare your responses for the school with colleagues. Are there some common priorities for immediate action or improvement?
Feature of assessment Individual rating School rating
1. Quality: Do assessment practices support good decision making?    
2. Purpose: Do assessment practices support the needs of all stakeholders in a coherent way: school; department/faculty; students; parents?    
3. Balance: Do assessment strategies use formative and summative types, and a variety of modes for students to show understanding?    
4. Feedback: Do students receive oral and written feedback that is timely, fair, focuses on what has been achieved and moves learning forward in specific areas by including appropriate learning strategies?    
5. Motivation: Do assessments (formative and summative) motivate students by acknowledging success?                                                            
6. Assessment literacy: Do you have sufficient understanding of assessment literacy to apply assessment strategies and interpret information?    
7. Records: Do records include accurate and sufficient information to make inferences about student progress? (Dates, outcomes, nature of feedback, actions for student, actions for teacher)    
8. Action: Do you use the records productively to track progress and communicate with colleagues?    


It is important to encourage teachers working with EAL students to meet regularly to evaluate and reflect on their achievements and plan for adjustment or improvement in assessment if necessary. To help develop priorities at different levels of the school, ask teachers to discuss their responses to the reflection activity above.

  • What is already part of good practice in your school?
  • Are there some aspects which can be improved quickly?
  • In which areas will effort have the most impact?
  • Are some aspects prerequisites for other features and need to be addressed first?
  • Who needs to be involved?
  • Will any changes have a significant impact on student learning?

Whether small or large, plans for change and improvement need to be communicated effectively. Setting out an action plan in writing with goals, priorities and areas of responsibility is important for accountability and review of progress.

To help track improvement over time, each EAL teacher should take responsibility for storing a collection of sample recordings from every assessment; keeping these for a few years and looking at or viewing some older ones each year to review their progress in the teaching of EAL in their school.

Teachers should also meet periodically with a colleague, mentor or as a team to monitor and evaluate the effect, or washback, of assessments on their teaching and on student learning more generally, so that they can make ongoing adjustments and improvements. Questions to consider might be:

  • How have classroom assessment practices in classrooms changed and to what extent?
  • Which assessment practices (new or modified) worked best? Why?
  • Which assessment practices (new or modified) did not work well? Why not?
  • Which areas of professional development were most helpful?
  • Has confidence in assessment literacy increased?
  • What new priorities for assessment need to be set?

Who benefits from enhancing teacher assessment in schools?

When high quality assessments are used in classrooms, it is the students who benefit. They can show what they can already do and through clearly expressed learning intentions understand what they are currently learning and why it is important. Success criteria help students understand the features of different levels of performance. Ongoing feedback as part of assessment for learning provides direction and strategies for what they should work on next in order to improve.

When students are engaged in their learning and taking responsibility for improvement through self and peer assessment, teachers benefit too. We can plan more purposefully and invest effort where it most needed and will have the most effect. Communication with parents/caregivers and school leadership can be more precise about student progress.

Record keeping is important for teachers as anecdotal records and comments can track progress and record milestones. Notes may be hand-written, saved as digital comments on scanned or electronically submitted text, or digitally recorded as verbal feedback. Photographs can record progress in terms of quality and quantity of work over time. The important characteristics are that feedback is timely, specific, fair and focused on moving learning forward.

In order to enhance EAL assessment practices, leaders need to consider the following questions:

  1. How balanced are the current assessment practices? Do they meet accountability and reporting requirements but not help students understand their own progress and learning?
  2. Are all components of high quality, including the type, frequency and mode of feedback to students?
  3. Do teachers share assessment information, in terms of what works well and what needs improving?
  4. Is there a clear understanding of classroom assessment for learning practices and their relationship to student motivation and achievement?
  5. Have you analysed your own assessment knowledge lately? Does it meet your own needs and is your understanding deep enough to lead others?

If you are working with a group, try to set goals together. You can work together on ensuring that the right kind of information is used for appropriate purposes. Develop priorities for new actions by considering:

  • What do we need to do immediately?
  • What will have the most impact?
  • Is there a logical sequence of actions?

Once you have an action plan, think about who else needs to be involved, whether further advice is needed and how you can communicate the plan so others are enthused by your vision. As you implement the plan, it is important to document and not just monitor evidence of change and improvement. Always consider what did not work as well as what did when making a judgement about the program's effectiveness.


This article by Stiggins and Duke (2008, 8 pages) outlines the pivotal role of principals in strengthening student learning by helping teachers develop and use sound assessment practices. It includes a list of 10 leadership competencies in assessment and also discusses the barriers of effective assessment leadership.

This chapter by Heritage summarises issues for the generation, collection and uses of evidence of student learning. It looks at purpose, types of evidence, assessment quality and the roles of the teacher and of the students.

This report on how leadership influences student learning (2004, 87 pages) explains in detail how school leadership influences student learning. It claims that the impact of leadership tends to be greatest where the learning needs of students are most acute.

In this article (2004, 6 pages), Prof. Rick Stiggins outlines new assessment beliefs for a new school mission. The author argues that schools need to invest in professional development to ensure that teachers possess the wisdom needed to create high-quality day-to-day assessments for learning. He calls for all educators to understand and use sound assessment practices. 

In this article (2005, 17 pages), Volante and Melahanoutline the success of an assessment literacy program which was implemented in Hawaii. The provision of professional development was either the first or second most frequently mentioned aspect of the program’s success. (Scroll to p. 103 for the article.)

This presentation by the Center on Instruction (2008) is about the challenges to the implementation of effective assessment to improve instruction in literacy.

In this video, Prof. Rick Stiggins (14.00) discusses the influence of assessment literacy on school leaders and other stakeholders. 

Read the executive summary made by Leithwood K, Seashore Louis K, Anderson S and Wahlstrom K (2004), on How leadership influences student learning

In what ways could the leadership at your school focus effort to improve assessment in EAL teaching and learning?

Aspects contributing to successful EAL assessment in our school Aspects that could be developed further to improve EAL assessment in our school