Evaluating and developing teacher assessment literacy

Assessment literacy is an essential skill for effective teaching. It requires individual teachers to:

  • have a sound understanding of the principles of assessment (for learning and of learning)
  • be able to put their understanding into practice to produce and evaluate quality assessments which fit the purposes and contexts in which they are used
  • critically interpret the data produced by assessments.

Both classroom teachers and educational leaders need confidence that their level of assessment literacy is sufficient to promote learning and for accountability purposes.

  • Which components of assessment literacy do you rate as critical?
  • How do you rate your current level of assessment literacy?
  • What aspects would you like to improve?


Teachers often report developing assessment skills 'on the job'. This usually involves elements of trial and error as their assessment demands change or increase. It is important for all teachers to engage in ongoing professional reflection on the effectiveness of assessment for students and teachers.

Assessment literacy is enhanced by engaging in appropriate professional development. Information to answer the questions below can be found in earlier modules of the professional development section of this website.

Consider these questions relating to assessment literacy:

  • Which method of assessment will gather dependable information about student learning?

See The Interrelationship Between Assessment, Planning, Teaching and Learning and Gathering Assessment Information.

  • Can I evaluate the effectiveness of a specific mode of assessment in relation to my purpose for conducting assessment?

See Improving the Trustworthiness of Assessment

  • What precautions can I take to administer and score the assessment fairly?

See Improving the Trustworthiness of Assessment

  • Do students understand how their performance will be evaluated and what the characteristics of effective  performance are?

See Identifying Learning Outcomes and Sharing Success Criteria

  • Do my colleagues agree that the results of the assessment has produced valid and reliable data?

See Improving the Trustworthiness of Assessment

  • How do I interpret the information the assessment provides?

See Reporting and Using Assessment Information

  • How do I communicate assessment information to colleagues, parents and students in such a way that they will understand what it is means in terms of past, present and future learning?

See Enhancing Teacher Feedback and Reporting and Using Assessment Information

In short, assessment literacy helps teachers recognise quality assessment practices that are student-focused and provide valuable and reliable information to improve student learning. Aspects of assessment literacy can be divided into three timeframes: before, during and after the assessment.

Before the assessment

Ensure learning intentions are clear to students so they understand the goal and the language in which they are expressed. Students need opportunities to apply the knowledge and practise the skills they are learning. Ongoing feedback (by teacher, peer and self-reflection) communicates how learning is progressing using success criteria that students understand. Feedback names gaps in learning and identifies strategies and interventions (for teachers and students) that can move learning forward.

If a formal assessment is planned in addition to ongoing assessment opportunities, the teacher will make choices from the array of available options. The specifications for the chosen activity must be checked so all aspects are accessible for students, are aligned to outcomes and learning intentions, and so progress will be measured in ways which are valid, reliable and fair.

The assessment needs to collect sufficient information to evaluate aspects of student learning. Without sufficient evidence, teachers may draw inferential rather than evidence-based conclusions.

During the assessment

Students feel comfortable about the preparation they received and are able to demonstrate what they know and understand. If comparisons are to be made between students, the assessment conditions need to be fair. If some students receive scaffolding which is not offered to others, this needs to be recorded and taken into account when results are interpreted.

After the assessment

Moderation activities ensure reliability between markers and consistent marking/rating/scoring by the same marker. The process takes time but impacts significantly on how trustworthy the data is.

Feedback needs to use language which makes clear how each student performed. If group feedback is given, it is in addition to individual feedback. Feedback makes it clear how far students have already progressed and what they need to work on next to improve.

Data needs to be analysed to determine whether the task was effective (sensitive to how student learning is developing) and how useful the data is for future decision-making about individuals and teaching programs. The ability to interpret data to inform future learning is an important part of assessment literacy. The interpretation of the data needs to be communicated in language understood by stakeholders. If there are limitations in terms of fairness, validity or reliability, these need to be acknowledged.

In summary, assessment literacy is about understanding:

  • what constitutes sound assessment for the relevant knowledge, skills and understanding
  • why teachers choose to assess the way they do
  • how assessment fits into teaching and learning
  • what different levels of performance look like
  • how to involve students in their own learning
  • how data is best reported and used to inform future learning
  • how trustworthy the assessment was in providing reliable, valid and fair evidence evidence for analysis.

Activity 1

Self-reflection and/or peer discussion

  1. Can you explain why no single assessment is sufficient for making educational decisions?
  2. To what extent do you agree with the following statements? Which would you rank as most important for assessment?
  3. Which skills would you like to target for future development in assessment literacy?

[   ] The purpose of assessment is to collect evidence which is used to inform inferences about student learning.

[   ] Teachers do not measure progress using one source of evidence only.

[   ] All assessments have a built-in measurement error. The source and size of measurement error affect test reliability and the interpretation of data or observations.

[   ] Since the aim of an assessment is to measure an aspect of learning, the assessment needs to provide information which is valid in relation to that learning.

[   ] To be fair, EAL assessments need to reduce the influence of student affect, gender, places they have lived, socio-economic status and home language.

[   ] The best tests are created by a team of teachers rather than an individual teacher.

[   ] The most useful and accurate judgements are based on well-constructed success criteria or rubrics.

[   ] The process of formative assessment has a positive effect on student learning and is used to modify teaching.

[   ] Both formative and summative assessments help teachers understand student attitudes, interests and values.

[   ] Assessment results need to be reported in ways that are meaningful and lead to accurate interpretation.

[   ] Students with learning difficulties and EAL students may need adjustments to their assessments if they are to be fair.

[   ] Assessment information can inform how effective teaching and learning have been.

[   ] Over-preparation for assessments affects the meaning that can be attributed to results.

The thirteen statements above are based on Popham’s (2009) analysis of what should be included in an assessment literacy program for teachers. They deal with both classroom-based and with externally mandated assessments. If you want to know more about some of these assessment issues, then go to the Reading and Resources section of this module.

Activity 2

Browse through the unit on Volcanoes, and identify all the AfL assessment strategies you see:

  • What strategies do you think are most helpful? Least helpful?
  • What would you add or delete?
  • What aspects of your assessment knowledge and skills would you need to improve in order to implement these strategies effectively ?

There are some practical resources that can be used to develop your assessment literacy at the web site of the New Zealand Ministry of Education. (Scroll to the resources section).

Getting started with Assessment for Learning (by the Cambridge International Examinations teaching and Learning Team) provides an overview of AfL. The menu along the top leads to some useful sections. Click on "AFL Checklist" to read some questions that might help you to evaluate your own assessment literacy.

In the YouTube video Assessment Literacy: The overlooked ingredient in educator effectiveness, Stuart Kahl, W. James Popham and Mary Ann Snider discuss how good assessment literacy is necessary if educational practices and programs are to avoid inhibiting learning and providing faulty evaluation of learning. They call for less testing and better formative assessment. 

This slide show by Mike McKay summarises critical aspects of assessment literacy. The focus is on building capacity for knowing about effective assessment, putting it into practice and leading others in developing assessment literacy.

This booklet on Assessment literacy for school trustees from the Sasketchewan Schools' boards association (Canada) provides an outline for assessment literacy of school trustees. 

Consider how teachers can improve professional practice through a four-step process: collectively and individually identifying problems and issues they are facing, becoming the drivers for acquiring the knowledge they need, monitoring the impact of their developing knowledge, and adjusting their practice accordingly.

    • How will you improve your own assessment literacy?
    • What are your priorities and how will you achieve them?


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