Focusing on Classroom Assessment

By Sarah P. Hylton, M. Ed., SURN

We spend a lot of time talking about assessment. Often this conversation is focused on year-end SOL tests, and to be sure, this conversation is warranted. After all, these tests can have significant impacts on our students, our teachers, and ourselves, our schools, and our communities. But these yearly summative evaluations are not the whole assessment picture. Every day, teachers engage in classroom assessment, which Stiggins and Duke (2008) assert is the foundation on which effective systems are built. However, conversations about how best to support its design, implementation, and use have been virtually overlooked.


Classroom assessment is fundamentally a teaching tool, intended to provide information about the nature and degree of student learning so that teachers can make sound instructional decisions. The goal of all classroom assessment is to improve student learning. Research has consistently demonstrated the positive impact of effectively designed and implemented classroom assessment on student learning and achievement, yet many teachers report struggling to understand and apply general tenets of assessment in their classrooms. All assessment has intended and unintended consequences, and when classroom assessment is not done well, students suffer. It is imperative, therefore, for all teachers to be assessment literate. They need to know general principles of assessment and be able to apply them in order to design high quality assessments and to use them effectively.

What do teachers need to consider to increase their classroom assessment literacy? To plan and enact effective classroom assessment, teachers should consider the following:

  • the accuracy of the assessment – Does it actually measure what it’s intended to measure? Is it aligned with the content and cognitive rigor of the intended learning outcomes? Are we able to make appropriate inferences about student learning based on this assessment?
  • the quality of the feedback – Is feedback provided regularly and in a timely manner? Are comments to students constructive and specific rather than evaluative? Do they provide information that will help students know how to improve?
  • the involvement of students in the process – Do students know where they currently are? Do they have a sense of what they are supposed to learn? Are they aware of success criteria? Are they being given opportunities to learn how to effectively assess their own efforts?

Teachers need to be championed as they work to enhance their assessment literacy, and principals as instructional leaders, can support their teachers in a number of ways:

  • by creating a culture that values a balanced system of assessment in which assessment is understood as much more than the summative evaluation at the end of the year,
  • by providing space and time for teachers to create assessments together as they plan,
  • by conducting classroom observations with an eye to assessment (yes, principles can observe on a day when a teacher is giving a test!) and engaging in follow-up conversations,
  • by inviting teachers to reflect on objective data about their current practices,
  • by securing training for teachers in all forms of assessment, and
  • by ensuring their own assessment literacy as instructional leaders.

As the second semester begins and attention often turns in earnest to the SOL tests, make room for conversations about classroom assessment. As Stiggins and Duke (2008) contend, “if classroom assessments aren’t working effectively day to day in the classroom, then accountability tests and benchmark assessments cannot pick up the slack…” (p. 286).