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Appropriate assessment

  • Introduction
  • Activity 1
  • Activity 2
  • Activity 3
  • Activity 4
  • Activity 5
  • Activity 6
  • Reflection


There have been many changes in how we think about assessment over recent years. Many of these changes are relevant to Education for Sustainable Development.

Perhaps the most noticeable change is the focus on relating learning with the measurement and reporting of what students have achieved. This relationship helps make assessment an integral part of students’ day-to-day schooling rather than a series of end-of-course tests.

This goal is especially important in Education for Sustainable Development because of the wide range of objectives concerned with knowledge, skills, values/attitudes, and action.

This module develops ways of assessing student learning that are appropriate to Education for Sustainable Development.


  • To develop a sense of direction and innovation in the assessment of learning in Education for Sustainable Development;
  • To analyse key assessment issues and make decisions that will integrate assessment with effective teaching and learning; and
  • To develop skills for using appropriate ways of assessing the knowledge, skill and values objectives of Education for Sustainable Development.


  1. Yim-lin’s class
  2. Defining assessment and evaluation
  3. Changing attitudes to assessment
  4. Methods of assessment
  5. Decision-making exercises
  6. Self-assessment
  7. Reflection


Black, P. et al. (2003) Assessment for Learning: Putting it into Practice, Open University Press.

Gardner, J.R. (ed) (2005) Assessment and Learning, Sage Publications.

Harlen, W. (2007) Assessment of Learning, Sage, London.

Harlen, W. (ed) (2008) Student Assessment and Testing (4 Volumes), Sage, London.

Harlen, W. (2003) Enhancing Inquiry through Formative Assessment, The Exploratorium, San Fransisco.

Hunt, G., Murdoch, K. and Walker, K. (1996) Assessment and evaluation: Profiling achievement in SOSE, in R. Gilbert (ed) Studying Society and Environment: A Handbook for Teachers, Macmillan, Melbourne.

Kellaghan, T. and Stufflebeam, D. (eds) (2003) International Handbook of Educational Assessment, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht.

Lloyd-Jones, R. and Bray, E. (1986) Assessment: From Principles to Action, Macmillan, London.

McMillan, J. (ed) (2006) Formative Classroom Assesssment: Research, Theory and Practice, Teachers College Press, New York.

Spendlove, D. (2009) Putting Assessment for Learning into Practice (Ideas in Action), Continuum International Publishing Group.

Statterly, D. (1989) Assessment in Schools, Basil Blackwell, Oxford.

William, D. (2009) Assessment for Learning: Why, What and How? Institute of Education.

Internet Sites

Assessment for Learning – UK

Assessment for Learning Guidance, Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, UK.

Assessment for Learning – Australia

Assessment Reform Group – Research on Assessment


This module was written for UNESCO by Bernard Cox, Margaret Calder, Lisa Ryan, Clayton White and John Fien, from materials and activities prepared by Philip Stimpson in Learning for a Sustainable Environment (UNESCO – ACEID).

Yim-lin’s class

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Yim-lin is a teacher in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Zone of China. Read a description of her Monday class.

Yim-lin begins the day by reading a story about life along a river. She asks the students questions to find out if they liked the story. Then she develops further questions to get them to think about the river, its progress to the sea, and what it carries in it from the floating houseboats and the markets.

The students then get out their exercise books for maths. Following this lesson they copy spelling words from a list on the board into their spelling books. The words are river, delta, plains, mountains, catch, catchment, catching. They look at the spelling of the words with the “ai” sound and more words built from ‘catch’. She teaches them a new word, ‘tributaries’, and breaks it into syllables for them.

Just before lunch, the students go outside to make models from sand and rock. They build mountains, plains and a beach area. They then use water to show a river flowing to the sea. Yim-lin listens to students’ comments as they build up their models and discuss the movement of water. She questions the groups of students as she watches them, to get them to think about the geographical processes, and asks them to use suitable geographic terms.

After lunch in the classroom, Yim-lin goes over the process, drawing a diagram on the board. The students copy the diagram into their books and use the words from the spelling list on the board to label the diagram. They ask if they can use more words than those from the list. Yim-lin says, “Yes”. She also tells them that if they are unsure where to put the label, they can discuss it quietly with other students in their group.

Finally, Yim-lin asks them to put their pens down and to look at the board. One student from each group comes and chooses a word from the list on the board and points to where it goes on the diagram. They use these words: mountains, hills, plains, sea, river, water catchment area, delta and tributaries. Yim-lin suggests they add beach and hills.

Yim-lin asks the students to check their own diagrams and make any corrections. She walks around to see what everyone has done, and says to the class, “You have all copied the diagram very well and labelled it clearly. I am pleased with your work, and hope you are too.”

At the end of the day Yim-lin says to the class as they pack-up, “For homework tonight, think about why rivers are important to us. Make a list of all the reasons you think of.” One of the students, Mai-ling, says to Yim-lin as she goes out the door, “I loved the school work today.”

As she goes home, Yim-lin thinks about what she has taught the class. She is pleased most of them seemed to understand the concepts and that they enjoyed the learning. She wonders how she can help Zellan and Nang-noi, as they didn’t have many correct labels when she looked at their diagrams. She wonders why Mailing commented on loving the work – perhaps it was making models to help their understanding. She decides to do a similar activity again soon.

Q1: Answer the questions about Yim-lin’s class.

  • What was being assessed in Yim-lin’s class today? How has Yim-lin assessed the students?
  • What is your definition of assessment?
  • What are some of the best examples of assessment you have seen?
  • What assessment techniques would you recommend to Yim-lin?
  • What are some types of assessment that would be particularly useful for Teaching and Learning for a Sustainable Future?

Teachers’ Views on Assessment

Yim-lin and some other teachers from her school are soon to attend a workshop on ‘Innovative Approaches to Assessment’. Talking about the upcoming workshop, here is what some of them said about assessment:

  • Assessment is all about keeping records of students’ marks and things like that.
  • It’s to do with the tests and exams we set, to find out what students know.
  • It’s finding out whether students are developing their understanding of concepts.
  • It’s something we use to keep a check on students’ progress in classes.
  • Assessment is all about finding out if we are effective in our lessons.
  • It’s finding out students’ strengths and weaknesses in learning, to see where they need help.
  • It’s something we use to sort out and grade students.
  • It’s something done by the examinations authority and the education department.
  • Assessment is checking if children can spell correctly, do maths correctly, and copy correctly from the board.

Q2: Which three views are most relevant to Education for Sustainable Development? Explain the reason for your selection of each one.

Defining assessment and evaluation

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Defining Assessment

One of the first themes discussed at Yim-lin’s workshop on ‘Innovative Approaches to Assessment’ was the difference between (1) assessment and (2) evaluation.

Yim-lin and the others teachers who attended were asked to analyse three quotations and to make a list of the differences between these two concepts.

Imagine that you are also a teacher at this workshop.

Q3: Read the three quotations and identify the key difference between assessment and evaluation.

Assessment is often equated with tests and examinations. This is misleading since neither are essential to assessment. Assessment is an all embracing term. It covers any of the situations in which some aspects of a student’s education is in some sense measured, whether this measurement is by the teacher, an examiner or indeed the student him of herself. It is concerned with how well the student has done. Evaluation is whether it was worth doing in the first place. Evaluation cannot take place without assessment.

Source: Adapted from Lloyd-Jones, R. and Bray, E. (1986) Assessment: From Principles to Action, Macmillan, London.

Educational assessment is an omnibus term which includes all the processes and products which describe the nature and extent of children’s learning, how it meets the aims and objectives of teaching, and how it relates to the classroom environment which is designed to facilitate learning.

Source: Adapted from Statterly, D. (1989) Assessment in Schools, Basil Blackwell, Oxford.

Assessment is a process that helps teachers understand degrees of achievement and performance, and it often forms the core body of data upon which teachers report on the achievement and performance to students’ parents and the wider community. As such, it must be reliable and valid. Evaluation serves quite a different purpose. Its purpose is to improve curriculum and pedagogy. The evaluation process is formative. Assessment and evaluation are integral parts of the educational process and all aspects of teaching and learning provide opportunities for both.

Source: Adapted from Hunt, G., Murdoch, K. and Walker, K. (1996) Assessment and evaluation: Profiling achievement in SOSE, in R. Gilbert (ed) Studying Society and Environment: A Handbook for Teachers, Macmillan, Melbourne.

Changing attitudes to assessment

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

After they had analysed the quotations, the workshop facilitator asked different teachers to explain how they distinguished assessment from evaluation and to arrive at some agreed meanings. At the end of this discussion, it was agreed that:

Assessment …
refers to the process of monitoring on student learning achievements for the purposes of diagnosing learning strengths and difficulties, reporting to parents, and providing a certificate of achievement for employers and other educational institutions.
Evaluation …
is the broader process of monitoring all aspects of the learning process (including the relevance of objectives, appropriateness of content, resources and teaching methods, the quality of the learning environment, etc.) for the purpose of making judgements about how to improve the learning process.

Reasons for Assessing Student Learning

The teachers at the workshop were then asked to compare two approaches to assessment to identify the one they believed was most appropriate to Education for Sustainable Development.

View 1

[W]e teachers say that we test children to find out what they have learned, so that we can better know how to help them learn more. This is about 95% untrue. There are two main reasons why we test children: the first is to threaten them into doing what we want done, and the second is to give us a basis for handing out rewards and penalties on which the educational system – like all coercive systems – must operate.

Source: Holt, J (1969) How Children Fail, Penguin, Harmondsworth, pp. 51-52.

View 2

[A]ssessment should play a critical part in any educational process. Wherever learning takes place, or is intended that it should take place, then it is reasonable for the learner, the teacher and other interested parties to be curious about what has happened both in terms of the learning process and in terms of any anticipated or un-anticipated outcomes. We would argue that good education, by definition, encompasses good assessment. However, we would wish to disassociate ourselves immediately from much of what has gone under the guise of ‘good’ educational assessment. Assessment has been viewed for far too long as a formal process, which normally involves the administration of formal tests and examinations through procedures that are totally divorced from the educational process and setting to which they are supposed to relate.

Source: Murphy and Torrance (1988) The Changing Face of Educational Assessment, Milton Keynes, Open University Press, p. 7.

Q4: Answer these questions about the two quotations:

  • What is the key point in View 1?
  • What do you think is the rationale behind this view?
  • How is View 1 relevant to Education for Sustainable Development?
  • What are the main points in View 2? How do these differ from View 1?
  • What is the rationale behind View 2?
  • View 2 is more recent than View 1. What changes in education thinking can explain the change in attitudes to assessment?

Assessment and Student Learning

The teachers at Yim-lin’s workshop then brainstormed ways in which assessment can contribute to student learning, Among the reasons they listed were:

  • To find out what students know about, what they understand and what they can do.
  • To find out what students do not know, do not understand and cannot do.
  • To provide a basis for feedback to learners to help them in their understanding and skill development.
  • To motivate learners to learn about particular values and concepts, or to develop particular skills.
  • To evaluate the suitability of curriculum materials.
  • To see whether learning objectives are being met.

The workshop facilitator then explained that these two views represent two types of assessment:

1. Formative assessment
Formative assessment refers to the ongoing forms of assessment that are closely linked to the learning process. It is characteristically informal and is intended to help students identify strengths and weaknesses in order to learn from the assessment experience.

2. Summative assessment
This form of assessment usually occurs towards the end of a period of learning in order to describe the standard reached by the learner. Often this takes place in order for appropriate decisions about future learning or job suitability to be made. Judgements derived from summative assessment are usually for the benefit of people other than the learner.

The workshop participants were then asked to describe an experience of each of these two types of assessment. Here are the stories that Yim-lin wrote:

Story 1: Formative Assessment

Last Thursday, I asked my class what their lunches were wrapped in. Most of the children said that it was cling-film. “Why did you use it?” I asked. “And what will you do with the cling-film when you have finished eating?”

This lead to class discussion about plastic wrapping, how it is made and how it can be disposed of when it is no longer needed. I showed the class a picture of the beach where there is a lot of rubbish, including plastic. During the discussion, one student said that he often sees a lot of plastic bags in a rubbish dump by the river near where he lives.

The children became interested in investigating the way in which plastic waste enters the sea and the effect it has on marine mammals. We concluded the day by planning what we can do to try to solve this problem.

Story 2: Summative Assessment

At the end of Year 6, my 11 year-old students will go to secondary school. Decisions have to be made about the schools that different students will go to and what learning difficulties they might have. I plan to give the class a set of graded questions to test the children’s level of knowledge.

Marks from the test will be entered against the students’ names on the school computer. I am also going to asks the children to complete a self-assessment questionnaire to help them express their attitudes and concerns. I will use all this information to generate a descriptive profile for each child that can be discussed with parents.

Q5: Using the definitions and Yim-lin’s two stories, compare formative and summative assessment according to:

  • Their purposes;
  • The forms they may take; and
  • Their timing.

Defining Assessment Terms

The workshop facilitator then went on to explain some of the technical terms associated with assessment:

  • Formative and summative assessment
  • Informal and formal assessment
  • Continuous and terminal assessment

Methods of assessment

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

The workshop facilitator explained to Yim-lin and her colleagues that there are many different methods of assessment, including:

  • Multiple choice tests
  • Map or diagram interpretation
  • Vocabulary tests
  • Debate performance
  • True-false tests
  • Lecturette
  • Labels-on-a-diagram tests
  • Structured essay
  • Comprehension tests
  • Unguided essay
  • Short answer tests (paragraph answers)
  • Field trip report
  • Decision making exercises
  • Library research essay

After discussing examples of these methods of assessment, the facilitator reminded the group that the choice of different assessment methods should be related to different educational objectives.

The group then identified the following five types of objectives:

  • Knowledge: What a person knows.
  • Skills: The ability to do something, especially manual or physical.
  • Thinking Processes: Advanced ways of thinking, such as applying, analysing, synthesising and evaluating.
  • Values: Standards and principles that can be used to judge the worth of an idea or action.
  • Actions: What people do as a result of the other kinds of learning.

Matching Objectives with Assessment Methods

The next activity at the workshop group was to match these objectives with appropriate assessment methods.

Q6: Match different educational objectives with appropriate methods of assessment.

See the answers developed by Yim-lin and her colleagues.

Innovative Assessment Methods

During a discussion period, the teachers at the workshop asked the facilitator to explain two assessment methods that were new to them:

  • decision-making exercises, and
  • self-assessment.

These are illustrated in Activity 5 and Activity 6.

Decision-making exercises

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

When asked to explain the nature and purposes of assessing student learning through a decision making exercise, the facilitator explained that traditional assessment methods are not usually useful for assessing thinking skills and the process of analysing attitudes and values.

Decision-making exercises are an excellent way of doing this. Decision-making exercises are structured problem solving exercises that are presented to students as a series of tasks:

  • Identifying the problem
  • Finding solutions
  • Understanding the problem
  • Summing-up

The sample presented at the workshop was a decision-making exercise prepared for a Year 11 class studying ‘Air Pollution in Hong Kong’.

The objectives of the teaching programme being assessed by the decision-making exercise here:

  • To become aware of the seriousness of air pollution as a problem, its causes and consequences.
  • To understand the different attitudes taken to the problem and why these differences arise.
  • To describe and evaluate the effectiveness of solutions to air pollution problems in the local area.

The decision-making exercise was based upon a set of prepared resources, including newspaper reports and statistics about air pollution in Hong Kong, its effects on health, and alternative solutions to air pollution problems. These were provided as background readings in the decision-making exercise.

Read the decision-making exercise.

[Note: It is not necessary to read every resource in detail.]

Q7: Analyse the value of this decision-making exercise as a form of assessment:

  • Identify the thinking processes (e.g. application, analysis, synthesis, or evaluation) being assessed as the students progress through the decision-making exercise.
  • Identify the valuing process skills that students will gain or strengthen as a result of completing the decision-making exercise.
  • How could you adapt the decision-making exercise on air pollution in Hong Kong to suit a class that you teach?


Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

The second innovative assessment method reviewed at Yim-lin’s workshop was self-assessment.

Self-assessment is an important skill for students – and is a very good indicator of high quality learning.

The workshop facilitator provided two examples of Student Self-Assessment Forms. These were prepared for use following a student project on rainforests

Q8: After reviewing the two forms of self-assessment, answer these questions:

  • Which form might you use with your own class? Why?
  • What changes could you make to the other one so that it is more appropriate to your class?
  • What use could you make of student self-assessment information on students’ report cards?


Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Completing the module: Look back through the activities and tasks to check that you have done them all and to change any that you think you can improve now that you have come to the end of the module.

Q9: Identify three benefits that you think Yim-lin would have obtained from the workshop on assessment.

Q10: Identify a subject or syllabus, a grade level, and a syllabus topic for which you could develop (i) a decision-making exercise, and (ii) a self-assessment proforma.

Q11: How might some of the ideas in this module affect or change your current assessment strategies?