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What is the Difference Between Assignment and Assessment

The main difference between assignment and assessment is that assignments refer to the allocation of a task or set of tasks that are marked and graded while a ssessment refers to methods for establishing if students have achieved a learning outcome, or are on their way toward a learning objective.  

Assignments and assessment are two important concepts in modern education. Although these two words are similar, they have different meanings. Assignments are the pieces of coursework or homework students are expected to complete. Assessment, on the other hand, refer to the method of assessing the progress of students. Sometimes, assignments can act as tools of assessment.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is an Assignment       – Definition, Goals, Characteristics 2. What is an Assessment      – Definition, Characteristics 3. Difference Between Assignment and Assessment      – Comparison of Key Differences

Difference Between Assignment and Assessment - Comparison Summary

What is an Assignment

Assignments are the pieces of coursework or homework given to the students by teachers at school or professors at university. In other words, assignments refer to the allocation of a task or set of tasks that are marked and graded. Assignments are essential components in primary, secondary and tertiary education.

Assignments have several goals, as described below:

– gives students a better understanding of the topic being studied

– develops learning and understanding skills of students

– helps students in self-study

– develops research and analytical skills

– teaches students time management and organization

– clear students’ problems or ambiguities regarding any subject

– enhance the creativity of students

Difference Between Assignment and Assessment

Generally, educators assign such tasks to complete at home and submit to school after a certain period of time. The time period assigned may depend on the nature of the task. Essays, posters, presentation, annotated bibliography, review of a book, summary, charts and graphs are some examples of assignments. Writing assignments develop the writing skills of students while creative assignments like creating posters, graphs and charts and making presentation enhance the creativity of students. Ultimately, assignments help to assess the knowledge and skills, as well as the students’ understanding of the topic.

What is an Assessment

Assessment refers to methods for establishing if students have achieved a learning outcome, or are on their way toward a learning objective. In other words, it is the method of assessing the progress of students. Assessment helps the educators to determine what students are learning and how well they are learning it, especially in relation to the expected learning outcomes of a lesson. Therefore, it helps the educator to understand how the students understand the lesson, and to determine what changes need to be made to the teaching process. Moreover, assessment focuses on both learning as well as teaching and can be termed as an interactive process. Sometimes, assignments can act as tools of assessment.

Main Difference - Assignment vs Assessment

There are two main types of assessment as formative and summative assessment . Formative assessments occur during the learning process, whereas summative assessments occur at the end of a learning unit. Quizzes, discussions, and making students write summaries of the lesson are examples of formative assessment while end of unit tests, term tests and final projects are examples of summative assessment. Moreover, formative assessments aim to monitor student learning while summative assessments aim to evaluate student learning.

Difference Between Assignment and Assessment

Assignments refer to the allocation of a task or set of tasks that are marked and graded while assessment refers to methods for establishing if students have achieved a learning outcome, or are on their way toward a learning objective. 

Assignments are the pieces of coursework or homework students have to complete while assessment is the method of assessing the progress of students


Moreover, assignments aim to give students a more comprehensive understanding of the topic being studied and develop learning and understanding skills of students. However, the main goal of assessment is monitoring and evaluating student learning and progress.

Assignments are the pieces of coursework or homework students have to complete while assessment refers to the method of assessing the progress of students. This is the main difference between assignment and assessment. Sometimes, assignments can also act as tools of assessment.

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Assessing Student Learning: 6 Types of Assessment and How to Use Them

assessment with bulb

Assessing student learning is a critical component of effective teaching and plays a significant role in fostering academic success. We will explore six different types of assessment and evaluation strategies that can help K-12 educators, school administrators, and educational organizations enhance both student learning experiences and teacher well-being.

We will provide practical guidance on how to implement and utilize various assessment methods, such as formative and summative assessments, diagnostic assessments, performance-based assessments, self-assessments, and peer assessments.

Additionally, we will also discuss the importance of implementing standard-based assessments and offer tips for choosing the right assessment strategy for your specific needs.

Importance of Assessing Student Learning

Assessment plays a crucial role in education, as it allows educators to measure students’ understanding, track their progress, and identify areas where intervention may be necessary. Assessing student learning not only helps educators make informed decisions about instruction but also contributes to student success and teacher well-being.

Assessments provide insight into student knowledge, skills, and progress while also highlighting necessary adjustments in instruction. Effective assessment practices ultimately contribute to better educational outcomes and promote a culture of continuous improvement within schools and classrooms.

1. Formative assessment

teacher assessing the child

Formative assessment is a type of assessment that focuses on monitoring student learning during the instructional process. Its primary purpose is to provide ongoing feedback to both teachers and students, helping them identify areas of strength and areas in need of improvement. This type of assessment is typically low-stakes and does not contribute to a student’s final grade.

Some common examples of formative assessments include quizzes, class discussions, exit tickets, and think-pair-share activities. This type of assessment allows educators to track student understanding throughout the instructional period and identify gaps in learning and intervention opportunities.

To effectively use formative assessments in the classroom, teachers should implement them regularly and provide timely feedback to students.

This feedback should be specific and actionable, helping students understand what they need to do to improve their performance. Teachers should use the information gathered from formative assessments to refine their instructional strategies and address any misconceptions or gaps in understanding. Formative assessments play a crucial role in supporting student learning and helping educators make informed decisions about their instructional practices.

Check Out Our Online Course: Standards-Based Grading: How to Implement a Meaningful Grading System that Improves Student Success

2. summative assessment.

students taking summative assessment

Examples of summative assessments include final exams, end-of-unit tests, standardized tests, and research papers. To effectively use summative assessments in the classroom, it’s important to ensure that they are aligned with the learning objectives and content covered during instruction.

This will help to provide an accurate representation of a student’s understanding and mastery of the material. Providing students with clear expectations and guidelines for the assessment can help reduce anxiety and promote optimal performance.

Summative assessments should be used in conjunction with other assessment types, such as formative assessments, to provide a comprehensive evaluation of student learning and growth.

3. Diagnostic assessment

Diagnostic assessment, often used at the beginning of a new unit or term, helps educators identify students’ prior knowledge, skills, and understanding of a particular topic.

This type of assessment enables teachers to tailor their instruction to meet the specific needs and learning gaps of their students. Examples of diagnostic assessments include pre-tests, entry tickets, and concept maps.

To effectively use diagnostic assessments in the classroom, teachers should analyze the results to identify patterns and trends in student understanding.

This information can be used to create differentiated instruction plans and targeted interventions for students struggling with the upcoming material. Sharing the results with students can help them understand their strengths and areas for improvement, fostering a growth mindset and encouraging active engagement in their learning.

4. Performance-based assessment

Performance-based assessment is a type of evaluation that requires students to demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and abilities through the completion of real-world tasks or activities.

The main purpose of this assessment is to assess students’ ability to apply their learning in authentic, meaningful situations that closely resemble real-life challenges. Examples of performance-based assessments include projects, presentations, portfolios, and hands-on experiments.

These assessments allow students to showcase their understanding and application of concepts in a more active and engaging manner compared to traditional paper-and-pencil tests.

To effectively use performance-based assessments in the classroom, educators should clearly define the task requirements and assessment criteria, providing students with guidelines and expectations for their work. Teachers should also offer support and feedback throughout the process, allowing students to revise and improve their performance.

Incorporating opportunities for peer feedback and self-reflection can further enhance the learning process and help students develop essential skills such as collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.

5. Self-assessment

Self-assessment is a valuable tool for encouraging students to engage in reflection and take ownership of their learning. This type of assessment requires students to evaluate their own progress, skills, and understanding of the subject matter. By promoting self-awareness and critical thinking, self-assessment can contribute to the development of lifelong learning habits and foster a growth mindset.

Examples of self-assessment activities include reflective journaling, goal setting, self-rating scales, or checklists. These tools provide students with opportunities to assess their strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. When implementing self-assessment in the classroom, it is important to create a supportive environment where students feel comfortable and encouraged to be honest about their performance.

Teachers can guide students by providing clear criteria and expectations for self-assessment, as well as offering constructive feedback to help them set realistic goals for future learning.

Incorporating self-assessment as part of a broader assessment strategy can reinforce learning objectives and empower students to take an active role in their education.

Reflecting on their performance and understanding the assessment criteria can help them recognize both short-term successes and long-term goals. This ongoing process of self-evaluation can help students develop a deeper understanding of the material, as well as cultivate valuable skills such as self-regulation, goal setting, and critical thinking.

6. Peer assessment

Peer assessment, also known as peer evaluation, is a strategy where students evaluate and provide feedback on their classmates’ work. This type of assessment allows students to gain a better understanding of their own work, as well as that of their peers.

Examples of peer assessment activities include group projects, presentations, written assignments, or online discussion boards.

In these settings, students can provide constructive feedback on their peers’ work, identify strengths and areas for improvement, and suggest specific strategies for enhancing performance.

Constructive peer feedback can help students gain a deeper understanding of the material and develop valuable skills such as working in groups, communicating effectively, and giving constructive criticism.

To successfully integrate peer assessment in the classroom, consider incorporating a variety of activities that allow students to practice evaluating their peers’ work, while also receiving feedback on their own performance.

Encourage students to focus on both strengths and areas for improvement, and emphasize the importance of respectful, constructive feedback. Provide opportunities for students to reflect on the feedback they receive and incorporate it into their learning process. Monitor the peer assessment process to ensure fairness, consistency, and alignment with learning objectives.

Implementing Standard-Based Assessments

kids having quizzes

Standard-based assessments are designed to measure students’ performance relative to established learning standards, such as those generated by the Common Core State Standards Initiative or individual state education guidelines.

By implementing these types of assessments, educators can ensure that students meet the necessary benchmarks for their grade level and subject area, providing a clearer picture of student progress and learning outcomes.

To successfully implement standard-based assessments, it is essential to align assessment tasks with the relevant learning standards.

This involves creating assessments that directly measure students’ knowledge and skills in relation to the standards rather than relying solely on traditional testing methods.

As a result, educators can obtain a more accurate understanding of student performance and identify areas that may require additional support or instruction. Grading formative and summative assessments within a standard-based framework requires a shift in focus from assigning letter grades or percentages to evaluating students’ mastery of specific learning objectives.

This approach encourages educators to provide targeted feedback that addresses individual student needs and promotes growth and improvement. By utilizing rubrics or other assessment tools, teachers can offer clear, objective criteria for evaluating student work, ensuring consistency and fairness in the grading process.

Tips For Choosing the Right Assessment Strategy

When selecting an assessment strategy, it’s crucial to consider its purpose. Ask yourself what you want to accomplish with the assessment and how it will contribute to student learning. This will help you determine the most appropriate assessment type for your specific situation.

Aligning assessments with learning objectives is another critical factor. Ensure that the assessment methods you choose accurately measure whether students have met the desired learning outcomes. This alignment will provide valuable feedback to both you and your students on their progress. Diversifying assessment methods is essential for a comprehensive evaluation of student learning.

By using a variety of assessment types, you can gain a more accurate understanding of students’ strengths and weaknesses. This approach also helps support different learning styles and reduces the risk of overemphasis on a single assessment method.

Incorporating multiple forms of assessment, such as formative, summative, diagnostic, performance-based, self-assessment, and peer assessment, can provide a well-rounded understanding of student learning. By doing so, educators can make informed decisions about instruction, support, and intervention strategies to enhance student success and overall classroom experience.

Challenges and Solutions in Assessment Implementation

Implementing various assessment strategies can present several challenges for educators. One common challenge is the limited time and resources available for creating and administering assessments. To address this issue, teachers can collaborate with colleagues to share resources, divide the workload, and discuss best practices.

Utilizing technology and online platforms can also streamline the assessment process and save time. Another challenge is ensuring that assessments are unbiased and inclusive.

To overcome this, educators should carefully review assessment materials for potential biases and design assessments that are accessible to all students, regardless of their cultural backgrounds or learning abilities.

Offering flexible assessment options for the varying needs of learners can create a more equitable and inclusive learning environment. It is essential to continually improve assessment practices and seek professional development opportunities.

Seeking support from colleagues, attending workshops and conferences related to assessment practices, or enrolling in online courses can help educators stay up-to-date on best practices while also providing opportunities for networking with other professionals.

Ultimately, these efforts will contribute to an improved understanding of the assessments used as well as their relevance in overall student learning.

Assessing student learning is a crucial component of effective teaching and should not be overlooked. By understanding and implementing the various types of assessments discussed in this article, you can create a more comprehensive and effective approach to evaluating student learning in your classroom.

Remember to consider the purpose of each assessment, align them with your learning objectives, and diversify your methods for a well-rounded evaluation of student progress.

If you’re looking to further enhance your assessment practices and overall professional development, Strobel Education offers workshops , courses , keynotes , and coaching  services tailored for K-12 educators. With a focus on fostering a positive school climate and enhancing student learning,  Strobel Education can support your journey toward improved assessment implementation and greater teacher well-being.

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Designing Assessments of Student Learning

Image Hollie Nyseth Brehm, ​​​​​Associate Professor, Department of Sociology  Professor Hollie Nyseth Brehm was a graduate student the first time she taught a class, “I didn’t have any training on how to teach, so I assigned a final paper and gave them instructions: ‘Turn it in at the end of course.’ That was sort of it.” Brehm didn’t have a rubric or a process to check in with students along the way. Needless to say, the assignment didn’t lead to any major breakthroughs for her students. But it was a learning experience for Brehm. As she grew her teaching skills, she began to carefully craft assignments to align to course goals, make tasks realistic and meaningful, and break down large assignments into manageable steps. "Now I always have rubrics. … I always scaffold the assignment such that they’ll start by giving me their paper topic and a couple of sources and then turn in a smaller portion of it, and we write it in pieces. And that leads to a much better learning experience for them—and also for me, frankly, when I turn to grade it .”


Have you ever planned a big assignment that didn’t turn out as you’d hoped? What did you learn, and how would you design that assignment differently now? 

What are students learning in your class? Are they meeting your learning outcomes? You simply cannot answer these questions without assessment of some kind.

As educators, we measure student learning through many means, including assignments, quizzes, and tests. These assessments can be formal or informal, graded or ungraded. But assessment is not simply about awarding points and assigning grades. Learning is a process, not a product, and that process takes place during activities such as recall and practice. Assessing skills in varied ways helps you adjust your teaching throughout your course to support student learning

Instructor speaking to student on their laptop

Research tells us that our methods of assessment don’t only measure how much students have learned. They also play an important role in the learning process. A phenomenon known as the “testing effect” suggests students learn more from repeated testing than from repeated exposure to the material they are trying to learn (Karpicke & Roediger, 2008). While exposure to material, such as during lecture or study, helps students store new information, it’s crucial that students actively practice retrieving that information and putting it to use. Frequent assessment throughout a course provides students with the practice opportunities that are essential to learning.

In addition we can’t assume students can transfer what they have practiced in one context to a different context. Successful transfer of learning requires understanding of deep, structural features and patterns that novices to a subject are still developing (Barnett & Ceci, 2002; Bransford & Schwartz, 1999). If we want students to be able to apply their learning in a wide variety of contexts, they must practice what they’re learning in a wide variety of contexts .

Providing a variety of assessment types gives students multiple opportunities to practice and demonstrate learning. One way to categorize the range of assessment options is as formative or summative.

Formative and Summative Assessment

Opportunities not simply to practice, but to receive feedback on that practice, are crucial to learning (Ambrose et al., 2010). Formative assessment facilitates student learning by providing frequent low-stakes practice coupled with immediate and focused feedback. Whether graded or ungraded, formative assessment helps you monitor student progress and guide students to understand which outcomes they’ve mastered, which they need to focus on, and what strategies can support their learning. Formative assessment also informs how you modify your teaching to better meet student needs throughout your course.

Technology Tip

Design quizzes in CarmenCanvas to provide immediate and useful feedback to students based on their answers. Learn more about setting up quizzes in Carmen. 

Summative assessment measures student learning by comparing it to a standard. Usually these types of assessments evaluate a range of skills or overall performance at the end of a unit, module, or course. Unlike formative assessment, they tend to focus more on product than process. These high-stakes experiences are typically graded and should be less frequent (Ambrose et al., 2010).

Using Bloom's Taxonomy

A visual depiction of the Bloom's Taxonomy categories positioned like the layers of a cake. [row 1, at bottom] Remember; Recognizing and recalling facts. [Row 2] Understand: Understanding what the facts mean. [Row 3] Apply: Applying the facts, rules, concepts, and ideas. [Row 4] Analyze: Breaking down information into component parts. [Row 5] Evaluate: Judging the value of information or ideas. [Row 6, at top] Create: Combining parts to make a new whole.

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a common framework for thinking about how students can demonstrate their learning on assessments, as well as for articulating course and lesson learning outcomes .

Benjamin Bloom (alongside collaborators Max Englehart, Edward Furst, Walter Hill, and David Krathwohl) published Taxonomy of Educational Objectives in 1956.   The taxonomy provided a system for categorizing educational goals with the intent of aiding educators with assessment. Commonly known as Bloom’s Taxonomy, the framework has been widely used to guide and define instruction in both K-12 and university settings. The original taxonomy from 1956 included a cognitive domain made up of six categories: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. The categories after Knowledge were presented as “skills and abilities,” with the understanding that knowledge was the necessary precondition for putting these skills and abilities into practice. 

A revised Bloom's Taxonomy from 2001 updated these six categories to reflect how learners interact with knowledge. In the revised version, students can:  Remember content, Understand ideas, Apply information to new situations, Analyze relationships between ideas, Evaluate information to justify perspectives or decisions, and Create new ideas or original work. In the graphic pictured here, the categories from the revised taxonomy are imagined as the layers of a cake.

Assessing students on a variety of Bloom's categories will give you a better sense of how well they understand your course content. The taxonomy can be a helpful guide to predicting which tasks will be most difficult for students so you can provide extra support where it is needed. It can also be used to craft more transparent assignments and test questions by honing in on the specific skills you want to assess and finding the right language to communicate exactly what you want students to do.  See the Sample Bloom's Verbs in the Examples section below.

Diving deeper into Bloom's Taxonomy

Like most aspects of our lives, activities and assessments in today’s classroom are inextricably linked with technology. In 2008, Andrew Churches extended Bloom’s Taxonomy to address the emerging changes in learning behaviors and opportunities as “technology advances and becomes more ubiquitous.” Consult Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy for ideas on using digital tools to facilitate and assess learning across the six categories of learning.

Did you know that the cognitive domain (commonly referred to simply as Bloom's Taxonomy) was only one of three domains in the original Bloom's Taxonomy (1956)? While it is certainly the most well-known and widely used, the other two domains— psychomotor and affective —may be of interest to some educators. The psychomotor domain relates to physical movement, coordination, and motor skills—it might apply to the performing arts or other courses that involve movement, manipulation of objects, and non-discursive communication like body language. The affective domain pertains to feelings, values, motivations, and attitudes and is used more often in disciplines like medicine, social work, and education, where emotions and values are integral aspects of learning. Explore the full taxonomy in  Three Domains of Learning: Cognitive, Affective, and Psychomotor (Hoque, 2017).

In Practice

Consider the following to make your assessments of student learning effective and meaningful.

Align assignments, quizzes, and tests closely to learning outcomes.

It goes without saying that you want students to achieve the learning outcomes for your course. The testing effect implies, then, that your assessments must help them retrieve the knowledge and practice the skills that are relevant to those outcomes.

Plan assessments that measure specific outcomes for your course. Instead of choosing quizzes and tests that are easy to grade or assignment types common to your discipline, carefully consider what assessments will best help students practice important skills. When assignments and feedback are aligned to learning outcomes, and you share this alignment with students, they have a greater appreciation for your course and develop more effective strategies for study and practice targeted at achieving those outcomes (Wang, et al., 2013).

Student working in a lab.

Provide authentic learning experiences.

Consider how far removed from “the real world” traditional assessments like academic essays, standard textbook problems, and multiple-choice exams feel to students. In contrast, assignments that are authentic resemble real-world tasks. They feel relevant and purposeful, which can increase student motivation and engagement (Fink, 2013). Authentic assignments also help you assess whether students will be able to transfer what they learn into realistic contexts beyond your course.

Integrate assessment opportunities that prepare students to be effective and successful once they graduate, whether as professionals, as global citizens, or in their personal lives.

To design authentic assignments:

  • Choose real-world content . If you want students to be able to apply disciplinary methods, frameworks, and terminology to solve real-world problems after your course, you must have them engage with real-world examples, procedures, and tools during your course. Include actual case studies, documents, data sets, and problems from your field in your assessments.
  • Target a real-world audience . Ask students to direct their work to a tangible reader, listener or viewer, rather than to you. For example, they could write a blog for their peers or create a presentation for a future employer.
  • Use real-world formats . Have students develop content in formats used in professional or real-life discourse. For example, instead of a conventional paper, students could write an email to a colleague or a letter to a government official, develop a project proposal or product pitch for a community-based company, post a how-to video on YouTube, or create an infographic to share on social media.

Simulations, role plays, case studies, portfolios, project-based learning, and service learning are all great avenues to bring authentic assessment into your course.

Make sure assignments are achievable.

Your students juggle coursework from several classes, so it’s important to be conscious of workload. Assign tasks they can realistically handle at a given point in the term. If it takes you three hours to do something, it will likely take your students six hours or more. Choose assignments that assess multiple learning outcomes from your course to keep your grading manageable and your feedback useful (Rayner et al., 2016).

Scaffold assignments so students can develop knowledge and skills over time.

For large assignments, use scaffolding to integrate multiple opportunities for feedback, reflection, and improvement. Scaffolding means breaking a complex assignment down into component parts or smaller progressive tasks over time. Practicing these smaller tasks individually before attempting to integrate them into a completed assignment supports student learning by reducing the amount of information they need to process at a given time (Salden et al., 2006).

Scaffolding ensures students will start earlier and spend more time on big assignments. And it provides you more opportunities to give feedback and guidance to support their ultimate success. Additionally, scaffolding can draw students’ attention to important steps in a process that are often overlooked, such as planning and revision, leading them to be more independent and thoughtful about future work.

A familiar example of scaffolding is a research paper. You might ask students to submit a topic or thesis in Week 3 of the semester, an annotated bibliography of sources in Week 6, a detailed outline in Week 9, a first draft on which they can get peer feedback in Week 11, and the final draft in the last week of the semester.

Your course journey is decided in part by how you sequence assignments. Consider where students are in their learning and place assignments at strategic points throughout the term. Scaffold across the course journey by explaining how each assignment builds upon the learning achieved in previous ones (Walvoord & Anderson, 2011). 

Be transparent about assignment instructions and expectations. 

Communicate clearly to students about the purpose of each assignment, the process for completing the task, and the criteria you will use to evaluate it before they begin the work. Studies have shown that transparent assignments support students to meet learning goals and result in especially large increases in success and confidence for underserved students (Winkelmes et al., 2016).

To increase assignment transparency:

Instructor giving directions to a class.

  • Explain how the assignment links to one or more course learning outcomes . Understanding why the assignment matters and how it supports their learning can increase student motivation and investment in the work.
  • Outline steps of the task in the assignment prompt . Clear directions help students structure their time and effort. This is also a chance to call out disciplinary standards with which students are not yet familiar or guide them to focus on steps of the process they often neglect, such as initial research.
  • Provide a rubric with straightforward evaluation criteria . Rubrics make transparent which parts of an assignment you care most about. Sharing clear criteria sets students up for success by giving them the tools to self-evaluate and revise their work before submitting it. Be sure to explain your rubric, and particularly to unpack new or vague terms; for example, language like "argue," “close reading,” "list significant findings," and "document" can mean different things in different disciplines. It is helpful to show exemplars and non-exemplars along with your rubric to highlight differences in unacceptable, acceptable, and exceptional work.

Engage students in reflection or discussion to increase assignment transparency. Have them consider how the assessed outcomes connect to their personal lives or future careers. In-class activities that ask them to grade sample assignments and discuss the criteria they used, compare exemplars and non-exemplars, engage in self- or peer-evaluation, or complete steps of the assignment when you are present to give feedback can all support student success.

Technology Tip   

Enter all  assignments and due dates  in your Carmen course to increase transparency. When assignments are entered in Carmen, they also populate to Calendar, Syllabus, and Grades areas so students can easily track their upcoming work. Carmen also allows you to  develop rubrics  for every assignment in your course. 

Sample Bloom’s Verbs

Building a question bank, using the transparent assignment template, sample assignment: ai-generated lesson plan.

Include frequent low-stakes assignments and assessments throughout your course to provide the opportunities for practice and feedback that are essential to learning. Consider a variety of formative and summative assessment types so students can demonstrate learning in multiple ways. Use Bloom’s Taxonomy to determine—and communicate—the specific skills you want to assess.

Remember that effective assessments of student learning are:

  • Aligned to course learning outcomes
  • Authentic, or resembling real-world tasks
  • Achievable and realistic
  • Scaffolded so students can develop knowledge and skills over time
  • Transparent in purpose, tasks, and criteria for evaluation
  • Collaborative learning techniques: A handbook for college faculty (book)
  • Cheating Lessons (book)
  • Minds online: Teaching effectively with technology (book)
  • Assessment: The Silent Killer of Learning (video)
  • TILT Higher Ed Examples and Resource (website)
  • Writing to Learn: Critical Thinking Activities for Any Classroom (guide)

Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M.W., Lovett, M.C., DiPietro, M., & Norman, M.K. (2010).  How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching . John Wiley & Sons. 

Barnett, S.M., & Ceci, S.J. (2002). When and where do we apply what we learn? A taxonomy for far transfer.  Psychological Bulletin , 128 (4). 612–637.  

Bransford, J.D, & Schwartz, D.L. (1999). Rethinking transfer: A simple proposal with multiple implications.  Review of Research in Education , 24 . 61–100.  

Fink, L. D. (2013).  Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses . John Wiley & Sons. 

Karpicke, J.D., & Roediger, H.L., III. (2008). The critical importance of retrieval for learning.  Science ,  319 . 966–968.  

Rayner, K., Schotter, E. R., Masson, M. E., Potter, M. C., & Treiman, R. (2016). So much to read, so little time: How do we read, and can speed reading help?.  Psychological Science in the Public Interest ,  17 (1), 4-34.     

Salden, R.J.C.M., Paas, F., van Merriënboer, J.J.G. (2006). A comparison of approaches to learning task selection in the training of complex cognitive skills.  Computers in Human Behavior , 22 (3). 321–333.  

Walvoord, B. E., & Anderson, V. J. (2010).  Effective grading: A tool for learning and assessment in college . John Wiley & Sons. 

Wang, X., Su, Y., Cheung, S., Wong, E., & Kwong, T. (2013). An exploration of Biggs’ constructive alignment in course design and its impact on students’ learning approaches.  Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education , 38 (4). 477–491.  

Winkelmes, M., Bernacki, M., Butler, J., Zochowski, M., Golanics, J., & Weavil, K.H. (2016). A teaching intervention that increases underserved college students’ success.  Peer Review , 18 (1/2). 31–36. Retrieved from

Related Teaching Topics

A positive approach to academic integrity, creating and adapting assignments for online courses, ai teaching strategies: transparent assignment design, designing research or inquiry-based assignments, using backward design to plan your course, universal design for learning: planning with all students in mind, search for resources.

Created by the Great Schools Partnership , the GLOSSARY OF EDUCATION REFORM is a comprehensive online resource that describes widely used school-improvement terms, concepts, and strategies for journalists, parents, and community members. | Learn more »


In education, the term  assessment  refers to the wide variety of methods or tools that educators use to evaluate, measure, and document the academic readiness, learning progress, skill acquisition, or educational needs of students.

While assessments are often equated with traditional tests—especially the standardized tests  developed by testing companies and administered to large populations of students—educators use a diverse array of assessment tools and methods to measure everything from a four-year-old’s readiness for kindergarten to a twelfth-grade student’s comprehension of advanced physics. Just as academic lessons have different functions, assessments are typically designed to measure specific elements of learning—e.g., the level of knowledge a student already has about the concept or skill the teacher is planning to teach or the ability to comprehend and analyze different types of texts and readings. Assessments also are used to identify individual student weaknesses and strengths so that educators can provide specialized  academic support , educational programming, or social services. In addition, assessments are developed by a wide array of groups and individuals, including teachers, district administrators, universities, private companies, state departments of education, and groups that include a combination of these individuals and institutions.

While assessment can take a wide variety of forms in education, the following descriptions provide a representative overview of a few major forms of educational assessment.

Assessments are used for a wide variety of purposes in schools and education systems :

  • High-stakes  assessments  are typically standardized tests used for the purposes of accountability—i.e., any attempt by federal, state, or local government agencies to ensure that students are enrolled in effective schools and being taught by effective teachers. In general, “high stakes” means that important decisions about students, teachers, schools, or districts are based on the scores students achieve on a high-stakes test, and either punishments (sanctions, penalties, reduced funding, negative publicity, not being promoted to the next grade, not being allowed to graduate) or accolades (awards, public celebration, positive publicity, bonuses, grade promotion, diplomas) result from those scores. For a more detailed discussion, see  high-stakes test .
  • Pre-assessments  are administered before students begin a lesson, unit, course, or academic program. Students are not necessarily expected to know most, or even any, of the material evaluated by pre-assessments—they are generally used to (1) establish a baseline against which educators measure learning progress over the duration of a program, course, or instructional period, or (2) determine general academic readiness for a course, program, grade level, or new academic program that student may be transferring into.
  • Formative  assessments  are in-process evaluations of student learning that are typically administered multiple times during a unit, course, or academic program. The general purpose of formative assessment is to give educators in-process feedback about what students are learning or not learning so that instructional approaches, teaching materials, and academic support can be modified accordingly. Formative assessments are usually not scored or graded, and they may take a variety of forms, from more formal quizzes and assignments to informal questioning techniques and in-class discussions with students.
Formative assessments are commonly said to be  for  learning because educators use the results to modify and improve teaching techniques during an instructional period, while summative assessments are said to be  of  learning because they evaluate academic achievement at the conclusion of an instructional period. Or as assessment expert Paul Black put it, “When the cook tastes the soup, that’s formative assessment. When the customer tastes the soup, that’s summative assessment.”
  • Interim assessments   are used to evaluate where students are in their learning progress and determine whether they are on track to performing well on future assessments, such as standardized tests, end-of-course exams, and other forms of “summative” assessment. Interim assessments are usually administered periodically during a course or school year (for example, every six or eight weeks) and separately from the process of instructing students (i.e., unlike formative assessments, which are integrated into the instructional process).
  • Placement assessments  are used to “place” students into a course, course level, or academic program. For example, an assessment may be used to determine whether a student is ready for Algebra I or a higher-level algebra course, such as an honors-level course. For this reason, placement assessments are administered before a course or program begins, and the basic intent is to match students with appropriate learning experiences that address their distinct learning needs.
  • Screening assessments  are used to determine whether students may need specialized assistance or services, or whether they are ready to begin a course, grade level, or academic program. Screening assessments may take a wide variety of forms in educational settings, and they may be developmental, physical, cognitive, or academic. A preschool screening test, for example, may be used to determine whether a young child is physically, emotionally, socially, and intellectually ready to begin preschool, while other screening tests may be used to evaluate health, potential learning disabilities, and other student attributes.

Assessments are also designed in a variety of ways for different purposes:

  • Standardized assessments  are designed, administered, and scored in a standard, or consistent, manner. They often use a multiple-choice format, though some include open-ended, short-answer questions. Historically, standardized tests featured rows of ovals that students filled in with a number-two pencil, but increasingly the tests are computer-based. Standardized tests can be administered to large student populations of the same age or grade level in a state, region, or country, and results can be compared across individuals and groups of students. For a more detailed discussion, see  standardized test .
  • Standards-referenced or standards-based  assessments  are designed to measure how well students have mastered the specific knowledge and skills described in local, state, or national  learning standards . Standardized tests and high-stakes tests may or may not be based on specific learning standards, and individual schools and teachers may develop their own standards-referenced or standards-based assessments. For a more detailed discussion, see  proficiency-based learning .
  • Common  assessments  are used in a school or district to ensure that all teachers are evaluating student performance in a more consistent, reliable, and effective manner. Common assessments are used to encourage greater consistency in teaching and assessment among teachers who are responsible for teaching the same content, e.g. within a grade level, department, or  content area . They allow educators to compare performance results across multiple classrooms, courses, schools, and/or learning experiences (which is not possible when educators teach different material and individually develop their own distinct assessments). Common assessments share the same format and are administered in consistent ways—e.g., teachers give students the same instructions and the same amount of time to complete the assessment, or they use the same scoring guides to interpret results. Common assessments may be “formative” or “summative .” For more detailed discussions, see coherent curriculum  and  rubric .
  • Performance assessments  typically require students to complete a complex task, such as a writing assignment, science experiment, speech, presentation, performance, or long-term project, for example. Educators will often use collaboratively developed common assessments, scoring guides, rubrics, and other methods to evaluate whether the work produced by students shows that they have learned what they were expected to learn. Performance assessments may also be called “authentic assessments,” since they are considered by some educators to be more accurate and meaningful evaluations of learning achievement than traditional tests. For more detailed discussions, see authentic learning ,  demonstration of learning , and  exhibition .
  • Portfolio-based  assessments  are collections of academic work—for example, assignments, lab results, writing samples, speeches, student-created films, or art projects—that are compiled by students and assessed by teachers in consistent ways. Portfolio-based assessments are often used to evaluate a “body of knowledge”—i.e., the acquisition of diverse knowledge and skills over a period of time. Portfolio materials can be collected in physical or digital formats, and they are often evaluated to determine whether students have met required learning standards . For a more detailed discussion, see  portfolio .

The purpose of an assessment generally drives the way it is designed, and there are many ways in which assessments can be used. A standardized assessment can be a high-stakes assessment, for example, but so can other forms of assessment that are not standardized tests. A portfolio of student work can be a used as both a “formative” and “summative” form of assessment. Teacher-created assessments, which may also be created by teams of teachers, are commonly used in a single course or grade level in a school, and these assessments are almost never “high-stakes.” Screening assessments may be produced by universities that have conducted research on a specific area of child development, such as the skills and attributes that a student should have when entering kindergarten to increase the likelihood that he or she will be successful, or the pattern of behaviors, strengths, and challenges that suggest a child has a particular learning disability. In short, assessments are usually created for highly specialized purposes.

While educational assessments and tests have been around since the days of the one-room schoolhouse, they have increasingly assumed a central role in efforts to improve the effectiveness of public schools and teaching. Standardized-test scores, for example, are arguably the dominant measure of educational achievement in the United States, and they are also the most commonly reported indicator of school, teacher, and school-system performance.

As schools become increasingly equipped with computers, tablets, and wireless internet access, a growing proportion of the assessments now administered in schools are either computer-based or online assessments—though paper-based tests and assessments are still common and widely used in schools. New technologies and software applications are also changing the nature and use of assessments in innumerable ways, given that digital-assessment systems typically offer an array of features that traditional paper-based tests and assignments cannot. For example, online-assessment systems may allow students to log in and take assessments during out-of-class time or they may make performance results available to students and teachers immediately after an assessment has been completed (historically, it might have taken hours, days, or weeks for teachers to review, score, and grade all assessments for a class). In addition, digital and online assessments typically include features, or “analytics,” that give educators more detailed information about student performance. For example, teachers may be able to see how long it took students to answer particular questions or how many times a student failed to answer a question correctly before getting the right answer. Many advocates of digital and online assessments tend to argue that such systems, if used properly, could help teachers “ personalize ” instruction—because many digital and online systems can provide far more detailed information about the academic performance of students, educators can use this information to modify educational programs, learning experiences , instructional approaches, and  academic-support strategies  in ways that address the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students. In addition, many large-scale standardized tests are now administered online, though states typically allow students to take paper-based tests if computers are unavailable, if students prefer the paper-based option, or if students don’t have the technological skills and literacy required to perform well on an online assessment.

Given that assessments come in so many forms and serve so many diverse functions, a thorough discussion of the purpose and use of assessments could fill a lengthy book. The following descriptions, however, provide a brief, illustrative overview of a few of the major ways in which assessments—especially assessment results—are used in an attempt to improve schools and teaching:

  • System and school accountability : Assessments, particularly standardized tests, have played an increasingly central role in efforts to hold schools, districts, and state public-school systems “accountable” for improving the academic achievement of students. The most widely discussed and far-reaching example, the 2001 federal law commonly known as the No Child Left Behind Act, strengthened federal expectations from the 1990s and required each state develop  learning standards   to govern what teachers should teach and students should learn. Under No Child Left Behind, standards are required in every grade level and  content area  from kindergarten through high school. The law also requires that students be tested annually in grades 3-8 and at least once in grades 10-12 in reading and mathematics. Since the law’s passage, standardized tests have been developed and implemented to measure how well students were meeting the standards, and scores have been reported publicly by state departments of education. The law also required that test results be tracked and reported separately for different “subgroups” of students, such as minority students, students from low-income households, students with special needs, and students with  limited proficiency in English . By publicly reporting the test scores achieved by different schools and student groups, and by tying those scores to penalties and funding, the law has aimed to close  achievement gaps  and improve schools that were deemed to be underperforming. While the No Child Left Behind Act is one of the most controversial and contentious educational policies in recent history, and the technicalities of the legislation are highly complex, it is one example of how assessment results are being used as an accountability measure.
  • Teacher evaluation and compensation : In recent years, a growing number of elected officials, policy makers, and education reformers have argued that the best way to improve educational results is to ensure that students have effective teachers, and that one way to ensure effective teaching is to evaluate and compensate educators, at least in part, based on the test scores their students achieve. By basing a teacher’s income and job security on assessment results, the reasoning goes, administrators can identify and reward high-performing teachers or take steps to either help low-performing teachers improve or remove them from schools. Growing political pressure, coupled with the promise of federal grants, prompted many states to begin using student test results in teacher evaluations. This controversial and highly contentious reform strategy generally requires fairly complicated statistical techniques—known as  value-added measures   or  growth measures —to determine how much of a positive or negative effect individual teachers have on the academic achievement of their students, based primarily on student assessment results.
  • Instructional improvement : Assessment results are often used as a mechanism for improving instructional quality and student achievement. Because assessments are designed to measure the acquisition of specific knowledge or skills, the design of an assessment can determine or influence what gets taught in the classroom (“teaching to the test” is a common, and often derogatory, phrase used to describe this general phenomenon). Formative assessments, for example, give teachers in-process feedback on student learning, which can help them make instructional adjustments during the teaching process, instead of having to wait until the end of a unit or course to find out how well students are learning the material. Other forms of assessment, such as standards-based assessments or common assessments, encourage educators to teach similar material and evaluate student performance in more consistent, reliable, or comparable ways.
  • Learning-needs identification : Educators use a wide range of assessments and assessment methods to identify specific student learning needs, diagnose learning disabilities (such as autism, dyslexia, or nonverbal learning disabilities), evaluate language ability, or determine eligibility for specialized educational services. In recent years, the early identification of specialized learning needs and disabilities, and the proactive provision of educational support services to students, has been a major focus of numerous educational reform strategies. For a related discussion, see  academic support .

In education, there is widespread agreement that assessment is an integral part of any effective educational system or program. Educators, parents, elected officials, policy makers, employers, and the public all want to know whether students are learning successfully and progressing academically in school. The debates—many of which are a complex, wide ranging, and frequently contentious—typically center on how assessments are used, including how frequently they are being administered and whether assessments are beneficial or harmful to students and the teaching process. While a comprehensive discussion of these debates is beyond the scope of this resource, the following is a representative selection of a few major issues being debated:

  • Is high-stakes testing, as an accountability measure, the best way to improve schools, teaching quality, and student achievement? Or do the potential consequences—such as teachers focusing mainly on test preparation and a narrow range of knowledge at the expense of other important skills, or increased incentives to cheat and manipulate test results—undermine the benefits of using test scores as a way to hold schools and educators more accountable and improve educational results?
  • Are standardized assessments truly  objective  measures of academic achievement? Or do they reflect intrinsic biases—in their design or content—that favor some students over others, such wealthier white students from more-educated households over minority and low-income students from less-educated households? For more detailed discussions, see  measurement error and  test bias .
  • Are “one-size-fits-all” standardized tests a fair way to evaluate the learning achievement of all students, given that some students may be better test-takers than others? Or should students be given a variety of assessment options and multiple opportunities to demonstrate what they have learned?
  • Will more challenging and  rigorous   assessments lead to higher educational achievement for all students? Or will they end up penalizing certain students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds? And, conversely, will less-advantaged students be at an even greater disadvantage if they are not held to the same high educational standards as other students (because lowering educational standards for certain students, such as students of color, will only further disadvantage them and perpetuate the same cycle of low expectations that historically contributed to racial and socioeconomic  achievement gaps )?
  • Do the costs—in money, time, and human resources—outweigh the benefits of widespread, large-scale testing? Would the funding and resources invested in testing and accountability be better spent on higher-quality educational materials, more training and support for teachers, and other resources that might improve schools and teaching more effectively? And is the pervasive use of tests providing valuable information that educators can use to improve instructional quality and student learning? Or are the tests actually taking up time that might be better spent on teaching students more knowledge and skills?
  • Are technological learning applications, including digital and online assessments, improving learning experiences for students, teaching them technological skills and literacy, or generally making learning experiences more interesting and engaging? Or are digital learning applications adding to the cost of education, introducing unwanted distractions in schools, or undermining the value of teachers and the teaching process?

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43 8.1 Assessment and Evaluation

Assessment, as defined by , “ refers to the wide variety of methods or tools that educators use to evaluate, measure, and document the academic readiness, learning progress, skill acquisition, or educational needs of students.”   It is analogous to  evaluation, judgment, rating, appraisal, and analysis. (Great Schools Partnership, 2015)

Although the terms assessment and evaluation are often used synonymously, they are distinctive and different. The intent of assessment is to measure effectiveness; evaluation adds a value component to the process.  A teacher may assess a student to ascertain how well the individual successfully met the learning target. If, however, the measurement is used to determine program placement, such as a special education program, honors club, or Individual Educational Program documentation, the assessment constitutes an evaluation.  

Assessment is ongoing is positive is individualized provides feedback. Evaluation provides closure is judgmental is applied against standards shows shortfalls. Both require criteria use measures are evidence driven

Goals of Assessment  

Assessment is two-fold in nature. It enables the teacher to gather information and then determine what the learner knows or does not know and concurrently drives the planning phase. To meet the needs of all learners, the teacher may need to differentiate the instruction.

The teacher is then responsible for providing positive feedback in a timely manner to the student. This feedback should include whether the student met the learning target, specifically what needs to be improved upon, and who and how these goals will be met.

The intent of assessment has traditionally been to determine what the learner has learned. Today, the emphasis is on authentic assessment. While the former typically employed recall methods, the latter encourages learners to demonstrate greater comprehension.  (Wiggins, 1990)

7 Keys to Effective Feedback

Methods to assess  .

Within an academic setting, assessment may include “the process of observing learning; describing, collecting, recording, scoring, and interpreting information about a student’s or one’s own learning .”

It can occur by observations, interviews, tests, projects, or any other information-gathering method. Within the early childhood and early primary elementary grades, observations are used frequently to assess learners. Teachers may use a checklist to note areas of proficiency or readiness and may opt to use checkmarks or some other consistent means for record-keeping.

Characterization by Value Set Organization Valuing Responding Receiving

It is helpful for a teacher to include the date, day, and time. This record-keeping may result in emerging patterns. Does the learner exhibit certain behaviors or respond to learning activities because of proximity to lunchtime, morning, or afternoon? The aspect of understanding how individuals learn can be noted within the affective domain. (Kirk, N/D) This may influence how a student learns and behaves within a classroom setting. Seating, natural and artificial lighting, noise, and temperature all influence how students feel and interact within the environment and affect cognitive behaviors.

Interviews can be used on the elementary or secondary levels as an assessment tool. Like any other well-planned assessment tool, they necessitate careful planning and development of questions, positive rapport with the student, and an environment free from distractions, outside noise, and time constraints. Interviews may or may not be audiotaped or videotaped, and scoring rubrics may be used to assess (Southerland, ND).

Tests offer yet another venue for assessment purposes. They may take the form of essay or short response, fill-in-the-blank, matching, or true or false formats. Like any of the other methods, they should be valid and reliable. Carefully thought-out test questions need to be tied to learning standards, and a clear and fair scoring measure needs to be in place.

Typically, assessment has been viewed as the result; the letter or point assigned at the end of an assignment; however, assessment can and should come at the beginning, end, and throughout the teaching and learning process. While assessment should drive instruction, it often falls short when determining instructional decisions.

5 Domains of Learning and Development Approaches to Learning Cognitive Development Language Development & Communication Health & Physical Development Emotional-Social Development

Danielle Stein eagerly anticipated the upcoming parent-teacher conferences of the day. She had studied hard as a Childhood Education major and had worked diligently in her first year as a third-grade teacher at Maplewood Elementary School.  Danielle had planned interdisciplinary lessons, employed inquiry-based learning centers, and regularly met individual students to ensure that they had mastered the skills as determined by the state standards.

Each student had a portfolio filled with dated representations of their work. Ms. Stein understood the importance of specific and timely feedback and had painstakingly provided detailed written feedback on each work sample. She meticulously arranged the portfolios and anecdotal notes and looked forward to sharing the students’ accomplishments with their family members.

As last-minute jitters began to set in, Danielle realized that she had no grades for any of the students. Despite doing all the right things, she had no way to assign a grade to any of the work the students had done. How would she respond when guardians asked what grade their child would earn on the first report card? How would she accurately tell them how they compared with their peers in reading? In math? In social studies and science?

Danielle quickly realized she was not as prepared as she had anticipated.

Discussion Questions

How do teachers assess student work? Is there a certain number of assignments that the teacher should grade within a  9-week session? Are there  alternatives to  letter grades? Reflect on how you were graded as a student. 

Introduction to Education Copyright © 2021 by Shannon M. Delgado and Sarah Mark is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Assessment Rubrics

A rubric is commonly defined as a tool that articulates the expectations for an assignment by listing criteria, and for each criteria, describing levels of quality (Andrade, 2000; Arter & Chappuis, 2007; Stiggins, 2001). Criteria are used in determining the level at which student work meets expectations. Markers of quality give students a clear idea about what must be done to demonstrate a certain level of mastery, understanding, or proficiency (i.e., "Exceeds Expectations" does xyz, "Meets Expectations" does only xy or yz, "Developing" does only x or y or z). Rubrics can be used for any assignment in a course, or for any way in which students are asked to demonstrate what they've learned. They can also be used to facilitate self and peer-reviews of student work.

Rubrics aren't just for summative evaluation. They can be used as a teaching tool as well. When used as part of a formative assessment, they can help students understand both the holistic nature and/or specific analytics of learning expected, the level of learning expected, and then make decisions about their current level of learning to inform revision and improvement (Reddy & Andrade, 2010). 

Why use rubrics?

Rubrics help instructors:

Provide students with feedback that is clear, directed and focused on ways to improve learning.

Demystify assignment expectations so students can focus on the work instead of guessing "what the instructor wants."

Reduce time spent on grading and develop consistency in how you evaluate student learning across students and throughout a class.

Rubrics help students:

Focus their efforts on completing assignments in line with clearly set expectations.

Self and Peer-reflect on their learning, making informed changes to achieve the desired learning level.

Developing a Rubric

During the process of developing a rubric, instructors might:

Select an assignment for your course - ideally one you identify as time intensive to grade, or students report as having unclear expectations.

Decide what you want students to demonstrate about their learning through that assignment. These are your criteria.

Identify the markers of quality on which you feel comfortable evaluating students’ level of learning - often along with a numerical scale (i.e., "Accomplished," "Emerging," "Beginning" for a developmental approach).

Give students the rubric ahead of time. Advise them to use it in guiding their completion of the assignment.

It can be overwhelming to create a rubric for every assignment in a class at once, so start by creating one rubric for one assignment. See how it goes and develop more from there! Also, do not reinvent the wheel. Rubric templates and examples exist all over the Internet, or consider asking colleagues if they have developed rubrics for similar assignments. 

Sample Rubrics

Examples of holistic and analytic rubrics : see Tables 2 & 3 in “Rubrics: Tools for Making Learning Goals and Evaluation Criteria Explicit for Both Teachers and Learners” (Allen & Tanner, 2006)

Examples across assessment types : see “Creating and Using Rubrics,” Carnegie Mellon Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and & Educational Innovation

“VALUE Rubrics” : see the Association of American Colleges and Universities set of free, downloadable rubrics, with foci including creative thinking, problem solving, and information literacy. 

Andrade, H. 2000. Using rubrics to promote thinking and learning. Educational Leadership 57, no. 5: 13–18. Arter, J., and J. Chappuis. 2007. Creating and recognizing quality rubrics. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall. Stiggins, R.J. 2001. Student-involved classroom assessment. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Reddy, Y., & Andrade, H. (2010). A review of rubric use in higher education. Assessment & Evaluation In Higher Education, 35(4), 435-448.

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4.2: Writing Assignments

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  • Sarah Irvine, Cristy Bartlett, & Kate Derrington
  • University of Southern Queensland

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Hands on laptop


Assignments are a common method of assessment at university and require careful planning and good quality research. Developing critical thinking and writing skills are also necessary to demonstrate your ability to understand and apply information about your topic. It is not uncommon to be unsure about the processes of writing assignments at university.

  • You may be returning to study after a break
  • You may have come from an exam based assessment system and never written an assignment before
  • Maybe you have written assignments but would like to improve your processes and strategies

This chapter has a collection of resources that will provide you with the skills and strategies to understand assignment requirements and effectively plan, research, write and edit your assignments. It begins with an explanation of how to analyse an assignment task and start putting your ideas together. It continues by breaking down the components of academic writing and exploring the elements you will need to master in your written assignments. This is followed by a discussion of paraphrasing and synthesis, and how you can use these strategies to create a strong, written argument. The chapter concludes with useful checklists for editing and proofreading to help you get the best possible mark for your work.

Task Analysis and Deconstructing an Assignment

It is important that before you begin researching and writing your assignments you spend sufficient time understanding all the requirements. This will help make your research process more efficient and effective. Check your subject information such as task sheets, criteria sheets and any additional information that may be in your subject portal online. Seek clarification from your lecturer or tutor if you are still unsure about how to begin your assignments.

The task sheet typically provides key information about an assessment including the assignment question. It can be helpful to scan this document for topic, task and limiting words to ensure that you fully understand the concepts you are required to research, how to approach the assignment, and the scope of the task you have been set. These words can typically be found in your assignment question and are outlined in more detail in the two tables below.

Table 17.1 Parts of an assignment question

Make sure you have a clear understanding of what the task word requires you to address.

Table 17.2 Task words

The criteria sheet , also known as the marking sheet or rubric, is another important document to look at before you begin your assignment. The criteria sheet outlines how your assignment will be marked and should be used as a checklist to make sure you have included all the information required.

The task or criteria sheet will also include the:

  • Word limit (or word count)
  • Referencing style and research expectations
  • Formatting requirements

Task analysis and criteria sheets are also discussed in the chapter Managing Assessments for a more detailed discussion on task analysis, criteria sheets, and marking rubrics.

Preparing your ideas

Concept map on whiteboard

Brainstorm or concept map: List possible ideas to address each part of the assignment task based on what you already know about the topic from lectures and weekly readings.

Finding appropriate information: Learn how to find scholarly information for your assignments which is

See the chapter Working With Information for a more detailed explanation .

What is academic writing?

Academic writing tone and style.

Many of the assessment pieces you prepare will require an academic writing style. This is sometimes called ‘academic tone’ or ‘academic voice’. This section will help you to identify what is required when you are writing academically (see Table 17.3 ). The best way to understand what academic writing looks like, is to read broadly in your discipline area. Look at how your course readings, or scholarly sources, are written. This will help you identify the language of your discipline field, as well as how other writers structure their work.

Table 17.3 Comparison of academic and non-academic writing

Thesis statements.

Essays are a common form of assessment that you will likely encounter during your university studies. You should apply an academic tone and style when writing an essay, just as you would in in your other assessment pieces. One of the most important steps in writing an essay is constructing your thesis statement. A thesis statement tells the reader the purpose, argument or direction you will take to answer your assignment question. A thesis statement may not be relevant for some questions, if you are unsure check with your lecturer. The thesis statement:

  • Directly relates to the task . Your thesis statement may even contain some of the key words or synonyms from the task description.
  • Does more than restate the question.
  • Is specific and uses precise language.
  • Let’s your reader know your position or the main argument that you will support with evidence throughout your assignment.
  • The subject is the key content area you will be covering.
  • The contention is the position you are taking in relation to the chosen content.

Your thesis statement helps you to structure your essay. It plays a part in each key section: introduction, body and conclusion.

Planning your assignment structure

Image of the numbers 231

When planning and drafting assignments, it is important to consider the structure of your writing. Academic writing should have clear and logical structure and incorporate academic research to support your ideas. It can be hard to get started and at first you may feel nervous about the size of the task, this is normal. If you break your assignment into smaller pieces, it will seem more manageable as you can approach the task in sections. Refer to your brainstorm or plan. These ideas should guide your research and will also inform what you write in your draft. It is sometimes easier to draft your assignment using the 2-3-1 approach, that is, write the body paragraphs first followed by the conclusion and finally the introduction.

Writing introductions and conclusions

Clear and purposeful introductions and conclusions in assignments are fundamental to effective academic writing. Your introduction should tell the reader what is going to be covered and how you intend to approach this. Your conclusion should summarise your argument or discussion and signal to the reader that you have come to a conclusion with a final statement. These tips below are based on the requirements usually needed for an essay assignment, however, they can be applied to other assignment types.

Writing introductions

Start written on road

Most writing at university will require a strong and logically structured introduction. An effective introduction should provide some background or context for your assignment, clearly state your thesis and include the key points you will cover in the body of the essay in order to prove your thesis.

Usually, your introduction is approximately 10% of your total assignment word count. It is much easier to write your introduction once you have drafted your body paragraphs and conclusion, as you know what your assignment is going to be about. An effective introduction needs to inform your reader by establishing what the paper is about and provide four basic things:

  • A brief background or overview of your assignment topic
  • A thesis statement (see section above)
  • An outline of your essay structure
  • An indication of any parameters or scope that will/ will not be covered, e.g. From an Australian perspective.

The below example demonstrates the four different elements of an introductory paragraph.

1) Information technology is having significant effects on the communication of individuals and organisations in different professions. 2) This essay will discuss the impact of information technology on the communication of health professionals. 3) First, the provision of information technology for the educational needs of nurses will be discussed. 4) This will be followed by an explanation of the significant effects that information technology can have on the role of general practitioner in the area of public health. 5) Considerations will then be made regarding the lack of knowledge about the potential of computers among hospital administrators and nursing executives. 6) The final section will explore how information technology assists health professionals in the delivery of services in rural areas . 7) It will be argued that information technology has significant potential to improve health care and medical education, but health professionals are reluctant to use it.

1 Brief background/ overview | 2 Indicates the scope of what will be covered | 3-6 Outline of the main ideas (structure) | 7 The thesis statement

Note : The examples in this document are taken from the University of Canberra and used under a CC-BY-SA-3.0 licence.

Writing conclusions

You should aim to end your assignments with a strong conclusion. Your conclusion should restate your thesis and summarise the key points you have used to prove this thesis. Finish with a key point as a final impactful statement. Similar to your introduction, your conclusion should be approximately 10% of the total assignment word length. If your assessment task asks you to make recommendations, you may need to allocate more words to the conclusion or add a separate recommendations section before the conclusion. Use the checklist below to check your conclusion is doing the right job.

Conclusion checklist

  • Have you referred to the assignment question and restated your argument (or thesis statement), as outlined in the introduction?
  • Have you pulled together all the threads of your essay into a logical ending and given it a sense of unity?
  • Have you presented implications or recommendations in your conclusion? (if required by your task).
  • Have you added to the overall quality and impact of your essay? This is your final statement about this topic; thus, a key take-away point can make a great impact on the reader.
  • Remember, do not add any new material or direct quotes in your conclusion.

This below example demonstrates the different elements of a concluding paragraph.

1) It is evident, therefore, that not only do employees need to be trained for working in the Australian multicultural workplace, but managers also need to be trained. 2) Managers must ensure that effective in-house training programs are provided for migrant workers, so that they become more familiar with the English language, Australian communication norms and the Australian work culture. 3) In addition, Australian native English speakers need to be made aware of the differing cultural values of their workmates; particularly the different forms of non-verbal communication used by other cultures. 4) Furthermore, all employees must be provided with clear and detailed guidelines about company expectations. 5) Above all, in order to minimise communication problems and to maintain an atmosphere of tolerance, understanding and cooperation in the multicultural workplace, managers need to have an effective knowledge about their employees. This will help employers understand how their employee’s social conditioning affects their beliefs about work. It will develop their communication skills to develop confidence and self-esteem among diverse work groups. 6) The culturally diverse Australian workplace may never be completely free of communication problems, however, further studies to identify potential problems and solutions, as well as better training in cross cultural communication for managers and employees, should result in a much more understanding and cooperative environment.

1 Reference to thesis statement – In this essay the writer has taken the position that training is required for both employees and employers . | 2-5 Structure overview – Here the writer pulls together the main ideas in the essay. | 6 Final summary statement that is based on the evidence.

Note: The examples in this document are taken from the University of Canberra and used under a CC-BY-SA-3.0 licence.

Writing paragraphs

Paragraph writing is a key skill that enables you to incorporate your academic research into your written work. Each paragraph should have its own clearly identified topic sentence or main idea which relates to the argument or point (thesis) you are developing. This idea should then be explained by additional sentences which you have paraphrased from good quality sources and referenced according to the recommended guidelines of your subject (see the chapter Working with Information ). Paragraphs are characterised by increasing specificity; that is, they move from the general to the specific, increasingly refining the reader’s understanding. A common structure for paragraphs in academic writing is as follows.

Topic Sentence

This is the main idea of the paragraph and should relate to the overall issue or purpose of your assignment is addressing. Often it will be expressed as an assertion or claim which supports the overall argument or purpose of your writing.

Explanation/ Elaboration

The main idea must have its meaning explained and elaborated upon. Think critically, do not just describe the idea.

These explanations must include evidence to support your main idea. This information should be paraphrased and referenced according to the appropriate referencing style of your course.

Concluding sentence (critical thinking)

This should explain why the topic of the paragraph is relevant to the assignment question and link to the following paragraph.

Use the checklist below to check your paragraphs are clear and well formed.

Paragraph checklist

  • Does your paragraph have a clear main idea?
  • Is everything in the paragraph related to this main idea?
  • Is the main idea adequately developed and explained?
  • Do your sentences run together smoothly?
  • Have you included evidence to support your ideas?
  • Have you concluded the paragraph by connecting it to your overall topic?

Writing sentences

Make sure all the sentences in your paragraphs make sense. Each sentence must contain a verb to be a complete sentence. Avoid sentence fragments . These are incomplete sentences or ideas that are unfinished and create confusion for your reader. Avoid also run on sentences . This happens when you join two ideas or clauses without using the appropriate punctuation. This also confuses your meaning (See the chapter English Language Foundations for examples and further explanation).

Use transitions (linking words and phrases) to connect your ideas between paragraphs and make your writing flow. The order that you structure the ideas in your assignment should reflect the structure you have outlined in your introduction. Refer to transition words table in the chapter English Language Foundations.

Paraphrasing and Synthesising

Paraphrasing and synthesising are powerful tools that you can use to support the main idea of a paragraph. It is likely that you will regularly use these skills at university to incorporate evidence into explanatory sentences and strengthen your essay. It is important to paraphrase and synthesise because:

  • Paraphrasing is regarded more highly at university than direct quoting.
  • Paraphrasing can also help you better understand the material.
  • Paraphrasing and synthesising demonstrate you have understood what you have read through your ability to summarise and combine arguments from the literature using your own words.

What is paraphrasing?

Paraphrasing is changing the writing of another author into your words while retaining the original meaning. You must acknowledge the original author as the source of the information in your citation. Follow the steps in this table to help you build your skills in paraphrasing.

Table 17.4 Paraphrasing techniques

Example of paraphrasing.

Please note that these examples and in text citations are for instructional purposes only.

Original text

Health care professionals assist people often when they are at their most vulnerable . To provide the best care and understand their needs, workers must demonstrate good communication skills . They must develop patient trust and provide empathy to effectively work with patients who are experiencing a variety of situations including those who may be suffering from trauma or violence, physical or mental illness or substance abuse (French & Saunders, 2018).

Poor quality paraphrase example

This is a poor example of paraphrasing. Some synonyms have been used and the order of a few words changed within the sentences however the colours of the sentences indicate that the paragraph follows the same structure as the original text.

Health care sector workers are often responsible for vulnerable patients. To understand patients and deliver good service , they need to be excellent communicators . They must establish patient rapport and show empathy if they are to successfully care for patients from a variety of backgrounds and with different medical, psychological and social needs (French & Saunders, 2018).

A good quality paraphrase example

This example demonstrates a better quality paraphrase. The author has demonstrated more understanding of the overall concept in the text by using the keywords as the basis to reconstruct the paragraph. Note how the blocks of colour have been broken up to see how much the structure has changed from the original text.

Empathetic communication is a vital skill for health care workers. Professionals in these fields are often responsible for patients with complex medical, psychological and social needs. Empathetic communication assists in building rapport and gaining the necessary trust to assist these vulnerable patients by providing appropriate supportive care (French & Saunders, 2018).

The good quality paraphrase example demonstrates understanding of the overall concept in the text by using key words as the basis to reconstruct the paragraph. Note how the blocks of colour have been broken up, which indicates how much the structure has changed from the original text.

What is synthesising?

Synthesising means to bring together more than one source of information to strengthen your argument. Once you have learnt how to paraphrase the ideas of one source at a time, you can consider adding additional sources to support your argument. Synthesis demonstrates your understanding and ability to show connections between multiple pieces of evidence to support your ideas and is a more advanced academic thinking and writing skill.

Follow the steps in this table to improve your synthesis techniques.

Table 17.5 Synthesising techniques

Example of synthesis

There is a relationship between academic procrastination and mental health outcomes. Procrastination has been found to have a negative effect on students’ well-being (Balkis, & Duru, 2016). Yerdelen, McCaffrey, and Klassens’ (2016) research results suggested that there was a positive association between procrastination and anxiety. This was corroborated by Custer’s (2018) findings which indicated that students with higher levels of procrastination also reported greater levels of the anxiety. Therefore, it could be argued that procrastination is an ineffective learning strategy that leads to increased levels of distress.

Topic sentence | Statements using paraphrased evidence | Critical thinking (student voice) | Concluding statement – linking to topic sentence

This example demonstrates a simple synthesis. The author has developed a paragraph with one central theme and included explanatory sentences complete with in-text citations from multiple sources. Note how the blocks of colour have been used to illustrate the paragraph structure and synthesis (i.e., statements using paraphrased evidence from several sources). A more complex synthesis may include more than one citation per sentence.

Creating an argument

What does this mean.

Throughout your university studies, you may be asked to ‘argue’ a particular point or position in your writing. You may already be familiar with the idea of an argument, which in general terms means to have a disagreement with someone. Similarly, in academic writing, if you are asked to create an argument, this means you are asked to have a position on a particular topic, and then justify your position using evidence.

What skills do you need to create an argument?

In order to create a good and effective argument, you need to be able to:

  • Read critically to find evidence
  • Plan your argument
  • Think and write critically throughout your paper to enhance your argument

For tips on how to read and write critically, refer to the chapter Thinking for more information. A formula for developing a strong argument is presented below.

A formula for a good argument

A diagram on the formula for a ggood argument which includes deciding what side of argument you are on, research evidence to support your argument, create a plan to create a logically flowing argument and writing your argument

What does an argument look like?

As can be seen from the figure above, including evidence is a key element of a good argument. While this may seem like a straightforward task, it can be difficult to think of wording to express your argument. The table below provides examples of how you can illustrate your argument in academic writing.

Table 17.6 Argument

Editing and proofreading (reviewing).

Once you have finished writing your first draft it is recommended that you spend time revising your work. Proofreading and editing are two different stages of the revision process.

  • Editing considers the overall focus or bigger picture of the assignment
  • Proofreading considers the finer details

Editing mindmap with the words sources, content,s tructure and style. Proofreading mindmap with the words referencing, word choice, grammar and spelling and punctuation

As can be seen in the figure above there are four main areas that you should review during the editing phase of the revision process. The main things to consider when editing include content, structure, style, and sources. It is important to check that all the content relates to the assignment task, the structure is appropriate for the purposes of the assignment, the writing is academic in style, and that sources have been adequately acknowledged. Use the checklist below when editing your work.

Editing checklist

  • Have I answered the question accurately?
  • Do I have enough credible, scholarly supporting evidence?
  • Is my writing tone objective and formal enough or have I used emotive and informal language?
  • Have I written in the third person not the first person?
  • Do I have appropriate in-text citations for all my information?
  • Have I included the full details for all my in-text citations in my reference list?

There are also several key things to look out for during the proofreading phase of the revision process. In this stage it is important to check your work for word choice, grammar and spelling, punctuation and referencing errors. It can be easy to mis-type words like ‘from’ and ‘form’ or mix up words like ‘trail’ and ‘trial’ when writing about research, apply American rather than Australian spelling, include unnecessary commas or incorrectly format your references list. The checklist below is a useful guide that you can use when proofreading your work.

Proofreading checklist

  • Is my spelling and grammar accurate?
  • Are they complete?
  • Do they all make sense?
  • Do they only contain only one idea?
  • Do the different elements (subject, verb, nouns, pronouns) within my sentences agree?
  • Are my sentences too long and complicated?
  • Do they contain only one idea per sentence?
  • Is my writing concise? Take out words that do not add meaning to your sentences.
  • Have I used appropriate discipline specific language but avoided words I don’t know or understand that could possibly be out of context?
  • Have I avoided discriminatory language and colloquial expressions (slang)?
  • Is my referencing formatted correctly according to my assignment guidelines? (for more information on referencing refer to the Managing Assessment feedback section).

This chapter has examined the experience of writing assignments. It began by focusing on how to read and break down an assignment question, then highlighted the key components of essays. Next, it examined some techniques for paraphrasing and summarising, and how to build an argument. It concluded with a discussion on planning and structuring your assignment and giving it that essential polish with editing and proof-reading. Combining these skills and practising them, can greatly improve your success with this very common form of assessment.

  • Academic writing requires clear and logical structure, critical thinking and the use of credible scholarly sources.
  • A thesis statement is important as it tells the reader the position or argument you have adopted in your assignment. Not all assignments will require a thesis statement.
  • Spending time analysing your task and planning your structure before you start to write your assignment is time well spent.
  • Information you use in your assignment should come from credible scholarly sources such as textbooks and peer reviewed journals. This information needs to be paraphrased and referenced appropriately.
  • Paraphrasing means putting something into your own words and synthesising means to bring together several ideas from sources.
  • Creating an argument is a four step process and can be applied to all types of academic writing.
  • Editing and proofreading are two separate processes.

Academic Skills Centre. (2013). Writing an introduction and conclusion . University of Canberra, accessed 13 August, 2013,

Balkis, M., & Duru, E. (2016). Procrastination, self-regulation failure, academic life satisfaction, and affective well-being: underregulation or misregulation form. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 31 (3), 439-459.

Custer, N. (2018). Test anxiety and academic procrastination among prelicensure nursing students. Nursing education perspectives, 39 (3), 162-163.

Yerdelen, S., McCaffrey, A., & Klassen, R. M. (2016). Longitudinal examination of procrastination and anxiety, and their relation to self-efficacy for self-regulated learning: Latent growth curve modeling. Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice, 16 (1).

Center for Teaching

Student assessment in teaching and learning.

assessment and assignment

Much scholarship has focused on the importance of student assessment in teaching and learning in higher education. Student assessment is a critical aspect of the teaching and learning process. Whether teaching at the undergraduate or graduate level, it is important for instructors to strategically evaluate the effectiveness of their teaching by measuring the extent to which students in the classroom are learning the course material.

This teaching guide addresses the following: 1) defines student assessment and why it is important, 2) identifies the forms and purposes of student assessment in the teaching and learning process, 3) discusses methods in student assessment, and 4) makes an important distinction between assessment and grading., what is student assessment and why is it important.

In their handbook for course-based review and assessment, Martha L. A. Stassen et al. define assessment as “the systematic collection and analysis of information to improve student learning.” (Stassen et al., 2001, pg. 5) This definition captures the essential task of student assessment in the teaching and learning process. Student assessment enables instructors to measure the effectiveness of their teaching by linking student performance to specific learning objectives. As a result, teachers are able to institutionalize effective teaching choices and revise ineffective ones in their pedagogy.

The measurement of student learning through assessment is important because it provides useful feedback to both instructors and students about the extent to which students are successfully meeting course learning objectives. In their book Understanding by Design , Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe offer a framework for classroom instruction—what they call “Backward Design”—that emphasizes the critical role of assessment. For Wiggens and McTighe, assessment enables instructors to determine the metrics of measurement for student understanding of and proficiency in course learning objectives. They argue that assessment provides the evidence needed to document and validate that meaningful learning has occurred in the classroom. Assessment is so vital in their pedagogical design that their approach “encourages teachers and curriculum planners to first ‘think like an assessor’ before designing specific units and lessons, and thus to consider up front how they will determine if students have attained the desired understandings.” (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005, pg. 18)

For more on Wiggins and McTighe’s “Backward Design” model, see our Understanding by Design teaching guide.

Student assessment also buttresses critical reflective teaching. Stephen Brookfield, in Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, contends that critical reflection on one’s teaching is an essential part of developing as an educator and enhancing the learning experience of students. Critical reflection on one’s teaching has a multitude of benefits for instructors, including the development of rationale for teaching practices. According to Brookfield, “A critically reflective teacher is much better placed to communicate to colleagues and students (as well as to herself) the rationale behind her practice. She works from a position of informed commitment.” (Brookfield, 1995, pg. 17) Student assessment, then, not only enables teachers to measure the effectiveness of their teaching, but is also useful in developing the rationale for pedagogical choices in the classroom.

Forms and Purposes of Student Assessment

There are generally two forms of student assessment that are most frequently discussed in the scholarship of teaching and learning. The first, summative assessment , is assessment that is implemented at the end of the course of study. Its primary purpose is to produce a measure that “sums up” student learning. Summative assessment is comprehensive in nature and is fundamentally concerned with learning outcomes. While summative assessment is often useful to provide information about patterns of student achievement, it does so without providing the opportunity for students to reflect on and demonstrate growth in identified areas for improvement and does not provide an avenue for the instructor to modify teaching strategy during the teaching and learning process. (Maki, 2002) Examples of summative assessment include comprehensive final exams or papers.

The second form, formative assessment , involves the evaluation of student learning over the course of time. Its fundamental purpose is to estimate students’ level of achievement in order to enhance student learning during the learning process. By interpreting students’ performance through formative assessment and sharing the results with them, instructors help students to “understand their strengths and weaknesses and to reflect on how they need to improve over the course of their remaining studies.” (Maki, 2002, pg. 11) Pat Hutchings refers to this form of assessment as assessment behind outcomes. She states, “the promise of assessment—mandated or otherwise—is improved student learning, and improvement requires attention not only to final results but also to how results occur. Assessment behind outcomes means looking more carefully at the process and conditions that lead to the learning we care about…” (Hutchings, 1992, pg. 6, original emphasis). Formative assessment includes course work—where students receive feedback that identifies strengths, weaknesses, and other things to keep in mind for future assignments—discussions between instructors and students, and end-of-unit examinations that provide an opportunity for students to identify important areas for necessary growth and development for themselves. (Brown and Knight, 1994)

It is important to recognize that both summative and formative assessment indicate the purpose of assessment, not the method . Different methods of assessment (discussed in the next section) can either be summative or formative in orientation depending on how the instructor implements them. Sally Brown and Peter Knight in their book, Assessing Learners in Higher Education, caution against a conflation of the purposes of assessment its method. “Often the mistake is made of assuming that it is the method which is summative or formative, and not the purpose. This, we suggest, is a serious mistake because it turns the assessor’s attention away from the crucial issue of feedback.” (Brown and Knight, 1994, pg. 17) If an instructor believes that a particular method is formative, he or she may fall into the trap of using the method without taking the requisite time to review the implications of the feedback with students. In such cases, the method in question effectively functions as a form of summative assessment despite the instructor’s intentions. (Brown and Knight, 1994) Indeed, feedback and discussion is the critical factor that distinguishes between formative and summative assessment.

Methods in Student Assessment

Below are a few common methods of assessment identified by Brown and Knight that can be implemented in the classroom. [1] It should be noted that these methods work best when learning objectives have been identified, shared, and clearly articulated to students.


The goal of implementing self-assessment in a course is to enable students to develop their own judgement. In self-assessment students are expected to assess both process and product of their learning. While the assessment of the product is often the task of the instructor, implementing student assessment in the classroom encourages students to evaluate their own work as well as the process that led them to the final outcome. Moreover, self-assessment facilitates a sense of ownership of one’s learning and can lead to greater investment by the student. It enables students to develop transferable skills in other areas of learning that involve group projects and teamwork, critical thinking and problem-solving, as well as leadership roles in the teaching and learning process.

Things to Keep in Mind about Self-Assessment

  • Self-assessment is different from self-grading. According to Brown and Knight, “Self-assessment involves the use of evaluative processes in which judgement is involved, where self-grading is the marking of one’s own work against a set of criteria and potential outcomes provided by a third person, usually the [instructor].” (Pg. 52)
  • Students may initially resist attempts to involve them in the assessment process. This is usually due to insecurities or lack of confidence in their ability to objectively evaluate their own work. Brown and Knight note, however, that when students are asked to evaluate their work, frequently student-determined outcomes are very similar to those of instructors, particularly when the criteria and expectations have been made explicit in advance.
  • Methods of self-assessment vary widely and can be as eclectic as the instructor. Common forms of self-assessment include the portfolio, reflection logs, instructor-student interviews, learner diaries and dialog journals, and the like.

Peer Assessment

Peer assessment is a type of collaborative learning technique where students evaluate the work of their peers and have their own evaluated by peers. This dimension of assessment is significantly grounded in theoretical approaches to active learning and adult learning . Like self-assessment, peer assessment gives learners ownership of learning and focuses on the process of learning as students are able to “share with one another the experiences that they have undertaken.” (Brown and Knight, 1994, pg. 52)

Things to Keep in Mind about Peer Assessment

  • Students can use peer assessment as a tactic of antagonism or conflict with other students by giving unmerited low evaluations. Conversely, students can also provide overly favorable evaluations of their friends.
  • Students can occasionally apply unsophisticated judgements to their peers. For example, students who are boisterous and loquacious may receive higher grades than those who are quieter, reserved, and shy.
  • Instructors should implement systems of evaluation in order to ensure valid peer assessment is based on evidence and identifiable criteria .  

According to Euan S. Henderson, essays make two important contributions to learning and assessment: the development of skills and the cultivation of a learning style. (Henderson, 1980) Essays are a common form of writing assignment in courses and can be either a summative or formative form of assessment depending on how the instructor utilizes them in the classroom.

Things to Keep in Mind about Essays

  • A common challenge of the essay is that students can use them simply to regurgitate rather than analyze and synthesize information to make arguments.
  • Instructors commonly assume that students know how to write essays and can encounter disappointment or frustration when they discover that this is not the case for some students. For this reason, it is important for instructors to make their expectations clear and be prepared to assist or expose students to resources that will enhance their writing skills.

Exams and time-constrained, individual assessment

Examinations have traditionally been viewed as a gold standard of assessment in education, particularly in university settings. Like essays they can be summative or formative forms of assessment.

Things to Keep in Mind about Exams

  • Exams can make significant demands on students’ factual knowledge and can have the side-effect of encouraging cramming and surface learning. On the other hand, they can also facilitate student demonstration of deep learning if essay questions or topics are appropriately selected. Different formats include in-class tests, open-book, take-home exams and the like.
  • In the process of designing an exam, instructors should consider the following questions. What are the learning objectives that the exam seeks to evaluate? Have students been adequately prepared to meet exam expectations? What are the skills and abilities that students need to do well? How will this exam be utilized to enhance the student learning process?

As Brown and Knight assert, utilizing multiple methods of assessment, including more than one assessor, improves the reliability of data. However, a primary challenge to the multiple methods approach is how to weigh the scores produced by multiple methods of assessment. When particular methods produce higher range of marks than others, instructors can potentially misinterpret their assessment of overall student performance. When multiple methods produce different messages about the same student, instructors should be mindful that the methods are likely assessing different forms of achievement. (Brown and Knight, 1994).

For additional methods of assessment not listed here, see “Assessment on the Page” and “Assessment Off the Page” in Assessing Learners in Higher Education .

In addition to the various methods of assessment listed above, classroom assessment techniques also provide a useful way to evaluate student understanding of course material in the teaching and learning process. For more on these, see our Classroom Assessment Techniques teaching guide.

Assessment is More than Grading

Instructors often conflate assessment with grading. This is a mistake. It must be understood that student assessment is more than just grading. Remember that assessment links student performance to specific learning objectives in order to provide useful information to instructors and students about student achievement. Traditional grading on the other hand, according to Stassen et al. does not provide the level of detailed and specific information essential to link student performance with improvement. “Because grades don’t tell you about student performance on individual (or specific) learning goals or outcomes, they provide little information on the overall success of your course in helping students to attain the specific and distinct learning objectives of interest.” (Stassen et al., 2001, pg. 6) Instructors, therefore, must always remember that grading is an aspect of student assessment but does not constitute its totality.

Teaching Guides Related to Student Assessment

Below is a list of other CFT teaching guides that supplement this one. They include:

  • Active Learning
  • An Introduction to Lecturing
  • Beyond the Essay: Making Student Thinking Visible in the Humanities
  • Bloom’s Taxonomy
  • How People Learn
  • Syllabus Construction

References and Additional Resources

This teaching guide draws upon a number of resources listed below. These sources should prove useful for instructors seeking to enhance their pedagogy and effectiveness as teachers.

Angelo, Thomas A., and K. Patricia Cross. Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers . 2 nd edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993. Print.

Brookfield, Stephen D. Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995. Print.

Brown, Sally, and Peter Knight. Assessing Learners in Higher Education . 1 edition. London ; Philadelphia: Routledge, 1998. Print.

Cameron, Jeanne et al. “Assessment as Critical Praxis: A Community College Experience.” Teaching Sociology 30.4 (2002): 414–429. JSTOR . Web.

Gibbs, Graham and Claire Simpson. “Conditions under which Assessment Supports Student Learning. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education 1 (2004): 3-31.

Henderson, Euan S. “The Essay in Continuous Assessment.” Studies in Higher Education 5.2 (1980): 197–203. Taylor and Francis+NEJM . Web.

Maki, Peggy L. “Developing an Assessment Plan to Learn about Student Learning.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 28.1 (2002): 8–13. ScienceDirect . Web. The Journal of Academic Librarianship.

Sharkey, Stephen, and William S. Johnson. Assessing Undergraduate Learning in Sociology . ASA Teaching Resource Center, 1992. Print.

Wiggins, Grant, and Jay McTighe. Understanding By Design . 2nd Expanded edition. Alexandria, VA: Assn. for Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2005. Print.

[1] Brown and Night discuss the first two in their chapter entitled “Dimensions of Assessment.” However, because this chapter begins the second part of the book that outlines assessment methods, I have collapsed the two under the category of methods for the purposes of continuity.

Teaching Guides

  • Online Course Development Resources
  • Principles & Frameworks
  • Pedagogies & Strategies
  • Reflecting & Assessing
  • Challenges & Opportunities
  • Populations & Contexts

Quick Links

  • Services for Departments and Schools
  • Examples of Online Instructional Modules


The Difference Between an Assessment and an Assignment

Posted 4 jun '20.

assessment and assignment

Every school has a unique method of setting work, tasks and assessing the level their students are at, but mostly these tests come in the forms of an assessment or an assignment. However, the difference between the two of these can be hard to spot - both receive task sheets, both can usually be worked on at home, they can contain some of the same content. So, how do we tell the difference and how can this help your child?

The Assignment

So, your child has come home brandishing an assignment task sheet. What does this mean exactly? An assignment is all in the name; it is the act of assigning. It is an allocation of a task or set of tasks that are marked and graded for the report card (but does not have to be). The purpose of an assignment is to give your child a more comprehensive understanding of the topic being studied and can include questions, long-form writing tasks or a more tactile and interactive activity. An assignment is usually completed at home and submitted to the school after a certain period.

The Assessment

An assessment may not come in a much different form to the assignment, but they are usually considered more important. This is because an assessment is the act of assessing the progress of your child. The assessment may be a take-home task, an exam/test, speech or something more hands-on. An assessment can be both in-class or at home. Usually, your child will get an assessment notification that is given approximately 2 weeks before the assessment is due. Particularly for Year 12s, assessments are incredibly important as they contribute to their overall internal mark.

Why It Is Important To Know The Difference

With this information, you are now able to help your child prioritise their work. Although the tasks given can look similar, knowing the weighted importance of both can help you help them to plan out when they will complete these tasks.

If you or your child require further assistance in completing schoolwork, visit where you can be provided personalised, one-on-one education with an experienced, dedicated teacher with an in-depth understanding of the Australian curriculum.

Written by Ben Maher - Founder and Director of Education at Full Spectrum Education

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Difference Between Assignments And Assessments

What Is The Difference Between Assignments And Assessments?

The two central ideas of contemporary education are assignment and assessment. Assignments and assessments are essential components of a student’s academic career. However, a lot of students are unaware of the fundamental distinction between an assignment and an assessment. Assignment refers to the distribution of the numerous tasks that students must do to receive the best grades in their academic curriculums. In comparison, a teacher will assess students by giving them a variety of assessment tasks that may be of different types and observing what information and skills they have learned. A student can get to know various outcomes of their learning and how they are progressing with learning objectives by completing the assessment activity.

For the best results in their academic work, students pursuing a variety of courses at various colleges must deal with assignments and assessments. Therefore, they must complete these two tasks using the right format and procedure. Assessments include writing assignments, class exercises, quizzes, case studies, and group activities, whereas assignments consist of writing tasks like case studies, reports, essays, etc. As a result, both are equally important but approached in different ways. 

Let’s have a look at this in detail!

What Is An Assignment? 

Assignments are pieces of writing paper or homework that a lecturer or university gives to assess your knowledge and abilities. It may also be referred to as writing assignments that must be finished and submit in before the deadlines. This is a requirement for their academic work; thus, you must conduct extensive research to finish the assignment. Numerous tasks require you to select a topic before you begin writing on it, including essays, reports, a thesis, case study assignments, and many more. It aids in the development of your comprehension and learning abilities, and you can conduct your research to finish these assignments. Additionally, it develops research and analytical skills, which will help the students in the future. 

What Is An Assessment?

Assessment refers to the process by which a teacher evaluates the scholars’ knowledge and learning outcomes. In other words, multiple assessment assignments can be used to evaluate your academic development. It aids the professor in determining a student’s aptitude and degree of curricular compliance. Because of this, an assessment is an interactive process that focuses on both teaching and learning. An assignment may occasionally serve as an assessment tool.

Formative and summative assessments are the two main types of assessment. Summative evaluation takes place after each learning unit, whereas formative evaluation is undertaken throughout the learning process. Assessment includes tests, assignments, group projects, quizzes, and summaries.

What Is The Format Of An Assignment? 

Understanding the right format and structure is essential before beginning any work. The format is crucial in capturing the reader’s interest. You’ll be able to compose the assignment extremely precisely if you follow the right format for an assignment. As a result, the most crucial assignment writing format must be used.

  • Executive summary:  The executive summary is crucial for making a good first impression on the reader; therefore, when a student begins writing an assignment, he needs to focus on it. It briefly describes an academic topic, such as a project proposal or business strategy. It provides a synopsis of the case study or reports writing and a solid structure for the writing techniques you’ll employ later on. 
  • Table of content:  Each subsection in this section must be listed together with the relevant page number. It will surely be helpful for the reader to skip straight to the topic’s intriguing parts. Also, they can directly jump to that topic according to their interest. 
  • Introduction:  The first section of your assignment must contain all of the crucial information related to the topic you have chosen for the assignment. In this section, you have to be very precise and clear while framing it. You need to mention all those details that you are going to explain in the further assignment. Therefore an introduction must create an impact on the reader’s mind and develop an interest in reading the whole assignment. 
  • Body section:  After the introduction is complete, you must start on the body section. All of the crucial information should be mentioned in the assignment’s central section. When you reach this part, you need to be familiar with the major ideas, illustrations, and statistics.
  • Conclusion:  In conclusion, you must be able to present a summary of all the data once the primary steps have been completed. Never provide extra information for the assignment.

What Are The Major Steps To Complete An Assessment Task? 

  • Know the purpose of evaluation:  This stage clarifies the aim of the meeting to everyone in attendance. Additionally, it establishes the meeting’s objectives and tone. It also makes it clear how questions and remarks that should be shorter for the meeting’s format will be addressed. Use our recommended introduction in the description below, or write your own.
  • Determine the work provided to you:  In this phase, the learner and you will review the pertinent responses you both filled out on your assessment form. The Educator should have gone over these in advance and taken any necessary notes.
  • Discuss all your work and start writing it:  Items for homework are tasks that must be finished at home. To allow the learner and Educator enough time to complete the work, they are assigned homework. To answer questions from the learner and to make expectations clear, homework is discussed in this stage so that you can get the best answers for your assessment questions. 

If you are enrolled in a course or program offered by a reputable university, you must understand the assignment and assessment differences. Since you will be dealing with both tasks during your curriculum, it will aid you in writing them correctly. You can seek assistance from our  assessment help  services if you still need help understanding the difference and are unable to complete the assignment or assessment activity. Our most experienced expert will help you correctly write your assignment or assessment work. Our highly qualified experts are skilled at assessment and assignment help and finishing them before the deadlines.

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Assignments, exams, & grading.

When we hear the word “assessment,” most of us think about course assignments and exams . While assignments and assessments are not the same thing, assignments are often used as formative or summative assessments of student learning. As formative assessments, assignments can support the scaffolding of student learning, allowing students to practice new skills so they are able to apply them in more complex projects. Instructors can provide timely feedback to support skill-building and correct errors. As summative assessments, assignments can help instructors evaluate student achievement of learning outcomes.

Grades are a hot topic for students and faculty alike, as they can determine a student’s status, scholarship eligibility, and future prospects. Instructor grading practices and philosophies can vary, often causing student anxiety and concern. Faculty conversations about grades often focus on fairness, rigor, equity, and how to truly measure learning. 

The growing set of resources on this site will explore good practices for transparent and equitable assignment design, exam design and administration practices, as well as the array of conversations around grading practices. Alternative grading practices such as Ungrading and contract grading have piqued the curiosity of instructors looking for ways to engage students in their own learning and make learning rather than grades the primary focus of instruction.

Read More About Assignments, Exams, & Grading

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Many of my conversations with faculty focus on the challenges they have with doing good learning assessment in large classes. The best learner-centered assessment approaches are no match for 200-person enrollment. I mean, can you imagine reading 200 5-page essays?

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6 Types of Assessment (and How to Use Them)

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Written by Maria Kampen

Reviewed by Stephanie McEwan, B.Ed.

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What's the purpose of different types of assessment?

6 types of assessment to use in your classroom, how to create effective assessments, final thoughts about different types of assessment.

How do you use the different  types of assessment  in your classroom to promote student learning?

School closures and remote or hybrid learning environments have posed some challenges for educators, but motivating students to learn and grow remains a constant goal.

Some students have lost a portion of their academic progress. Assessing students in meaningful ways can help motivate and empower them to grow as they become agents of their own learning. 

But testing can contribute to  math anxiety  for many students. Assessments can be difficult to structure properly and time-consuming to grade. And as a teacher, you know that student progress isn't just a number on a report card. 

There’s so much more to assessments than delivering an end-of-unit exam or prepping for a standardized test. Assessments help shape the learning process at all points, and give you insights into student learning. As John Hattie, a professor of education and the director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia puts it :

The major purpose of assessment in schools should be to provide interpretative information to teachers and school leaders about their impact on students, so that these educators have the best information possible about what steps to take with instruction and how they need to change and adapt. So often we use assessment in schools to inform students of their progress and attainment. Of course this is important, but it is more critical to use this information to inform teachers about their impact on students. Using assessments as feedback for teachers is powerful. And this power is truly maximized when the assessments are timely, informative, and related to what teachers are actually teaching.

Six types of assessments are:

  • Diagnostic assessments
  • Formative assessments
  • Summative assessments
  • Ipsative assessments
  • Norm-referenced assessments
  • Criterion-referenced assessments

Let’s find out how assessments can analyze, support and further learning.

Smiling student completing an assessment

Different types of assessments can help you understand student progress in various ways. This understanding can inform the teaching strategies you use, and may lead to different adaptations.

In your classroom, assessments generally have one of three purposes:

  • Assessment  of  learning
  • Assessment  for  learning
  • Assessment  as  learning

Assessment of learning

You can use assessments to help identify if students are meeting grade-level standards. 

Assessments of learning are usually  grade-based , and can include:

  • Final projects
  • Standardized tests

They often have a concrete grade attached to them that communicates student achievement to teachers, parents, students, school-level administrators and district leaders. 

Common types of assessment of learning include: 

Assessment for learning

Assessments for learning provide you with a clear snapshot of student learning and understanding  as you teach  -- allowing you to adjust everything from your  classroom management strategies  to your lesson plans as you go. 

Assessments for learning should always be  ongoing and actionable . When you’re creating assessments, keep these key questions in mind:

  • What do students still need to know?
  • What did students take away from the lesson?
  • Did students find this lesson too easy? Too difficult?
  • Did my teaching strategies reach students effectively?
  • What are students most commonly misunderstanding?
  • What did I most want students to learn from this lesson? Did I succeed?

There are lots of ways you can deliver assessments for learning, even in a busy classroom.  We’ll cover some of them soon!

For now, just remember these assessments aren’t only for students -- they’re to provide you with actionable feedback to improve your instruction.

Common types of assessment for learning include formative assessments and diagnostic assessments. 

Assessment as learning

Assessment as learning  actively involves students  in the learning process. It teaches critical thinking skills, problem-solving and encourages students to set achievable goals for themselves and objectively measure their progress. 

They can help engage students in the learning process, too! One study "showed that in most cases the students pointed out the target knowledge as the reason for a task to be interesting and engaging, followed by the way the content was dealt with in the classroom."

Another found:

“Students develop an interest in mathematical tasks that they understand, see as relevant to their own concerns, and can manage.  Recent studies of students’ emotional responses to mathematics suggest that both their positive and their negative responses diminish as tasks become familiar and increase when tasks are novel”

Douglas B. McLeod

Some examples of assessment as learning include ipsative assessments, self-assessments and peer assessments.

There’s a time and place for every type of assessment. Keep reading to find creative ways of delivering assessments and understanding your students’ learning process!

1. Diagnostic assessment

Student working on an assessment at a wooden table

Let’s say you’re starting a lesson on two-digit  multiplication . To make sure the unit goes smoothly, you want to know if your students have mastered fact families,  place value  and one-digit multiplication before you move on to more complicated questions.

When you structure  diagnostic assessments  around your lesson,  you’ll get the information you need to understand student knowledge and engage your whole classroom .

Some examples to try include:

  • Short quizzes
  • Journal entries
  • Student interviews
  • Student reflections
  • Classroom discussions
  • Graphic organizers (e.g., mind maps, flow charts, KWL charts)

Diagnostic assessments can also help benchmark student progress. Consider giving the same assessment at the end of the unit so students can see how far they’ve come!

Using Prodigy for diagnostic assessments

One unique way of delivering diagnostic assessments is to use a game-based learning platform that engages your students.

Prodigy’s assessments tool  helps you align the math questions your students see in-game with the lessons you want to cover.

Screenshot of assessment pop up in Prodigy's teacher dashboard.

To set up a diagnostic assessment, use your assessments tool to create a  Plan  that guides students through a skill. This adaptive assessment will support students with pre-requisites when they need additional guidance.

Want to give your students a sneak peek at the upcoming lesson?  Learn how Prodigy helps you pre-teach important lessons .

2. Formative assessment

Just because students made it to the end-of-unit test, doesn’t mean they’ve  mastered the topics in the unit .  Formative assessments  help teachers understand student learning while they teach, and provide them with information to adjust their teaching strategies accordingly. 

Meaningful learning involves processing new facts, adjusting assumptions and drawing nuanced conclusions. As researchers  Thomas Romberg and Thomas Carpenter  describe it:

“Current research indicates that acquired knowledge is not simply a collection of concepts and procedural skills filed in long-term memory. Rather, the knowledge is structured by individuals in meaningful ways, which grow and change over time.”

In other words, meaningful learning is like a puzzle — having the pieces is one thing, but knowing how to put it together becomes an engaging process that helps solidify learning.

Formative assessments help you track how student knowledge is growing and changing in your classroom in real-time.  While it requires a bit of a time investment — especially at first — the gains are more than worth it.

A March 2020 study found that providing formal formative assessment evidence such as written feedback and quizzes within or between instructional units helped enhance the effectiveness of formative assessments.

Some examples of formative assessments include:

  • Group projects
  • Progress reports
  • Class discussions
  • Entry and exit tickets
  • Short, regular quizzes
  • Virtual classroom tools like  Socrative  or  Kahoot!

When running formative assessments in your classroom, it’s best to keep them  short, easy to grade and consistent . Introducing students to formative assessments in a low-stakes way can help you benchmark their progress and reduce math anxiety.

Find more engaging formative assessment ideas here!

How Prodigy helps you deliver formative assessments

Prodigy makes it easy to create, deliver and grade formative assessments that help keep your students engaged with the learning process and provide you with actionable data to adjust your lesson plans. 

Use your Prodigy teacher dashboard to create an  Assignment  and make formative assessments easy!

Assignments  assess your students on a particular skill with a set number of questions and can be differentiated for individual students or groups of students.

For more ideas on using Prodigy for formative assessments, read:

  • How to use Prodigy for spiral review
  • How to use Prodigy as an entry or exit ticket
  • How to use Prodigy for formative assessments

3. Summative assessment

Students completing a standardized test

Summative assessments  measure student progress as an assessment of learning. Standardized tests are a type of summative assessment and  provide data for you, school leaders and district leaders .

They can assist with communicating student progress, but they don’t always give clear feedback on the learning process and can foster a “teach to the test” mindset if you’re not careful. 

Plus, they’re stressful for teachers. One  Harvard survey  found 60% of teachers said “preparing students to pass mandated standardized tests” “dictates most of” or “substantially affects” their teaching.

Sound familiar?

But just because it’s a summative assessment, doesn’t mean it can’t be engaging for students and useful for your teaching. Try creating assessments that deviate from the standard multiple-choice test, like:

  • Recording a podcast
  • Writing a script for a short play
  • Producing an independent study project

No matter what type of summative assessment you give your students, keep some best practices in mind:

  • Keep it real-world relevant where you can
  • Make questions clear and instructions easy to follow
  • Give a rubric so students know what’s expected of them
  • Create your final test after, not before, teaching the lesson
  • Try blind grading: don’t look at the name on the assignment before you mark it

Use these summative assessment examples to make them effective and fun for your students!

Preparing students for summative assessments with Prodigy

Screenshot of Prodigy's test prep tool in the Prodigy teacher dashboard.

Did you know you can use Prodigy to prepare your students for summative assessments — and deliver them in-game?

Use  Assignments  to differentiate math practice for each student or send an end-of-unit test to the whole class.

Or use our  Test Prep  tool to understand student progress and help them prepare for standardized tests in an easy, fun way!

See how you can benchmark student progress and prepare for standardized tests with Prodigy.

4. Ipsative assessments

How many of your students get a bad grade on a test and get so discouraged they stop trying? 

Ipsative assessments  are one of the types of assessment  as  learning that  compares previous results with a second try, motivating students to set goals and improve their skills . 

When a student hands in a piece of creative writing, it’s just the first draft. They practice athletic skills and musical talents to improve, but don’t always get the same chance when it comes to other subjects like math. 

A two-stage assessment framework helps students learn from their mistakes and motivates them to do better. Plus, it removes the instant gratification of goals and teaches students learning is a process. 

You can incorporate ipsative assessments into your classroom with:

  • A two-stage testing process
  • Project-based learning  activities

One study on ipsative learning techniques  found that when it was used with higher education distance learners, it helped motivate students and encouraged them to act on feedback to improve their grades.

In Gwyneth Hughes' book, Ipsative Assessment: Motivation Through Marking Progress , she writes: "Not all learners can be top performers, but all learners can potentially make progress and achieve a personal best. Putting the focus onto learning rather than meeting standards and criteria can also be resource efficient."

While educators might use this type of assessment during pre- and post-test results, they can also use it in reading instruction. Depending on your school's policy, for example, you can record a student reading a book and discussing its contents. Then, at another point in the year, repeat this process. Next, listen to the recordings together and discuss their reading improvements.

What could it look like in your classroom?

5. Norm-referenced assessments

student taking a summative assessment

Norm-referenced assessments  are tests designed to compare an individual to a group of their peers, usually based on national standards and occasionally adjusted for age, ethnicity or other demographics.

Unlike ipsative assessments, where the student is only competing against themselves, norm-referenced assessments  draw from a wide range of data points to make conclusions about student achievement.

Types of norm-referenced assessments include:

  • Physical assessments
  • Standardized college admissions tests like the SAT and GRE

Proponents of norm-referenced assessments point out that they accentuate differences among test-takers and make it easy to analyze large-scale trends. Critics argue they don’t encourage complex thinking and can inadvertently discriminate against low-income students and minorities. 

Norm-referenced assessments are most useful when measuring student achievement to determine:

  • Language ability
  • Grade readiness
  • Physical development
  • College admission decisions
  • Need for additional learning support

While they’re not usually the type of assessment you deliver in your classroom, chances are you have access to data from past tests that can give you valuable insights into student performance.

6. Criterion-referenced assessments

Criterion-referenced assessments   compare the score of an individual student to a learning standard and performance level,  independent of other students around them. 

In the classroom, this means measuring student performance against grade-level standards and can include end-of-unit or final tests to assess student understanding. 

Outside of the classroom, criterion-referenced assessments appear in professional licensing exams, high school exit exams and citizenship tests, where the student must answer a certain percentage of questions correctly to pass. 

Criterion-referenced assessments are most often compared with norm-referenced assessments. While they’re both considered types of assessments of learning, criterion-referenced assessments don’t measure students against their peers. Instead, each student is graded to provide insight into their strengths and areas for improvement.

You don’t want to use a norm-referenced assessment to figure out where learning gaps in your classroom are, and ipsative assessments aren’t the best for giving your principal a high-level overview of student achievement in your classroom. 

When it comes to your teaching, here are some best practices to help you identify which type of assessment will work and how to structure it, so you and your students get the information you need.

Make a rubric

Students do their best work when they know what’s expected of them and how they’ll be marked. Whether you’re assigning a  cooperative learning  project or an independent study unit, a rubric  communicates clear success criteria to students and helps teachers maintain consistent grading.

Ideally, your rubric should have a detailed breakdown of all the project’s individual parts, what’s required of each group member and an explanation of what different levels of achievement look like.

A well-crafted rubric lets multiple teachers grade the same assignment and arrive at the same score. It’s an important part of assessments for learning and assessments of learning, and teaches students to take responsibility for the quality of their work. 

There are plenty of  online rubric tools  to help you get started -- try one today!

Ask yourself  why  you're giving the assessment

Teacher in classroom supervising students completing a test

While student grades provide a useful picture of achievement and help you communicate progress to school leaders and parents, the ultimate goal of assessments is to improve student learning. 

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What’s my plan for the results?
  • Who’s going to use the results, besides me?
  • What do I want to learn from this assessment?
  • What’s the best way to present the assessment to my students, given what I know about their progress and learning styles?

This helps you effectively prepare students and create an assessment that moves learning forward.

Don't stick with the same types of assessment — mix it up!

Teacher in front of a classroom and pointing at a student with a raised hand.

End-of-unit assessments are a tried and tested (pun intended) staple in any classroom. But why stop there?

Let’s say you’re teaching a unit on  multiplying fractions . To help you plan your lessons, deliver a diagnostic assessment to find out what students remember from last year. Once you’re sure they understand all the prerequisites, you can start teaching your lessons more effectively. 

After each math class, deliver short exit tickets to find out what students understand and where they still have questions. If you see students struggling, you can re-teach or deliver intervention in small groups during  station rotations . 

When you feel students are prepared, an assessment of learning can be given to them. If students do not meet the success criteria, additional support and scaffolding can be provided to help them improve their understanding of the topic. You can foster a growth mindset by reminding students that mistakes are an important part of learning!

Now your students are masters at multiplying fractions! And when standardized testing season rolls around, you know which of your students need additional support — and where. 

Build your review based on the data you’ve collected through diagnostic, formative, summative and ipsative assessments so they perform well on their standardized tests.

Remember: learning extends well beyond a single score or assessment!

It’s an ongoing process, with plenty of opportunities for students to build a  growth mindset  and develop new skills. 

Prodigy is a fun, digital game-based learning platform used by over 100 million students and 2.5 million teachers. Join today to make delivering assessments and differentiating math learning easy with a free teacher account!

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Assignment vs. Assessment — What's the Difference?

assessment and assignment

Difference Between Assignment and Assessment

Table of contents, key differences, comparison chart, action vs. judgment, individual vs. group, compare with definitions, common curiosities, is every assignment followed by an assessment, what's the purpose of an assignment, how do teachers benefit from assessments, can an assignment be collaborative, what forms can assessments take, are assignments exclusive to academic settings, what is an assignment in an educational context, how does assessment differ from grading, can assessments be biased, is feedback essential after an assessment, can one forgo an assignment, do all assignments need a deadline, why are assessments integral in the learning process, how do assignments and assessments relate to real-world skills, can an assignment be both written and oral, share your discovery.

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Teaching excellence & educational innovation, what is the difference between formative and summative assessment, formative assessment.

The goal of formative assessment is to monitor student learning to provide ongoing feedback that can be used by instructors to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning. More specifically, formative assessments:

  • help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and target areas that need work
  • help faculty recognize where students are struggling and address problems immediately

Formative assessments are generally low stakes , which means that they have low or no point value. Examples of formative assessments include asking students to:

  • draw a concept map in class to represent their understanding of a topic
  • submit one or two sentences identifying the main point of a lecture
  • turn in a research proposal for early feedback

Summative assessment

The goal of summative assessment is to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit by comparing it against some standard or benchmark.

Summative assessments are often high stakes , which means that they have a high point value. Examples of summative assessments include:

  • a midterm exam
  • a final project
  • a senior recital

Information from summative assessments can be used formatively when students or faculty use it to guide their efforts and activities in subsequent courses.

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What are classroom assessment standards, and how do they impact student learning?

assessment and assignment

When I think back to my eighth-grade math classroom, I remember how I would measure students’ progress toward mastery: I would break standards up into separate learning targets, and those learning targets provided me with a progression for each standard so I could scaffold instruction for my students. But what about the assessments that I gave to determine mastery along the way? I know I designed many opportunities for my students to demonstrate their learning, but did I really have evidence of conceptual understanding that would support students’ growth as standards became increasingly complex? And if I was using standards to effectively teach content, why was I not using standards to effectively assess content?

The classroom assessment standards, first published in 2015, would have helped me in assessing my students more confidently. They provide the necessary foundation for developing and implementing quality classroom assessments, and they are meant to guide current classroom practices so we can positively impact students’ learning. They’re organized into three domains—Foundations, Use, and Quality—and they are the only standards approved by the American National Standards Institute .

Let’s dig a little deeper into the standards and how you might use them in your classroom to further student learning.

A summary of the classroom assessment standards

When we take a closer look at the three domains of the classroom assessment standards, we find six Foundations standards. These provide the starting point for developing and implementing sound and fair classroom assessment.

  • Assessment Purpose
  • Learning Expectations
  • Assessment Design
  • Student Engagement in the Assessment
  • Assessment Preparation
  • Informed Students and Parents/Guardians

The ultimate goal of classroom assessment is to inform teaching and further student learning, so when the intent of the assessment is clear, we are able to effectively align our instructional practices with our classroom assessment practices. The foundation standards articulate the importance of providing multiple opportunities to engage students in demonstrating their understanding, while also stressing the importance of clear communication processes.

The classroom assessment standards have five Use standards that cover everything from understanding how students did to providing feedback and planning instruction following an assessment:

  • Analysis of Student Performance
  • Effective Feedback
  • Instructional Follow-Up
  • Grades and Summary Comments

When there are productive methods for analyzing student performance, there are opportunities for providing students with effective feedback. Feedback helps kids understand where they are academically and encourages them to use that information to move their learning forward. The Use standards also allow teachers to adjust their current instructional practices to better support students’ efforts, and they remind us to ensure any grades associated with assessments are provided to students in a timely manner and truly reflect mastery of the content.

Finally, five Quality standards focus on providing fair and accurate feedback to all students:

  • Cultural and Linguistic Diversity
  • Exceptionality and Special Ed
  • Unbiased and Fair Assessment
  • Reliability and Validity

As assessment practices take place in the classroom, it is imperative that students from varying cultural and linguistic backgrounds are provided with adequate opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge. Similarly, students with exceptionalities may require differentiation, and assessment practices should be adjusted accordingly. When they are free from bias, fair classroom assessments ensure there are no tasks that might unfairly impact student performance. Assessments should also consistently provide dependable information that supports the interpretation of each student’s academic knowledge and skills. Ongoing reflection and revision of classroom assessments are best practices to ensure that all methods used to assess students’ learning continue to provide fair, useful, and accurate information.

The classroom assessment standards in action

The classroom assessment standards cover a lot of ground, and I often find that sharing an example from my personal experience can help bring them to life and make it easier for educators to see how they can support them in their classroom.

In 2017, I was serving as an instructional coach in Texas, where I live. Some of our grade-level teams were giving practice STAAR tests, our state assessment, to determine how ready students were for the actual state assessment that would be given later that spring. After the assessment was administered, teachers began analyzing the data and quickly became discouraged by the number of tutoring groups needed for several essential content standards. My role was to work alongside the team of teachers and offer the lenses of collaboration and inquiry. Both then and now, it became clear that focusing on the Foundations and Use standards could help us better serve our students in the time leading up to the real STAAR testing day.

As a discussion developed about why students did not perform as well as we expected on the practice test, the question of purpose emerged, and mixed purposes began to surface. Some teachers explained that they wanted to give the practice assessment to determine how close to passing students were. Other teachers wanted to know which standards their students had mastered so they knew which standards to focus on reteaching. A third group of teachers wanted to have their students practice taking a timed test using test-taking strategies. It was quickly evident that the purpose of the assessment was very muddy. That lack of clarity made next steps unclear, which caused some frustration during our data discussion.

The classroom assessment standards would have served this team of educators well had we had the opportunity to align our purpose ahead of time. The first Foundations standard, Assessment Purpose, asks us to determine why an assessment is needed before we actually begin assessing students, and it provides an opportunity to discuss how the assessment results will be used once we’ve collected the data.

As our data discussion continued, it became evident that several students did not master the most essential grade-level content standards. These particular standards had already been taught for an extended period prior to the assessment. This brought up the question, “How is everyone teaching these standards?” Each team member shared multiple resources and strategies, and differences in opinion on how these specific standards should be taught surfaced during our conversation as well.

The second Foundations standard, Learning Expectations, addresses the alignment of classroom assessment with instructional practices while providing clear learning expectations in student-friendly language. This would have benefited teachers and students at my school by allowing teachers to calibrate instructional strategies. It would also have helped ensure that students were given opportunities to learn in the same way they would be expected to demonstrate their learning on the assessment.

It was evident that our discussion and planning would need to continue during another planning period, so we continued our conversation then. We decided to share student work samples from the assessment at that meeting, and teachers shared their instructional practices with one another to discuss and evaluate their effectiveness. We wanted to ensure we wouldn’t be repeating ineffective strategies and improperly preparing students for success moving forward.

Foundation standard number four, Student Engagement in Assessment, allowed us to determine what exemplars should look like to students. For reteach lessons to be designed effectively, we realized, it was important to remember that students must understand what is expected of them through the illustration of quality work. We also leaned on the second standard in the Use domain, Effective Feedback, to ensure students were getting timely and useful feedback after we followed the first Use standard, Analysis of Student Performance. We committed to allowing more time for feedback when we designed the new lessons that would allow us to reteach the challenging standards.

As you continue on your beautiful journey as an educator, I encourage you to think about how the classroom assessment standards could help you in your work. Ask yourself the following questions about your current practices:

  • Do I provide a clear purpose for teaching and learning to my students?
  • Are my classroom instruction and assessments aligned to this purpose?
  • Do I use multiple pedagogical strategies to allow my students to demonstrate their understanding?
  • Are my classroom assessment processes and decisions fair for all my students?
  • Do I engage my students in assessment processes to keep them motivated and connected to their purpose and use?
  • Am I assessment literate ?

If you’d like more support with assessment, I encourage you to talk to your principal about professional learning opportunities, including NWEA offerings on assessment empowerment . Our sessions can help you understand the elements of a balanced assessment system, build skills in communicating the results of assessments, help you triangulate data to inform your instructional decisions, and make it easier to reframe assessments as opportunities for students to take greater ownership of their learning.

The following Teach. Learn. Grow. articles can also help you on your journey:

  • “5 feedback game changers every teacher should try”
  • “What is formative assessment?”
  • “Formative assessment is not for grading”
  • “12 common questions parents ask about MAP Growth”
  • “16 resources for putting MAP Growth assessment data to work”

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  • Key Differences

Know the Differences & Comparisons

Difference Between Assessment and Evaluation

assessment vs evaluation

The basic difference between assessment and evaluation lies in the orientation, i.e. while the assessment is process oriented, evaluation is product oriented. The article presented to you describes all the distinguishing points between these two.

Content: Assessment Vs Evaluation

Comparison chart, definition of assessment.

Assessment is defined as a methodical way of acquiring, reviewing and using information about someone or something, so as to make improvement where necessary. The term is interpreted in a variety of ways, i.e. educational, psychological, financial, taxation, human resource and so on.

In general, assessment is an ongoing interactive process, in which two parties (assessor and assessee) are involved. The assessor is someone who assesses the performance based on the defined standards, while assessee is someone who is being assessed. The process aims at determining the effectiveness of the overall performance of the assessee and the areas of improvement. The process involves, setting up goals, collecting information (qualitative and quantitative) and using the information for increasing quality.

Definition of Evaluation

The term ‘evaluation’ is derived from the word ‘value’ which refers to ‘usefulness of something’. Therefore, evaluation is an examination of something to measure its utility.

Simply put, evaluation is a systematic and objective process of measuring or observing someone or something, with an aim of drawing conclusions, using criteria, usually governed by set standards or by making a comparison. It gauges the performance of a person, completed project, process or product, to determine its worth or significance.

The evaluation includes both quantitative and qualitative analysis of data and undertaken once in a while. It ascertains whether the standards or goals established are met or not. If they are met successfully, then it identifies the difference between actual and intended outcomes.

Key Differences Between Assessment and Evaluation

The significant differences between assessment and evaluation are discussed in the points given below:

  • The process of collecting, reviewing and using data, for the purpose of improvement in the current performance, is called assessment. A process of passing judgment, on the basis of defined criteria and evidence is called evaluation.
  • Assessment is diagnostic in nature as it tends to identify areas of improvement. On the other hand, evaluation is judgemental, because it aims at providing an overall grade.
  • The assessment provides feedback on performance and ways to enhance performance in future. As against this, evaluation ascertains whether the standards are met or not.
  • The purpose of assessment is formative, i.e. to increase quality whereas evaluation is all about judging quality, therefore the purpose is summative.
  • Assessment is concerned with process, while evaluation focuses on product.
  • In an assessment, the feedback is based on observation and positive & negative points. In contrast to evaluation, in which the feedback relies on the level of quality as per set standard.
  • In an assessment, the relationship between assessor and assessee is reflective, i.e. the criteria are defined internally. On the contrary, the evaluator and evaluatee share a prescriptive relationship, wherein the standards are imposed externally.
  • The criteria for assessment are set by both the parties jointly. As opposed to evaluation, wherein the criteria are set by the evaluator.
  • The measurement standards for assessment are absolute, which seeks to achieve the quintessential outcome. As against this, standards of measurement for evaluation are comparative, that makes a distinction between better and worse.

So, after reviewing the points above, it would be clear that assessment and evaluation are completely different. While evaluation involves making judgments, assessment is concerned with correcting the deficiencies in one’s performance. Although, they play a crucial role in analysing and refining the performance of a person, product, project or process.

You Might Also Like:

Quality Assurance Vs Quality Control

October 28, 2016 at 1:55 am

Thanks for sharing

Narendra says

January 29, 2017 at 6:23 am

Precise and useful.

Musaed says

October 9, 2017 at 10:00 pm

I would never be confused again about the difference between assessment and evaluation. Thanks.

Kelly Mokashi says

June 14, 2018 at 8:58 pm

Can we use this article educationally, is there a copyright issue?

Surbhi S says

June 15, 2018 at 9:40 am

You can use the article, subject to proper references are given to

Naijil George says

June 19, 2018 at 6:56 pm

I thought, both are very much same. This article is an eye opener.

Mehr.a.zadeh says

July 11, 2018 at 10:39 pm

Hi, your contents are excellent. Thanx

mohammed says

August 27, 2018 at 11:34 am

very detail message with concise note

Mfanelo Siziba says

September 3, 2018 at 3:56 pm

This is wonderful, well researched. Where can I get more references on this?

September 6, 2018 at 11:14 pm

Really great summary; however, I’d appreciate it if you could add some book references.

Maryam Talebi says

December 12, 2018 at 12:22 am

I really appreciate it

Augustine B says

April 10, 2019 at 11:55 am

Thanks very much for the information which is precise and helpful.


September 16, 2019 at 3:37 pm

Thank you very much,I now get the difference

March 13, 2020 at 9:52 am

Thanks for the piece. Could you please distinguish the three? (measurement, assessment and evaluation)


September 21, 2019 at 8:14 pm

Wonderful!! Am humbled

zulfiaqar Ali says

February 18, 2020 at 10:43 am

Thank you so much for this valuable information

May 26, 2020 at 5:11 am

thanks for help

February 12, 2021 at 5:18 am

Thanks so much for the important message and I think that it will be helpful in doing my second assignment… Cheers…

February 19, 2021 at 10:54 am

Wonderful answer

Paul King Ayinde says

February 19, 2021 at 8:49 pm

Thank you immensely for these explicit explanations. They have really helped me.

saliha belhacene says

February 20, 2021 at 1:18 am

It’s so useful. Thanks

Mansharam says

February 21, 2021 at 10:58 pm

It is a base of understanding the difference between them

Lubega paul says

March 3, 2021 at 4:08 pm

Thanks for the wonderful and precise information I have learnt a lot from your information

Munyope Joseph says

March 17, 2021 at 3:48 pm

Yes maximum appreciation for the wonderful message indeed I have learnt the distinction between these two concepts.

Nakasumba GORRET says

March 26, 2021 at 6:50 am

I thought these words are the same but l realized that there is a big difference between them thanks alot

Ainomugisha Emily says

March 28, 2021 at 11:44 am

Really helpful

Faith hajara Barack says

April 2, 2021 at 10:38 pm

Thanks a lot for the clarification

Kakaire Joseph says

April 8, 2021 at 12:27 pm

Thanks for the message have really learnt about assessment and evaluation and their comparisons

Agaba Ashraf says

April 9, 2021 at 3:03 am

Thanx i have managed to understand and learnt how to distinguish between evaluation and assessment and they cannot confuse me at all in applying them as a teacher.

Kamuhanda William says

April 14, 2021 at 3:44 pm

Thanks for the useful information about the differences between Assessment and Evaluation I used to think that they are the same but they are not similar

Ahaisibwe micheal says

April 16, 2021 at 10:31 pm

Vital information about the differences between assessment and evaluation.

Dr.Dilip Chaudhari says

April 17, 2021 at 12:51 pm

Really, very good explain the difference between assessment and evaluation

Halliru Sule says

December 7, 2021 at 11:19 am

Thank you for differentiate all this information.

haron chemutai says

February 7, 2022 at 7:54 pm

Thank you for the great work

Chitra Rodrigo says

March 9, 2022 at 4:59 pm

I had a doubt on the difference between assignment and evaluation. NOW I ‘m confident. Thank you very much!

fajar mag says

August 13, 2022 at 6:59 pm

Such a brilliant information

Ada Morrison says

February 2, 2023 at 11:15 am

Thank you for the information.

Musana Elias says

February 28, 2023 at 8:29 am

Your work has cleared the misconceptions l had about the two Now clear thanks for your research

Mohanraj Sathuvalli says

April 6, 2023 at 4:32 pm

I found the article extremely useful It is precise and helps a reader understand the two terms without any ambiguity. Makes useful reading materials for teachers.

Farhana says

June 13, 2023 at 1:19 pm

want to know full name of Surbhi as I have to write reference in my assignment.

June 16, 2023 at 6:35 pm

This informative article clearly explains the difference between assessment and evaluation

El-Med says

September 9, 2023 at 10:48 pm

Thanks for your effort about those two concepts, I really understand their differences now

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Should you give job applicants an assignment during the interview process? Be thoughtful about the ask

Employers have to ask themselves whether they are willing to turn off a strong candidate by asking them to do additional work.

Hiring is a time-consuming and expensive endeavor. Companies need candidates who offer the right skills and experience for a given role, and who align with their organization’s vision and mission.

To find the best fit, many companies still lean on a strategy that continues to generate debate : the assignment. Some candidates believe their experience and interviews should give prospective employers enough information to determine whether they will fit the role. Employers have to ask themselves whether they are willing to turn off a strong candidate by asking them to do additional work.

Is the assignment valuable enough to the evaluation process that they cannot move someone forward without it? Sometimes it is—sometimes they help an employer decide between two strong candidates. And if they are necessary, how can employers make assignments fair and equitable for the candidate or candidates?

When done right, assignments help assess practical skills and problem-solving abilities, giving a clearer picture of a candidate beyond what their resume or interview reveals. But employers should be thoughtful about the ask. While it may make sense for roles that require specific technical expertise or creative thinking, it isn’t appropriate for all roles—so assignments should always be given with a clear reason for why they are needed.

Plus, they don’t just benefit the employer. For job seekers, an assignment during the interview process might also help them stand out from the competition. It can also offer a window into what their day-to-day in the new role might entail. Remember that the candidate should be interviewing the company, too. Having a test run of the work they’d be asked to do is a great way to see whether they believe the role is a fit.

However, there is a rift in how people perceive the assignment as part of the interview process. Workers today span many generations, each with unique values and expectations. Whereas older workers often prioritize stability and loyalty, younger millennials and Gen Zers are more focused on flexibility and work well-being, Indeed data shows .

This mindset impacts the amount of time and energy a candidate is willing to devote to each application. After multiple rounds of interviews and prep, taking on an in-depth assignment may feel like a bridge too far—especially if the expectations for the assignment are not clearly communicated ahead of time.

Some candidates are wary of providing free labor to a company that may use their work and not hire them. Hiring managers should be clear about how the work will be used. They may also consider offering compensation if the assignment requires more than a couple hours of someone’s time, or if they plan to use the work without hiring the candidate.

The key for early career candidates in particular is to ensure their time and efforts are respected. This is a win-win for employers: By providing clarity and transparency, they not only elicit the additional information they want from candidates, but they demonstrate that the organization is transparent and fair.

Equity is also imperative: Which candidates are being asked to complete assignments? Is the hiring team consistent in giving out assignments across ages, experience levels, and roles? There should always be a process and clear evaluation criteria in place to ensure fairness.

As we adapt to the rapidly evolving world of work, we must continue to think critically about each step in the hiring process. Candidate assignments can be a valuable tool, but only with appropriate respect for job seekers’ time and contributions.

With the right strategy, we can bridge the gap between generations in the workplace and build a hiring culture that values efficiency, talent, and integrity.

Eoin Driver is the global vice president of talent at Indeed.

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