Re-assessing assessment

This report was originally published 17 September 2015.

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What gives assessment a bad name? What is effective assessment? And what innovative tools are making assessment more effective? This paper examines developments in assessment around the world, and highlights cases of innovation and best practice.

We measure what we value. In education, assessment signals to learners the knowledge that is valued. Educational assessment has undergone much change in recent years. This is both as a result of conceptual shifts in thinking about the nature of assessment and its integration with teaching and learning, but also the increasing role that digital technologies play in education, and the opportunities technology affords for innovation. Assessment is a powerful strategic tool for educators, but it can be done badly. Research shows both positive and negative effects of assessment in improving student learning, regardless of whether assessment is occurring at a systemic level at a school level, or within classrooms. The OECD notes that ‘getting assessment right will be one of the most important priorities for education systems in OECD countries over the near term’ (Looney 2009, p. 7.)

This paper considers:

  1. what is effective assessment
  2. tools and systems that can be used in educational assessment
  3. examples of assessment practice both locally and internationally.

It draws on research evidence about the nature and importance of effective assessment. The paper ends with a series of questions that attempt to explore implications of an altered approach to assessment in the Australian context.

What is effective assessment?

Assessment is a broad term that can describe formal, high stakes examinations (like the HSC); standardised diagnostic tools (NAPLAN); class-based quizzes and tests; or the informal questions, teacher judgements, and observations that occur in routine classroom interactions.

Assessment in one form or another, has always been a feature of education. Nonetheless, despite the long history of educational assessment, it can be difficult to define exactly what ‘effective’ assessment is. This is because there are many different views on the nature and purposes of assessment.

The OECD (2015) states that assessment can have a multitude of purposes such as:

  • contributing to improving student outcomes and the quality and equity of the education system
  • providing stakeholders at both the system and school level (student, parents, teachers and policy makers) with information on what students know and should know and steps for further learning and improvement
  • enabling comparability across the education system and across schools.


  • Assessment
  • Research report

Business Unit:

  • Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation
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