Theme – Assessment

Assessment is an integral part of the teaching and learning cycle. Through assessment we are able to establish where a student is at in their learning, so that teaching can be differentiated and further learning progress can be monitored over time.

The What works best: 2020 update recognises assessment as one of the eight effective teaching strategies that drives student and school improvement.

Practical strategies for using assessment to improve student learning

What works best in practice (pages 21-24) provides teachers and school leaders with key strategies on how to:

  • make student assessment a part of everyday practice
  • use assessment to provide students with learning opportunities
  • design and deliver high-quality formal assessment tasks
  • carefully structure group assessment activities to ensure that students are supported, challenged and able to work together successfully.

The reflection toolkit (page 6) provides support to teachers when implementing these evidence-based strategies.

Video conversation with Rooty Hill High School

In this video and podcast, Mark Scott, former Secretary of the NSW Department of Education, speaks with Rooty Hill High School Principal, Christine Cawsey and her students about how Rooty Hill embeds assessment in school practice.

From developing assessment-centred classrooms, to empowering students to identify and monitor their progress, hear how Rooty Hill is improving student outcomes.

Rooty Hill High School and assessment

Mark Scott:              

Chris Cawsey, Rooty Hill High School – there’s a lot of focus on the
way you approach assessment there. You run a big, complex, comprehensive secondary school. If I listen to you talk about that thoughtful and strategic approach to assessment, how do you, in a sense, operationalise that at the school? How are you assured that that’s the practice that’s rolling out in all your classrooms, and then how are teachers using that to inform their teaching practice?

Chris Cawsey:          

So I think that the easier way to answer that is to go back and say that if you’re looking at how do you put that in place and ensure it, you really need to come back to the notion of the assessment-centred classroom. Language that’s come out of the research, really in the last 20 years, is that it won’t work unless assessment drives the design of learning and assessment drives the delivery of that learning with, and accommodations for, particular students.

The three ways we do it, essentially, in the short cycle is that we use John Hattie and others’ work around having really clear learning intentions tied to syllabus outcomes, and that includes skills and knowledge, and then having a success criteria against which students can make a judgment for themselves and teachers can make a judgment. In the medium cycle we use capability-driven assessment a lot.

But to really ensure that this happens, you need the longer-term cycle for your professional learning and your professional staff. And we use outcomes-based accountability. We want to know how much we’ve done, how we’ve designed lessons and all those sorts of things, how well we have done it. Did it work? Was that lesson effective? And we’ll get that information from the feedback that students give us and the feedback we give them. And then, has it made any difference? And that’s where we do need to have external evidence, whether that’s in critical and creative thinking or literacy or numeracy – all of those kinds of things. We need to actually know that we’re making a difference in the learning design that we’re putting in place.

Mark Scott:               

It just strikes me, Chris, that, you know, there’s so much, in a sense, deliberative planning and thought that you’ve clearly done there with your leadership team to be able to embed assessment as a central part of your learning programs there at Rooty Hill.

Chris Cawsey:          

I’d like to be able to say to you, Mark, that this happens when a leadership team leads. But in fact, this actually happens when you can design high quality professional experiences for your staff and the whole staff learn together, and the whole staff work together, in order to embed this practice. And one of the absolute beliefs of Rooty Hill High School is that teacher assessment, school assessment, student assessment needs to be on the agenda constantly, where we’re looking at how do we design the kind of learning that the students, the staff and the school needs in order to be able to put this in place in every classroom.

Mark Scott:              

So let’s talk about the student experience of assessment at Rooty Hill. Some of the big assessments that we have, like NAPLAN and the HSC, they get a lot of media attention too, and there can be pressure about it. But you seem to be indicating that at Rooty Hill, assessment is really just part of the way of life and going to school. And it’s a regular part of the way that you learn there.

Chad Zahra:             

Yeah. We like to use a little thing called My Learning Hub. So it allows the students to, like, apply evidence from their own work and to reflect on how well they’ve done for that specific subject. So they’re able to apply the evidence into our website and then write a reflection on what they did in that class, how it worked, what it is and how well they think they did it effectively.

Mark Scott:

We want to improve teaching practice, school planning and see improvement across NSW education. There’s a lot more information available for you about ‘What works best’ in the NSW Department of Education website.

Podcast with Rooty Hill High School

Listen to the full conversation with Mark Scott and Rooty Hill High school.

Registered professional learning

What works best Assessment MyPL course

Further resources


  • Teaching and learning
  • Teaching and learning practices
  • What works best

Business Unit:

  • Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation
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