Effective assessment practice

Outlines on the purpose and principles of assessment that provide all students with an opportunity to demonstrate their understanding and progress in learning.

Purpose of assessment

Effective assessment is embedded within the teaching and learning cycle.

It supports teachers’ response to the following questions:

  • What do I want my students to learn?
  • How will my students get there?
  • How do I know when my students get there?
  • Where are my students now?
"The fundamental purpose of assessment in education is to establish and understand where learners are in an aspect of their learning at the time of assessment." (Masters, 2014)

Distinctions between types of assessments such as formative and summative are often used but can be unhelpful at times. What makes an assessment formative or summative is how the information collected is intended to be used.

Formative assessment is generally thought of as directly informing the next steps in student learning. Most assessment can be used this way.

Less formal assessment modes, such as teacher observation and questioning, are used frequently, often many times within each lesson. Students are provided with quick, actionable feedback either as an individual, group or class.

With more formal modes there is often a longer delay between when the student sits an assessment and when they receive feedback. This is where the term summative is sometimes used.

Summative assessment occurs at the end of an extended period of explicit teaching such as a unit of work or a stage of learning. They are used to evaluate student achievement of content knowledge and/or skills against expected curriculum standards or learning objectives.

Summative assessments can, and should, still be used formatively providing actionable feedback and further learning opportunities to consolidate their understanding.

The Assessment modes page provides further detail on how different modes of assessment can be used to develop on-balanced judgements of student learning.

Key considerations

Assessment is a key part of developing learning sequences since it informs instructional choices and provides opportunities for reflection and evaluation. More structured approaches should be planned alongside the development of learning sequences. Less structured approaches can be considered at a lesson level and as the learning takes place at point of need.

Quality assessment:

  • directly aligns with student learning outcomes and activities undertaken
  • considers how students best demonstrate these learning outcomes
  • is relevant to the students’ learning stage and life experiences
  • allows for differentiation to show the depth of student understanding
  • uses different approaches as part of the teaching and learning cycle
  • provides feedback that promotes learning progress.

Principles of effective assessment

For assessment to effectively measure or provide insight into students’ understanding, tasks should be easily understood, measure what they intend to and allow all students to show what they know and can do.

When designing tasks the following principles should be considered.

An equitable assessment is fair, inclusive, and accessible to all students, allowing demonstration of learning across a range of different contexts.

See the Resource section of this page for further information about equity in supporting students.

A valid assessment is one that accurately reflects the syllabus outcomes it is designed to measure and is designed in a format that allows students to successfully show what they know, understand, and can do in relation to the outcomes.

Assessment should relate to the learning that is, or has, taken place and be provided in an appropriate format for that assessment.

A reliable assessment provides consistent and dependable results with different learners.

A reliable assessment should accurately measure what a student knows, understands, and can do without influence from chance, bias, systematic error, or cheating.

Practices to support consistent teacher judgement can improve the overall reliability of assessment.

An assessment task is transparent when the purpose, meaning and requirements of the task are understood by all students.

Explicit quality criteria are included to clarify the aspects of learning being assessed.

Timeliness ensures that assessments are part of an ongoing process to monitor learning over time.

The view of the student formed from formative and summative assessment should be developed over time and change as the student grows in their learning.

Using different modes of assessment as part of the learning creates valuable opportunities for students to develop their understanding, serving a greater purpose than simply evaluating performance.

An essential element of effective assessment is that specific, timely and clear feedback is provided to students.

This feedback is used by students to check their understanding and inform future learning goals.

Feedback can also be part of an iterative process built into a task (such as allowing students to submit drafts) in which feedback provided should be specific and forward focused.


Centre for Educational Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) reports

What works best: 2020 update and What works best in practice (PDF 3MB) – Chapter 5 targets assessment, Chapter 4 the use of data to inform practice and Chapter 3 targets effective feedback.

Re-assessing assessment (2015) – draws on research evidence about the nature and importance of effective assessment.

Supporting students

Five elements of effective assessment – How you can support students to improve through learning intentions, success criteria, goal setting, peer and self-assessment and feedback.

Adjustments to teaching and learning – Students with disability – Adjustments enable students with disability and additional learning and support needs access to syllabus outcomes and content on the same basis as their peers.

Assessing EAL/D learners – Differentiating assessment through scaffolded support in the learning of language to support access to curriculum content.

Assess and Identify – High potential and gifted education – Assess and identify the specific learning needs of all high potential, gifted and highly gifted students.

Policy and guidance

Policy and guidance - Directing you to policy and guidance related to assessment including the national assessment program, Stages 5 and 6 Record of School Achievement (RoSA) and Stage 6 monitoring advice.


  • Teaching and learning

Business Unit:

  • Educational Standards
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