Five elements of effective assessment practice

How can you help students know what they need to improve?

Explicit descriptive feedback

“I don’t want a teacher to tell me ‘good job’. I want to know what I didn’t do well and how to improve it.” — Student Sefton High School (What works best in practice CESE:2020)

  • View a short video from the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership that leads teachers through the process of providing feedback
  • Providing students with effective feedback contributes to learning and achievement. You can access a snapshot of the research and additional resources around feedback through the Strong, Start, Great, Teachers resource
  • The use of interactional or contingent scaffolding provides a point of need feedback to EAL/D students. Examples of this type of scaffolding include recasting and appropriating students’ language into more academic, subject-specific English language, recapping what students have said and providing extended processing and ‘wait time’ for responses
  • Explicit and descriptive feedback needs to be tailored for students with disability and additional learning needs. This may include: focussing on the task, being specific, presenting feedback in manageable chunks, given immediately and with explicit strategies on what the student needs to do next. The feedback may need to be tailored for students with a disability to support their understanding and effectiveness.

How can students set their own learning goals effectively?


"One way that high expectations are encouraged at Aldavilla Public School is through goal setting. Students are expected to have attainable learning goals that they are working towards…" (What works best in practice CESE:2020)

It's important to engage individual students in goal setting, monitoring and reflecting on their learning. Goals should be specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and time-based. SMART (Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic, Time-based) goals are useful for all students.

Through self-assessment, students can identify specific actions to improve and plan their next steps. They can also define their short and long-term goals with increasing confidence. The role of the teacher in this process is to:

  • model the setting of individual goals
  • provide follow-up support
  • give specific feedback on learning goals
  • help students identify and record focused actions they can take to achieve their goals
  • help students identify procedures they can use to monitor their own progress.

How do students know what they are going to learn?

Learning intentions

“Every lesson has a learning intention, what we’re trying to learn and how we’re going to achieve it ... Then you might have specific mini learning intentions for specific kids. Yours is punctuation, yours is capital letters after full stops. That’s where you get to the nitty-gritty ... at the end, we see if we have achieved our learning intention? No? How can we change it? What can we do the next day?” – Teacher Fairfield Heights Public School (What works best in practice CESE:2020)

  • Learning intentions clarify the purpose of the learning and form the basis for assessment. The ‘Strong, Start, Great, Teachers’ resource can be used to lead teachers through the lesson design process
  • Formative assessment is centred around the use of learning intentions. This example of formative assessment being used in the classroom could be viewed during professional learning with teachers or to refine individual practice (sourced from the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership)
  • NESA outlines how sharing learning intentions can be a powerful way for teachers to improve student learning. Learning and assessment intentions provide a focus for, and clarity of, the knowledge, understanding and skills students are expected to develop as a result of teaching and learning
  • For many students from refugee and EAL/D backgrounds, understanding lesson learning intentions presented in written form can be challenging. Providing information, including learning intentions, in a variety of modes including written, spoken, visual and L1 forms can support students to understand the purpose for learning. The Henry Parkes Equity Resource Centre has a range of bilingual resources, including bilingual dictionaries and picture dictionaries, which can support student understanding.
  • Students with disability and additional learning needs may require specific, personalised learning intentions. These intentions can be broken down into smaller, more manageable components for the student. Students would also benefit from using a range of communication modes to support students understanding of the lesson intentions, such as using visuals, audio or video. The Jill Sherlock Memorial Learning Assistance Library provides an extensive range of educational and curriculum resources to meet the learning and support needs of students with a disability, from preschool to Year 12.

Where do the five elements come from?


“Teachers need to know that every student is learning by continuously assessing their progress and incorporating that information into daily instruction.” – Sharratt and Fullan

CESE's What works best 2020 update describes Lyn Sharratt's five elements of effective assessment practice:

  • establishing learning intentions that are drawn from the relevant syllabus and clearly describe what students should know, understand and be able to do at the conclusion of a unit of work
  • creating success criteria that describe what success looks like in relation to the learning intentions and are co-created by students and teachers
  • providing explicit descriptive feedback to students in a timely manner and ensuring that it is clearly understood by students
  • building the capacity of students to peer assess and self-assess using the success criteria as a reference
  • developing the capacity for individual goal-setting by students, which includes students asking questions such as ‘What do I need to improve?’ and ‘What is my next step?’.

How can students assess their own learning?

Peer assessment and self-assessment

Whalan Public School Whalan Public School uses an initiative called the Whalan 5 to centre classroom time on students’ learning experiences. This involves teachers focusing on specific learning intentions, success criteria, goalsetting and feedback, in a structured way. Teachers explicitly check that students are engaged, actively learning and able to self-assess their progress towards mastery by asking five questions: 1. What are you learning today? 2. Why are you learning this? 3. How will you know you have learnt it? 4. How can you improve? 5. How are you an expert learner? (What works best in practice CESE:2020)

An introduction to peer and self-assessment
  • There are a range of strategies to facilitate peer and self-assessment based on learning intentions and success criteria, for example using gallery walks.
  • The Digital Learning Selector is a searchable resource that includes activities and tools to support the use of peer and self-assessment, including peer feedback.
  • Teachers can encourage EAL/D students to share and reflect on subject knowledge in home language or ways that are culturally appropriate. EAL/D students need opportunities to hear and practice language through controlled, guided and independent tasks. For more information about controlled, guided and independent teaching, see the ESL Steps.

What does successful learning look like?

Success criteria

The use of clear learning intentions in lesson design that describe what is to be done with what content, supported by explicit success criteria that students understand…is made even more effective when students can explain and demonstrate that they have met the success criteria.  ” — Principal Rooty Hill High School (What works best in practice CESE:2020)

  • Discussion and agreement on success criteria is an integral step in effective assessment practice. ‘Strong, Start, Great, Teachers’ outlines the sequential actions that may be taken by teachers when selecting and implementing assessment strategies
  • Success criteria can be presented or co-constructed with students and facilitates student self and peer assessment as well as enabling quality feedback. This is one illustration of how success criteria can be used in the classroom (sourced from the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership)
  • There are a range of tools and strategies available via the Digital Learning Selector to support the use of success criteria throughout the learning process, including the use of rubrics
  • Success criteria should include both content knowledge and English language structures, features and social purpose. The ESL Scales provides information about English language structures and features
  • Students with a disability may require adjustments to assessment strategies identified through the collaborative curriculum planning process. Options may be provided to ensure all students can equitably demonstrate new knowledge and skills. Success criteria can be personalised for students to clearly identify what students need to do to progress to their goals. Visit NESA’s Assessment and reporting page for examples of adjustments for assessment.
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