Assessments With Purpose

  • What is the difference between formal and informal assessment?

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    Formal assessments are the systematic, data-based tests that measure what and how well the students have learned.  Formal assessments determine the students’ proficiency or mastery of the content, and can be used for comparisons against certain standards.


    • standardized tests
    • criterion referenced tests
    • norm referenced test
    • achievement tests
    • aptitude tests

    Informal assessments are those spontaneous forms of assessment that can easily be incorporated in the day-to-day classroom activities and that measure the students’ performance and progress. Informal assessments are content and performance driven.


    • checklist
    • observation
    • portfolio
    • rating scale
    • time sampling
    • event sampling
    • anecdotal record

    Informal assessment cannot completely replace the formal assessment. We need both, as one complements the other, in depicting accurate pictures of our students.  We can use either type (depending on the intended purpose) to improve teaching and learning. The type of assessment we should use should match the intended purpose of the assessment. For example, if we want to assess the students’ academic achievement and compare it with other students, then we can use the formal assessment. If we want to use assessment to monitor students’ progress and help them maximize their own learning, or use assessment to improve instruction, then we can use the informal assessment.

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  • How are results used by teaching staff?

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    Using Assessment Results to Plan for Instruction

    If assessments benefit the child, then testing should be linked to learning experiences and instruction. If they are to be fair and authentic, they include all types of strategies that provide a comprehensive picture of each child’s progress and needs. The teacher selects the assessment methods that are relevant to the information needed and uses the results in planning for curriculum and instruction. This assumes the teacher is concerned with individual rates of learning and is prepared to address individual differences. The learning activities that are available in the classroom and through teacher instruction reflect not only curriculum goals established by the school, but also how each child can best achieve these goals.

    Using Assessment Results to Report Progress

    Just as we need multiple assessment strategies to assess students, these assessment strategies should be used to report how the student has developed and learned. If the assessment system is comprehensive, the method to report the child’s progress should also be comprehensive and provide many examples of how the child demonstrated growth and achievement. Parents receive limited information from reports that rate a child average, above average, or below average. Likewise, a report that indicates progress is satisfactory or unsatisfactory tells little about the student’s learning experiences and accomplishments. Rather than a snapshot of progress, a comprehensive picture should be conveyed.

    Using Assessment Results to Evaluate the Instructional Program

    The assessment process includes evaluation of the effectiveness of the teacher’s instruction and the activities and materials used in the classroom. The teacher uses assessment information to determine whether instructional strategies were successful for students to learn new concepts and skills or whether new approaches are needed. 

    With this type of evaluative reflection, the teacher demonstrates that assessment should focus not on student achievement, but rather on how well students progress and the role that the quality of instruction has on growth. If some students need additional opportunities to learn information and skills, the teacher considers how more varied activities might accomplish the goal. Should the concepts be incorporated into different types of activities, or should they become a part of a continuum that includes a new direction or focus? Students need many opportunities to learn new skills, and encountering concepts in new contexts provides meaningful routes to understanding and the ability to use what is being learned.

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