Is assessment unfair?


How do teachers assess, and are they thinking of student needs when they design tasks to deduct progression in learning and gaps in curriculum design?

In a recent article in The Conversation as part of its Educating Australia series, Geoff Masters (CEO, Australian Council for Educational Research) called for an alternative approach to assessment that he called monitoring learning. In this model ‘is a belief that every learner is capable of further progress if they can be engaged, motivated to make the appropriate effort and provided with targeted learning opportunities’.

Masters argued that the current approach to assessment dooms young people to always perform the same; that an A grade student will always achieve A grades, and a D grade student will always achieve a D grade.

Ms Kray is an executive leader in a secondary Canberra public school who has had more than a decade of experience. She agrees that there are summative A-E grades that can reflect the mindset of young people who have already been subjected to these grading scales through primary school.

I am an advocate for continual, ongoing formative assessment throughout the year and as a school leader have supported staff to embed formative assessment strategies in their practice. A-E are summative grades that should be moderated against the ACARA work samples and should be viewed as a very piece of information about a student’s learning.

The argument from Masters that the ‘alternative is to recognise that the fundamental purpose of assessment is to establish and understand where individuals are in their long-term learning progress’ is already reflected in the practice of formative assessment. Formative assessment, or assessment for learning, is a way for teachers to not only gauge the learning in relation to the curriculum, but also in terms of where students are personally in their learning journey.

In a project based learning (PBL) unit of work I created for a multi-level years eight to twelve class, there were six opportunities for formative assessment through the term. These occasions included observation, project milestones, social and emotional collaborative team-work skill development, and performance against the curriculum.

Although the unit was targeted at the knowledge level of the most advanced student, each young person had their own learning journey and that is what was used to gauge their development and learning needs. I the tailored the project progression accordingly.

Formative assessment is used by educators to not only match the student performance to the curriculum, as suggested by Masters, but rather guide teachers in designing learning to meet the needs of the individual. The curriculum is merely a useful starting point.

Last week’s post on keeping teachers in the profession called for recognition of the changing needs of our society and students, and developing education pedagogies and approaches accordingly, rather than perpetuating the out-of-date Industrial methods of school. The result of perpetuating this school-work-career trajectory and keeping up with the pressures to assess for the learning journey as well as the system curriculum requirements puts time pressure on many teachers as noted by Ms Kray,

As an English teacher the workload of class sets of providing feedback on essay drafts and marking the finished product is immense. It results in nights and weekends spent away from friends and family, and self care and wellbeing suffer.

The experience of assessment is, for many teachers, a necessary however often arduous task due to the many restrictions placed on them by the national, state or territory, jurisdiction and school policies and expectations. Most teachers do engage in comprehensive assessment practices that focus on individual student needs and learning journeys, however at a great cost to other aspects of their professional and even personal lives.

How can the system change to embrace new ways of individual assessment that teachers are often doing as part of their formative practices, to become the way that we look at a students’ learning journey?

The Conversation series on improving education in schools has had a broad reach of topics in February including Indigenous Education, keeping teachers at disadvantaged schools, Asia education, fixing Australia’s declining education and school readiness.

In February we are looking for a weekly original contribution on topical issues! Would you like to feature as an original contributor? Please send your article to

One thought on “Is assessment unfair?

  1. Pingback: Are schools teaching our kids to be redundant? | Australian Education Blogs

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