Using Classroom Assessment to Improve Teaching (page 2)

— The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement
Updated on Apr 30, 2014

Using Assessment in the Classroom

Creating and using effective classroom assessments require skill and practice; however, the following guidelines can help teachers explore the practice of using assessment to improve instruction. Offering professional development in the design of high-quality classroom assessments is one way that schools and districts can support the application of these practices.  

Start With the Standards

All assessments, whether devised in the classroom or administered by the state accountability office, should be tied to a curriculum based on state academic content standards. As a first step, teachers should determine which state standards are assessed on the large-scale tests. Next, as author W. James Popham (2006) points out, there should be a careful analysis of the subskills and knowledge within those standards that students are supposed to master. This step is important if formative assessments are going to provide instructionally relevant information. Once this analysis is complete, teachers can work together to develop a “bank” of locally relevant lessons and formative assessment tasks that draw on different learning modalities.  

Involve Learners in the Assessment Process  

Involving the learner is at the heart of the shift from assessment that measures learning to assessment that promotes learning. Learners can be involved in assessment in several ways. They can be provided with rubrics or checklists that clearly explain the standard against which their work will be evaluated. Students also can be shown work that is excellent and work that needs improvement and can be given help analyzing the differences between them. Stiggins envisions “environments in which students use assessments to understand what success looks like and how to do better next time” (2004, p. 25).


Author Marilyn Burns (2005) advocates questioning as a formative assessment that involves students. Whether verbal or written, thoughtful questions can be used to probe student responses and elicit student reasoning. Flawed reasoning, she points out, can be found in both correct and incorrect student answers. This questioning strategy provides teachers with insights into student thinking that can guide their refinement of future lessons. It also helps students reflect on their own thought processes, a practice called metacognition.

Provide High-Level Instructional Feedback

Although teacher feedback can be observed in almost every classroom, its use does not always serve as an effective classroom assessment tool. “There are clearly recorded examples… in which teachers have, quite unconsciously, responded in ways that would inhibit the future learning of a pupil. What the examples have in common is that the teacher is looking for a particular response and lacks the flexibility or the confidence to deal with the unexpected. So the teacher tries to direct the pupil toward giving the expected answer” (Black & Wiliam, 1998, p. 143). In contrast, high-quality instructional feedback is timely, useful, and appropriate. Timely feedback—given as soon as possible after the assessment occurs—can influence the next steps in the learning process. Useful feedback, says author Thomas Guskey (2005), is “both diagnostic and prescriptive. It reinforces precisely what students were expected to learn, identifies what was learned well, and describes what needs to be learned better” (p. 6). Whether verbal or written, instructional feedback should go beyond indicating the degree of right and wrong to include advice on how the learner can improve next time.

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