Why do we assess children?

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Is it so that we know what % they got?
Is it so we know what grade (A, B, C etc.) to allocate them?
Is it so we know what position they come in a class/year rank order?
Is it so we know how clever they are?
Is it to decide whether or not they should progress to the next grade/year?
Is it so we can tell how good the teacher/school is?
Is it so we can tell how much effort they are putting in to their studies?

In modern education these are all considered to be either poor reasons to assess students or, in some cases, actually the wrong reasons to assess students.

This may seem a rather shocking statement. For those of us of a more mature vintage these were exactly the reasons why we were assessed when we were at school ourselves.

However, education, thankfully, has moved on considerably since those times. It is now far more focused on:


  • learning rather than teaching
  • high quality lesson planning rather than showy lesson delivery
  • achievement (that is, amount of progress from any starting point) rather than attainment (e.g. how many A grades are achieved);
  • transferrable long-term skills rather than transient subject-specific knowledge
  • engaging learners as owners of their own learning journeys
  • learning through exploration, discussion, experience, personal research, risk-taking and reflection, rather than being lectured to
  • personalizing learning and recognizing that what is an excellent achievement for one child is a moderate achievement for another and vice versa
  • understanding that students have different cognitive profiles and preferred learning styles

So why should we really be assessing children?

  • To help teachers to know what knowledge skills and understanding is secure and what needs to be consolidated
  • To inform the planning of future learning so that it is pitched at the right level of challenge for the group and for individuals within it
  • To help teachers to reflect upon whether or not the way in which previous learning was planned has been a good fit for the preferred learning styles of the class and individuals within it
  • To help teachers to know which students are attaining levels that match their personal potential in a given area and which are not

In other words, nowadays it is not about assessment of learning and more about assessment for learning.
So where in the past you might have asked your child’s teacher what mark, grade or percentage your child attained, instead ask him or her:

“What can my child can do or understand now that he/she could not do or understand before?”
“What will my child be able to do or understand by the end of this week or term that he/she could not do or understand before?”
“What does my child need to focus on or target in order to improve?”
“How does your lesson planning take account of my child’s preferred learning style?”
“Is my child making good progress?”
“How well are my child’s key learner attributes like resilience, reflection, risk-taking and reasoning developing and how do your lessons encourage development in these areas?”


date authored: 

Sunday 6th November 2016 Africa/Kampala


School Director - Steve Lang