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Towards a unified theory of assessment

Attempts to categorise educational assessments as either ‘formative’ or ‘summative’ no longer serve us well and the time has come to develop a more unified theory of assessment.

The distinction between educational assessments as either summative assessments of learning or formative assessments for learning lacks clarity and usefulness, according to ACER Chief Executive, Professor Geoff Masters AO.

Writing in Teacher, Professor Masters suggests the time has come for a more unified theory of assessment. Such a theory might be built on the observations that the fundamental purpose of any assessment in education is to establish and understand the points that students – individually or as groups – have reached in their learning at the time of assessment, and that there are then different ways to use this information.

‘The essential purpose of assessment in education is to establish and understand where students are in an aspect of their learning at the time of assessment. This usually means inferring what they know, understand and can do from observations of their performances and work,’ Professor Masters writes.

Information obtained from such observations can be used both retrospectively and prospectively, to evaluate past progress and to plan future action, he observes.

As Professor Masters explains, the basis for a unified theory of assessment is the proposition that evaluations of learning progress, whether before, during or after teaching, are essential for effective teaching and learning. ■

Read the full article:
Rethinking formative and summative assessment’, written by Geoff Masters and published in Teacher, is available at < teacher.acer.edu.au/geoff-masters >

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