We use the word ‘assessment’ to describe a variety of classroom and educational activities.
Put simply, assessment is the process of gathering information about what a learner knows, can do, and understands with respect to a learning goal. The word assessment comes from the Latin word assidere, meaning “to sit beside”. When you sit beside a student who is engaged in a task, you have an opportunity to watch what they are doing, and to talk to them about what they are thinking. In this moment of interaction, you can gather a wealth of information about what the student knows and is able to do. Further, you can provide feedback to the learner that will help him/her learn. If you take note of what you hear and see, and record it so you can access the information at a later time, you can analyse this documentation and make judgements about the learner’s level of achievement. Evidently, in education, assessment is a process that is used for several different purposes.
To distinguish between purposes, we use the phrases “assessment for learning”, “assessment as learning” and “assessment of learning”. So, how exactly do the words “for”, “as”, and “of” relate to the different purposes of assessment?
“Assessment for learning” refers to educators using assessment for the purpose of improving learning. It involves gathering information about the student’s learning during the learning process (remember the idea of sitting beside the learner to observe and talk?) and providing descriptive feedback.
“Assessment as learning” refers to using the assessment process to teach students to assess themselves. This involves educators helping learners to understand the criteria for successful learning and how to apply those criteria to determine for themselves where they are in their learning, and where they need to focus their efforts to improve. The idea is that the assessment process can be modelled by the educator, so that learners can use the same process to gain knowledge, build skills and develop their understanding.
“Assessment of learning” refers to using information gathered about learning to make a judgement about the learner’s level of achievement at a certain point in time, usually for the purpose of reporting to parents and others how well students are learning.
While assessment of learning is an important purpose, assessment for learning and assessment as learning are the processes that contribute to student learning while at the same time empowering students’ to own their learning through self-assessment and goal setting.
So, to summarize:
Assessment for learning = educator using assessment information to help students improve learning by providing descriptive feedback and making adjustments to instruction
Assessment as learning = educator teaching students to assess their own and each other’s progress so they can make decisions about the way forward in learning on their own
Assessment of learning = educator using assessment information to make a judgement at a point in time to communicate how well the student has learned
Note: In Ontario, a clear distinction is made between “assessment” and “evaluation”. Similar to “assessment of learning”, evaluation is the process of applying professional judgement to the evidence that has been documented, and communicating that judgement to others. That communication could be through a letter grade, a percentage mark, a level — anything that summarizes the learner’s achievement to a certain point in time.