Assessment: Approaches, Purposes, Means, and Outcomes

Educational assessment design is never a spontaneous activity. Nor can it be done effectively if it is carried out in a haphazard manner. Certainly, an experienced teacher can create a sound short test in a very short span of time, but that is something that comes with experience, knowledge, and well-founded confidence.

As an inexperienced teacher, I spent long hours preparing what turned out to be very poor tests. They were generally too difficult and certainly too long, and their impact on my students must have been awful. My understanding of issues such as construct validity, reliability, and authenticity was virtually nil at the outset, and only by taking courses to complete my Master’s in Education in TESOL while working full time, was I able to build and apply knowledge about such topics as assessment to help me develop as an ELT professional.

Fast forward a quarter century, with over twenty years teaching English in Japan and Canada, and I am still creating tests and other assessment tools as a teacher trainer. The difference between then and now is that there is no longer anything haphazard or “hit and miss” about my efforts. The key lesson learned in all those years is: plan well, with knowledge.

Most assessment tools that teachers create are for use within a particular course or education program. Assessment is therefore a central component of curriculum, and just as an effective course or program requires careful planning, the same can be said for the assessment approach designed for said course or program. It has four central components:

  • Approach type: e.g., literacy development; skills based; content based
  • Purposes of assessment: assessment for learning (aka formative), assessment of learning (before, during, or at the conclusion of a course), summative
  • Means of assessment:e.g., tests, quizzes, presentations, projects, portfolios, . . .
  • Outcomes: e.g., mainstreaming ESL students, promotion to next grade or level, admission to university, promotion to a more advance position in a company

Graphically, it can be presented as follows. The following chart presents some sample approaches and the purposes, means, and intended outcomes often associated with each.


Got questions? Contact Gordon at TESOL Solutions


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