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"Assessment is how we check that learning is taking, or has taken, place so that we can decide what needs to happen next. It looks back and it looks forward."

MoE Position Paper: Assessment (45)


"...assessing children is part science and part art. The science part is straightforward and largely concerns testing. The art part is difficult to describe, difficult to teach and essential." Julia Osborn

The New Zealand Curriculum describes the principles of effective assessment. Effective assessment:

  • benefits students
  • involves students
  • supports teaching and learning goals
  • is planned and communicated
  • is suited to the purpose
  • is valid and fair.

The overriding principle is that assessment should always be in the service of learning. The following two papers highlight the fundamental role that assessment plays in teaching and learning, and the importance of teacher and students being 'assessment-capable':

Assessment for learning

Students who truly understand and are involved in their learning have accelerated rates of achievement. This concept is at the heart of assessment for learning. The assessment-capable student has the tools to adequately assess his/her own progress, determine next steps in learning and set goals. In a class which is based on assessment for learning, students should experience:

  • a genuine focus on learning, in which students have a high sense of agency
  • differentiated and challenging learning intentions, both global and specific
  • access to all assessment results, for both informal and formal assessment
  • opportunity for specific goal setting which is frequently reviewed
  • tools to enable self and peer assessment, including matrices of learning progressions
  • feedback which is at the right level, and which provides a way forward
  • an environment which encourages discussion, challenge and questioning.

This environment will enable all students to thrive, but is particularly important for those students working at the upper end of the learning spectrum. Differentiated instruction means that these students are able to work at their own level of achievement.

Assessment tools

No assessment tool perfectly measures student achievement. There is always a margin for error, even in the most psychometrically accurate and assiduously administered assessment tool. A good assessment tool should do the following:

  • indicate with some certainty a student's level of achievement in the particular area being tested at a particular point in time
  • be valid - measure what it says is being measured
  • be reliable - results can be replicated
  • enable measurement of progress from one assessment to the next
  • indicate the next steps in learning.

The Assessment Tool Selector is a resource for teachers and schools to help them select the most appropriate assessment tool to suit their particular purpose. The selector gives you information about assessment tools most frequently used in New Zealand schools, in every area of the curriculum up to and including Year 10. You can also compare tools to see which one is the most suitable.

When selecting and administering assessment for gifted and talented students, teachers should understand the concept of ceiling effects. A test ceiling is the upper limit of an assessment. If a student hits this 'ceiling', the true capability of the student is not being tested. When children hit the ceiling of a test, the score they received is their lowest possible score. Their actual score could be a little or a lot higher, but it is impossible to know without administering above-level assessment.

"Ceiling effects occur when the child's knowledge goes beyond the limits of the test. If the items are not of sufficient difficulty, the test does not assess the full strength of the child's abilities". Linda Silverman.

Teachers are now being advised that if students are consistently scoring at the top of standardised tests, they should be re-tested using a higher level assessment. For example, students who are consistently in stanine 9 on Progressive Achievement Tests (PAT), or are able to answer 90% of items in an e-asTTle test, should be reassessed at the next level or beyond. Only then can students, teachers and families/whānau know the ability levels and better match learning to strengths and needs.

Characteristics of gifted learners should be considered in assessment. For example, some gifted children have a tendency to make the simple complex. A question that requires a simple answer from the teacher is often perceived as difficult by the gifted child. For example, a child who is asked to identify a picture of a sheep is perplexed because he may be trying to work out which breed of sheep. Because of their ability to see many possible answers to questions, some gifted children may find multi-choice questions difficult. Some children's perfectionism may prevent them from taking risks and answering questions for which they are uncertain. Having abstract thinking and fluid abilities may conflict with the factual information required in some tests.

Teachers should be aware of these potential problems, and be open to other opportunities for assessment.


Valerie Margrain explores assessment and gifted and talented children in a webinar highlighting purposes and issues of reliability, validity, authenticity, and manageability. Review webinar

"Teachers need assessment information that is more holistic, interpretive and reflective than numeric data, grades and marks. Assessment that is personalised, contextualised and related to the learner’s dispositions and key competencies is more likely to connect to teaching and learning than an isolated score, ranking, stanine or percentile." Valerie Margrain, 2011. ( Link to article)


Overall Teacher Judgments

An Overall Teacher Judgement (OTJ) draws on and applies the evidence gathered up to a particular point in time in order to make a judgment about a student’s progress and achievement. Using a range of approaches allows the student to participate throughout the assessment process, building their assessment capability. Evidence may be gathered through the following three ways:

  • Conversing with the student to find out what they know, understand and can do.
  • Observing the process a student uses.
  • Gathering results from formal assessments, including standardised tools.

( NZ Curriculum, PDF (94 KB)

National Standards allow a multiplicity of formal and informal assessments which make up the OTJ. The National Standards, as descriptive documents supported by illustrations of progressions of learning, have the potential to enable teachers and students to:

  • identify achievement within year levels
  • identify next learning steps
  • set learning goals
  • track progress.

Assessment results and reporting for gifted learners should document ongoing progress, which may be accelerated in relation to their peers. Students who excel in other curriculum areas have the opportunity to show their literacy and mathematical skills through work in those areas. Student input is critical to effective OTJs. Teachers should talk with students about their learning, reflecting together upon their progress and achievement.

Schools are not required to report students who are achieving "well above" the National Standards to the Ministry of Education or their Boards of Trustees. However, teachers should still assess and report a gifted and talented student's achievement explicitly and accurately, to families/whānau. Assessment results should be used to plan differentiated programmes for gifted and talented learners.