What is the PYP perspective on assessment?

Assessment is integral to all teaching and learning. It is central to the PYP goal of thoughtfully and effectively guiding students through the five essential elements of learning: the acquisition of knowledge, the understanding of concepts, the mastering of skills, the development of attitudes and the decision to take action. The prime objective of assessment in the PYP is to provide feedback on the learning process.

All PYP schools are expected to develop assessment procedures and methods of reporting that reflect the philosophy and objectives of the programme. Assessment involves the gathering and analysis of information about student performance and is designed to inform practice. It identifies what students know, understand, can do, and feel at different stages in the learning process. Students and teachers should be actively engaged in assessing the students' progress as part of the development of their wider critical-thinking and self-assessment skills.

Teachers need to be mindful of the particular learning outcomes on which they intend to report, prior to selecting or designing the method of assessment. They need to employ techniques for assessing students' work that take into account the diverse, complicated and sophisticated ways that individual students use to understand experience. Additionally, the PYP stresses the importance of both student and teacher self-assessment and reflection.

Everyone concerned with assessment, including students, teachers, parents and administrators, should have a clear understanding of the reason for the assessment, what is being assessed, the criteria for success, and the method by which the assessment is made. The entire school community should also be concerned with evaluating the efficacy of the programme.

The PYP approach to assessment recognizes the importance of assessing the process of inquiry as well as the product(s) of inquiry, and aims to integrate and support both. The teacher is expected to record the detail of inquiries initiated by students in order to look for an increase in the substance and depth of the inquiry. The teacher needs to consider:

  • if the nature of students' inquiry develops over time—if they are asking questions of more depth, that are likely to enhance their learning substantially
  • if students are becoming aware that real problems require solutions based on the integration of knowledge that spans and connects many areas
  • if students are demonstrating mastery of skills
  • if students are accumulating a comprehensive knowledge base and can apply their understanding to further their inquiries successfully
  • if students are demonstrating both independence and an ability to work collaboratively.

The assessment component in the school's curriculum can itself be subdivided into three closely related areas.

Assessing—how we discover what the students know and have learned.
Recording—how we choose to collect and analyse data.
Reporting—how we choose to communicate information.

Assessing: how do we discover what students have learned?

Student learning is promoted through planning and refining the teaching and learning process to meet individual or group needs. Assessing the students' prior knowledge and experience as well as monitoring their achievement during the teaching period will enable teachers to plan and refine their teaching accordingly. Teachers should bear in mind that a well-designed learning experience will provide data on students' knowledge, skills and conceptual understanding, and is consequently a vehicle for summative or formative assessment.

Summative assessment aims to give teachers and students a clear insight into students' understanding.
Summative assessment is the culmination of the teaching and learning process, and gives the students opportunities to demonstrate what has been learned. It can assess several elements simultaneously: it informs and improves student learning and the teaching process; it measures understanding of the central idea, and prompts students towards action.

Formative assessment provides information that is used in order to plan the next stage in learning. It is interwoven with learning, and helps teachers and students to find out what the students already know and can do. Formative assessment and teaching are directly linked and function purposefully together.
Formative assessment aims to promote learning by giving regular and frequent feedback. This helps learners to improve knowledge and understanding, to foster enthusiasm for learning, to engage in thoughtful reflection, to develop the capacity for self-assessment, and to recognize the criteria for success. There is evidence that increased use of formative assessment particularly helps those students who are low achievers to make significant improvements in their understanding.

Assessment in the classroom will include:

  • using representative examples of students' work or performance to provide information about student learning
  • collecting evidence of students' understanding and thinking
  • documenting learning processes of groups and individuals
  • engaging students in reflecting on their learning
  • students assessing work produced by themselves and by others
  • developing clear rubrics
  • identifying exemplar student work
  • keeping records of test/task results.

After any assessment is complete, it is important to ask further questions such as the following.

  • Have the tasks provided ample information to allow a judgment to be made about whether the purposes or objectives have been met?
  • What does the students' performance reveal about their level of understanding?
  • Have any unexpected results occurred?
  • What changes should be made in the assessment procedure?
  • How should the teaching and learning process be modified as a result of the assessment?

Effective assessments

The following criteria for effective assessments are applicable to both formative and summative assessment.

Effective assessments allow students to:

  • share their learning and understanding with others
  • demonstrate a range of knowledge, conceptual understanding and skills
  • use a variety of learning styles, multiple intelligences and abilities to express their understanding
  • know and understand in advance the criteria for producing a quality product or performance
  • participate in reflection, self- and peer-assessment
  • base their learning on real-life experiences that can lead to further inquiries
  • express different points of view and interpretations
  • analyse their learning and understand what needs to be improved.

Effective assessments allow teachers to:

  • inform every stage of the teaching and learning process
  • plan in response to student and teacher inquiries
  • develop criteria for producing a quality product or performance
  • gather evidence from which sound conclusions can be drawn
  • provide evidence that can be effectively reported and understood by the whole school community
  • collaboratively review and reflect on student performance and progress
  • take into account a variety of learning styles, multiple intelligences and abilities including different cultural contexts
  • use scoring that is both analytical (separate scores for different aspects of the work) and holistic

Effective assessments allow parents to:

  • see evidence of student learning and development
  • develop an understanding of the student's progress
  • provide opportunities to support and celebrate student learning.