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  • Alison Davis

What is Assessment for Literacy?


Assessment plays a major role in how students learn, their motivation to learn, and how teachers teach. At this time of the year, most schools are focused on assessment. Learners are often pressured into studying, revising and performing in the testing process. Parents often form opinions about their child’s learning based only on these assessments, and the grades given. However, assessment is much broader than an end-of year or half-year assessment.

The most common assessment practices familiar to parents and many students are known as summative assessments. Summative assessments test what – and how much - a student has learned at the end of a sequence of learning – for example at the end of a unit, term or course. Exams and tests are the most common summative assessments. These assessments are familiar ways to measure progress over time but focus on information retention rather than overall performance.


For literacy educators, these assessments evaluate what someone learned during the year. They often test skills of vocabulary, grammar knowledge, spelling and literal comprehension. They also provide information to evaluate how prepared the learner is to go to the next academic level.

Combined with the rest of a student’s performance in class, summative assessments form the basis of a grading system and reporting format to parents and carers. The feedback included is related to the performance on that assessment. Summative assessment tests, proves and reports on what students have achieved


Educators value other forms of assessment to inform their planning and transform their daily teaching. Formative assessment checks what students know during the learning process to see how their understanding and achievement can be improved. Educators use observations and behavioural information to understand what the learner knows and nearly knows based on evidence, work samples, questioning and observational checklists.


Students’ reading and writing behaviors are used as basis for learning targets and form the next sequence of learning. Feedback about reading and writing performance and behaviors informs the learner of specific learning targets and supports the educator to provide targeted support at the point of need. Formative assessment supports students during the learning process and scaffolds them to improve. It provides evidence for educators to inform their planning, provide feedback to the learner and transform teaching practices.


Both forms of assessment are critically important in measuring the performance of the learner. Educators need to collect both summative and formative assessments to support their decision-making and instructional practices.

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