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Four Keys To Assessment Quality

July 7, 2017

By: Carol Campbell, PhD Director of Elementary Education, SDA North American Division Office of Education

According to Stiggins and Chappuis (2012), there are four keys to assessment quality:  clear purpose, clear targets, sound design, and effective communication. 

First, assessments serve the purpose of either formative applications to support student learning (for learning) or summative applications to verify that learning has been attained (of learning).  The purpose of the assessment and how the assessment results are to be used determine whether an assessment is formative or summative.  Instructional units should include both types of assessment because ongoing, visible, lifelong learning is the goal. 

Second, clear and appropriate achievement standards are an essential foundation for sound assessment.  Standards, in part, identify the content that learners need to know and understand to be proficient.  However, a student can’t learn content without thinking about it in a meaningful way.  Thus, thinking and reasoning skills are embedded in the subject matter, with standards using specific verbs that describe what learners are to do in meeting the content standards (Costa & Kallick, 2014).  Instructional units should address selected standards that serve as a framework for instruction as well as assessment.

Third, cognitive tasks are designed that require learners to use the content as the vehicle to engage in the types of thinking that have been referenced in the standards.  Such tasks should be authentic, engaging, and challenging, requiring the use of skillful thinking abilities and dispositions, creativity, collaboration, and communication (Partnership for 21st Century Learning, 2015).  Instructional units should include activities that require students to understand and grapple with the topics explored in class, and to be able to apply, analyze, and create personal and practical applications as a result of their learning.   

In general, there are three categories or contexts of assessment tasks:  selected response, constructed response, and performance tasks.  Task selection is a function of the learning standard to be assessed, with the goal of creating a one-to-one correspondence between the achievement target and the assessment method.  The choice is also dependent on the reasoning skill or type of thinking (e.g., Bloom’s taxonomy) as well as the level of cognitive complexity (e.g., Webb’s depth of knowledge) required to complete the task (see Hess [2013] and Ainsworth [2015] for good overviews of this topic).  Instructional units should align the standards with appropriate assessment tasks based on the level of cognitive rigor, providing scoring guides or rubrics for constructed response and performance tasks. 

Finally, record keeping is the foundation of effective communication.  In competency-based schools, the focus is on student mastery of the standards.  It is recommended that records be kept by standard, context (i.e., selected response, constructed response, performance tasks), and purpose (formative or summative).  Assessments may document mastery of each standard as achieved or mastery of a set of standards in the same assessment.  A summary of assessment of learning may be reported in terms of a grade or standards attained; other student characteristics are reported separately.  When reporting student proficiency in terms of a grade, the computation is on the percentage of a set of standards mastered as measured through summative assessments (see Guskey and Bailey [2010] for a good overview of this topic).


Ainsworth, L.  (2015).  Common formative assessments 2.0.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Corwin. 

Costa, A. L., and Kallick, B.  (2014).  Dispositions:  Reframing teaching and learning.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Corwin.

Guskey, T. R., and Bailey, J. M.  (2010).  Developing standards-based report cards.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Corwin. 

Hess, K.  (2013).  A guide for using Webb’s depth of knowledge with Common Core State Standards.  Retrieved from

Partnership for 21st Century Learning.  (2015).  Framework for 21st century learning.  Retrieved from

Stiggins, R. J., and Chappuis, J.  (2012).  An introduction to student-involved assessment for learning.  Boston, MA:  Pearson.