Purposes of Assessment


Assessment is an integral part of the learning-teaching-assessment cycle. It is the practice of collecting and interpreting information about pupils' learning, and serves a variety of purposes. In the context of the English Language curriculum, assessment serves the overall purpose of providing information about learners' progress and achievements in relation to the Learning Targets and Objectives, thereby helping learners, teachers and parents understand learners' strengths and weaknesses, and plan for further improvement. Assessment may serve formative or summative purposes:

• Formative assessment is on-going assessment which teachers conduct continuously to look for specific information about learners' progress to inform learning and teaching. It is usually informal and carried out during the learning and teaching process.

• Summative assessment is more formal overall assessment that happens only periodically (e.g. at the end of a school term or school year) to measure attainment and provide a comprehensive summary of learners' achievements at that particular point of time. It is usually carried out through a test or an examination.

For a framework of school assessment practices, please refer to the diagram in Appendix 9.


Assessment for Learning

  Through assessment, teachers identify learners' strengths and weaknesses and try to diagnose their learning problems. Assessment benefits learners, when information is collected and interpreted for the purpose of providing quality feedback on how to improve performance. This is assessment for learning. It is also assessment for learning when teachers seek and interpret evidence in the process of conducting assessment to help review their expectations of pupils' learning, the content of learning, and their teaching strategies to enhance learning and teaching. The following figure illustrates assessment as an integral part of the learning-teaching-assessment cycle.
  As formative assessment is conducted more informally and on a continual daily basis, it lends itself more to assessment for learning. As for summative assessment, it does not necessarily have to end up merely as a tool for reporting the results of learning using grades or marks. It can also generate information for providing useful quality feedback to learners for further improvement. This is assessment for learning in a rather broad sense.


Effective Planning of Learning, Teaching and Assessment

  The English Language Education KLA provides opportunities for development of verbal and linguistic knowledge as well as generic skills such as collaboration skills, communication skills, creativity, critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills and study skills. In order to collect valid evidence of pupils' learning towards the different Learning Targets and Objectives for English Language, different modes of assessment should be adopted (e.g. role-plays for interpersonal communication, projects for integrative use of knowledge and skills, discussions for collaboration, presentations and performances for creativity). Over-reliance on pen-and-paper tests cannot adequately assess learners’ performance in achieving all the Learning Targets and Objectives.

The planning of learning, teaching and assessment should also include strategies to ensure that learners understand what they are going to learn (the learning intentions) and the criteria that will be applied in assessing their performance (the success criteria). Sharing of learning intentions is different from giving task instructions (i.e. about what teachers want the learners to do during the task), though both are usually conducted at the beginning of a lesson. The former helps learners focus on what they will learn, whereas the latter on what they will do. Whenever possible, teachers are encouraged to involve learners in deciding on the learning intentions and determining the criteria for successful performance, so that they can develop a sense of ownership and commitment in their learning.

Teachers need to be aware that there are learners who are stronger in intelligences other than the verbal or linguistic one, e.g. visual/spatial, bodily/kinesthetic or interpersonal intelligence. Therefore, the school must develop a balanced curriculum, so that all learners are provided with the opportunities to enhance their intelligence strengths as well as to make progress in areas that are more challenging to them. To provide the impetus for learning, English teachers should harness as many of the intelligences as they can on top of the verbal or linguistic one that they are inevitably focusing on by:

• aiming for a balanced and comprehensive coverage of the Learning Targets and Objectives within and across year levels, ensuring that there is a wide and varied range of learning experiences in the three Strands (Interpersonal, Knowledge and Experience) and different modules (e.g. The World Around Us, Using My Five Senses, Relationships, Changes);

• planning and devising appropriate and purposeful language learning materials, activities, tasks and projects to develop learners' language abilities, critical thinking skills, creativity, strategies of learning to learn, and positive values and attitudes conducive to lifelong learning;

• exposing learners to a variety of text types (e.g. stories, forms, posters, tables, diaries, menus, plays, expositions, weather reports) which are characterized by specific language and stylistic features so that learners can be helped to develop appropriate language knowledge, and learners with different learning interests and styles can be stimulated to learn English and become proficient language users; and

• providing opportunities for learners to use a combination of their intelligences and choose how they will present their knowledge and skills (e.g. writing stories with the support of illustrations, singing, presenting survey findings in tables or graphs, drawing pictures or making models to express their imaginative ideas, acting out stories or plays, designing questionnaires and interviewing people to obtain information, designing puzzles and riddles for the whole class to solve) so that they can develop enjoyment in and commitment to learning.


Effective Modes of Assessment for Learning

  Different assessment activities provide appropriate contexts for carrying out assessment for learning through observation, effective questioning and quality feedback in the learning and teaching process. The following figure illustrates some assessment activities that provide appropriate contexts for carrying out assessment for learning.
  Evidence gathered provides invaluable information for teachers to identify learners' strengths and weaknesses and to give quality feedback to learners for improving their own learning.
  When marking learners' written homework or assessing their oral homework, teachers gain information on learners' strengths, weaknesses and progress in learning English. For example, learners who make spelling mistakes may be confused over a few letter sounds. Learners who do not articulate the final consonant sounds need to be reminded of the importance of these sounds in making differences in meaning in English. Teachers may use such information for providing timely and quality feedback to their learners, so that they understand how to improve their learning.
  Oral Presentations
  Oral presentations provide opportunities for learners to use language for purposeful communication. They help teachers collect evidence about learners' progress in areas such as communication skills, speaking skills and critical thinking skills. Oral presentations are the products of tasks which learners have been engaged in. For example, learners are asked to collect and present information about familiar topics such as their classmates' or family members' favourite food, and then to present the information collected orally. Through using an evaluation checklist, the teacher can assess learners' performance and give them feedback for improvement. Other learners can also be asked to comment on their classmates' performance based on the criteria listed in the checklist. Examples of feedback sheets relating to evaluating learners' oral presentations are provided in Appendices 10 and 11.
  Conferencing involves a discussion between a teacher and an individual learner or small group of learners. During conferencing, teachers ask open questions that encourage discussions and give learners ample opportunities to express their views. It also provides opportunities for teachers to identify pupils' learning needs, monitor and discuss learning progress, and give feedback.

Conferencing may have different objectives in the primary English classroom. For example, reading conferences are conducted to collect evidence of learners' progress in reading. In reading conferences, learners may be asked to read books of their own choice aloud or silently and in the process teachers can observe their reading behaviour and use of strategies. Teachers can then ask questions to check learners' response to the books, their general reading interests and their difficulties. They can help learners develop positive attitudes towards reading, discover their reading preferences, monitor progress and identify what to read next.
  Learning Tasks and Activities
  When taking part in well-designed learning tasks, learners demonstrate their progress towards the Learning Targets and Objectives. Such tasks may include show-and-tell, games, presentations, group discussions and drama performances. In these tasks, teachers need to conduct appropriate pre-, while- and post-task activities along with other supporting language activities where learners are encouraged to actively engage in constructing and applying knowledge in order to complete the task satisfactorily. It is not always necessary to record learners' performance formally, but the evidence of learning collected forms the basis of feedback to promote further learning. Please refer to Appendices 2 and 3 for illustration on how a learning task can provide a context for assessment for learning. Examples of feedback sheets on group discussion are provided in Appendices 12 and 13.
  Assessment Tasks
  The design of learning tasks and assessment tasks is basically the same. Assessment tasks provide appropriate contexts for learners to apply their language knowledge, skills and strategies, generic skills as well as values and attitudes. In conducting assessment tasks, teachers do not provide pre- and while-task activities to help learners complete them. Learners are required to carry out the assessment tasks independently. Based on the evidence of learners' performance in the assessment tasks, teachers then develop appropriate plans and strategies to enhance learning and teaching.
  Shared Writing and Process Writing
  Writing is considered a challenging task to the majority of learners in primary schools. Shared writing and process writing are two effective approaches that help learners develop skills and confidence in writing. They also provide opportunities for teachers to observe learners' performance, ask effective questions and give quality feedback.

In shared writing, the whole class and the teacher compose a text collaboratively. There is less pressure on the learners as the teacher takes the class through the different stages of writing, making use of the opportunity to identify learners' needs and provide timely and appropriate feedback to enhance their development of writing skills. Shared writing can be followed by process writing.

In process writing, learners experience that well thought-out writing involves the recursive stages of planning (i.e. brainstorming, researching, outlining), drafting (i.e. writing, rewriting, revising) and finalizing (i.e. editing). At appropriate stages of the writing process, the teacher can give feedback on learners' drafts. With adequate preparation, learners can also be asked to provide feedback on their own drafts or those of their classmates. Based on the feedback, learners can improve their drafts with suitable revisions. Initial feedback can focus on ideas, organization and text type requirements. Thereafter, feedback can be given on language (grammar and mechanics) and style. An example of a feedback sheet on peer and self reviewing and editing is provided in Appendix 14.
  Projects provide suitable contexts for carrying out assessment for learning. Teachers should assess the process involved in carrying out the project as well as the product when evaluating learners' performance on projects. They can do so through a variety of means, such as observation, conferencing and looking at a learner’s drafts in the writing process. Continuous feedback should be given with the aim of stimulating learners' critical reflection and helping them improve their learning. Areas to be considered in assessing projects should include the content, organization and language use in the final product of the project. Learners' application of generic skills such as collaboration skills, critical thinking skills, creativity, and attitudes in the process of the project should also be assessed. Examples of feedback sheets on self and teacher assessment for group project are provided in Appendices 15 and 16
  A portfolio is a collection of a learner's work that demonstrates progress in the development of knowledge, skills, values and attitudes in a given area. Portfolios provide useful information and invaluable evidence for teachers to keep track of what learners know and can do in the area being assessed in order to carry out assessment for learning. Samples of the learner's oral or written work such as recordings of oral presentations and writing tasks can be included in a portfolio. A good portfolio is characterized by clear learning intentions, learner's involvement in choosing what goes into the portfolio and the use of success criteria to define quality performance. It provides a basis for communication between learners, teachers and parents, and self-reflection through which learners share what they think and feel about themselves and their work.
  Self Assessment
  Learners have an important role to play in assessment. Teachers should help learners develop the necessary skills to assess and monitor their own progress, so that they develop responsibility and ownership for their learning. Self assessment has the advantages of enhancing intrinsic motivation for learning, and helping pupils learn how to learn. Techniques for self assessment include:

• Editing and proofreading: Learners can read through their own writing and try to correct their own mistakes.

• Using self assessment forms: Learners can assess their own performance through the use of checklists or self assessment forms. Examples of feedback sheets on self assessment for speaking, writing and group project are provided in Appendices 13,14 and 15.

• Filling in questionnaires: Learners can fill in a questionnaire to provide information about their learning, e.g. preferences for books and classroom language learning activities, evaluation about what they have learnt or read, and what they need to further work on or improve. An example of a feedback sheet presented in the form of a questionnaire is provided in Appendix 13.
  Peer Assessment
  Peer assessment is a valuable mode of assessment. In the process of peer assessment, learners are encouraged to give feedback on each other's work or performance. Peer assessment can also be conducted through the use of questionnaires or checklists. This kind of assessment enhances interaction among learners and enables them to have a better understanding of each other's points of view. Examples of peer assessment feedback sheets are provided in Appendices 11 and 17.


Learning and Teaching Process for Effective Assessment for Learning

  By observing learners' performance, teachers can collect valid evidence of their learning. While learners engage in different types of learning activities such as oral presentations, group discussions or conferencing, teachers can observe how they use language and how they interact with their classmates using body language and facial expressions in authentic contexts.
  Effective Questioning
  Teachers can collect a lot of information about learners' knowledge and skills in the language, as well as their values and attitudes towards specific topics or learning in general, through appropriate use of a variety of question types. Questions can be content-centred questions that go beyond the surface meaning. Open-ended questions that ask learners to analyze, synthesize or evaluate information are more useful than closed ones. Appropriate use of wait-time and prompts is also essential in the process of soliciting responses from learners.
  Quality Feedback
  Assessment is an integral part of the learning-teaching-assessment cycle. How learners perform is observed, assessed and interpreted, and then judgements are made about the best way to help learners improve. Teachers should make use of the opportunities to provide feedback after assessment to enhance learning and teaching. Most teachers' feedback, e.g. grades or marks on worksheets, homework and tests, tends to focus on the results of learning. After receiving grades or marks, learners usually move on to a new task and activity and work for another set of grades or marks. This kind of feedback does not often improve learning because learners are not informed about how they can build on their strengths and address their weaknesses. Feedback is most conducive to learning when learners can use it to identify to what extent the task has been completed, to reflect on their learning and to narrow the gap between current and desired performance. Feedback should be motivating, specific, constructive and clearly linked to the success criteria that have been established between the teacher and the learners at an earlier stage.

Distracting feedback on other aspects that are not part of the learning focuses should be avoided. Praise in the form of short, general remarks such as "well done", "good" to acknowledge learners' good work and make learners feel good does not necessarily help much to enhance their learning. Teachers should go beyond a few words of praise and ask for more information. For example, when the teacher asks learners to describe a ship they saw during a visit, learners may say "big" or "very big". Then when a learner says "enormous", the teacher can give remarks like "Good. ‘Enormous’ is an excellent word to describe the size of a ship. It's good that you have used a word from the storybook An Enormous Turnip. Could you tell me more about the ship?" Suggestions for improvement should be practical and feasible, so that learners willingly take up whatever challenge they are faced with. It is equally important to give feedback at the right time. Sometimes it is not advisable for teachers to interrupt during the process of pupil-pupil interaction or pupil presentation, as this may undermine learners' confidence and enthusiasm. Feedback motivates learners when specific guidance is provided to improve their performance, and when learners are guided to reflect on effective ways to work towards the Learning Targets and Objectives.


Assessment of Learning

  In assessment of learning, assessment is used for the purposes of measuring learners' attainment, checking on learners' achievement, reporting, ranking, selecting learners and accountability. Assessment of learning is usually carried out in the form of summative assessment (e.g. tests or examinations) at a particular point of time (e.g. end of a school term or school year), and the results are usually recorded using grades or marks. As discussed in Section 5.2, teachers are encouraged to make use of the results of assessment of learning to benefit the learners by reviewing their performance in the assessment activities with them and working out a plan for further improvement. In this way, the purpose for conducting assessment activities is extended from assessment of learning to assessment for learning.


Effective Modes of Assessment of Learning

  To evaluate learners' performance against the Learning Targets and Objectives, teachers are encouraged to use assessment tasks, which are basically the same as learning tasks. However, in learning tasks, teachers need to support learners to actively engage in constructing knowledge, so that they can complete the tasks satisfactorily. In assessment tasks, teachers do not provide learners with any additional language or knowledge-building support. Rather they require learners to carry out the tasks independently so that teachers can assess their performance and provide appropriate feedback.

In designing assessment tasks for summative purpose, teachers should ensure the following:

• There is an appropriate, balanced and adequate coverage of the Learning Targets and Objectives involved. Summative assessment can comprise a number of tasks or activities to ensure that the major aspects of learning and teaching are covered. It is not confined to pen-and-paper tests only. Performance tasks and projects are effective modes of assessment. Other modes of assessment are oral presentations and portfolios. Teachers are encouraged to design different modes of assessment activities that stress the integration of the four language skills and provide information on pupils' learning in the three Strands.

• The activities are appropriately contextualized and related to learners' experiences. It is suggested that every assessment task comprises a few sections which are contextualized and thematically linked. The sections that are not thematically linked should also have an appropriate context illustrating the purposeful use of language. However, testing of language use through discrete items is not recommended under any circumstances.

• The questions set for reading tasks should include open-ended questions. These can stimulate critical thinking and facilitate learners' integrative and creative use of the language. Questions which check learners' knowledge and comprehension of a reading text can be set, but more importantly, there should be questions which check learners' application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation of what they have read.

• A variety of text types is included.

• The rubrics are clear, concise and correct. The choice of words is appropriate to the level of learners.

• Task-specific criteria and marking schemes are agreed upon by teachers of the same year level, when deciding how to measure the extent to which the Learning Targets and Objectives have been achieved.

• Due acknowledgement is given to fluency instead of just accuracy in writing and speaking assessments.

Please refer to Appendix 18 of this Guide and Appendix 9 of the English Language Education KLA Curriculum Guide (Primary 1 - Secondary 3) (2002) for exemplars of assessment tasks for Key Stages 1 and 2


Learning Outcomes Framework and Basic Competency


Learning Outcomes Framework

  The concept of individual progress is fundamental to all learning and teaching. To help teachers use a common scale and language to describe learners' performance and progress in English Language learning, a learning outcomes framework (LOF) for Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 4, which has been endorsed by the CDC, is being developed for the reference or schools, parents and the wider community. The figure below illustrates the relationship between the Curriculum Framework, Learning Outcomes Framework and Basic Competency.
  The LOF, which consists of different levels of learning outcomes (LOs), represents the typical growth of learners on a continuum as they work towards the Learning Targets and Objectives set out in the curriculum. The continuum is divided into 8 levels of attainment for each of the four language skills (i.e. listening, speaking, reading and writing) from a lower and rudimentary level (Level 1) to a higher and more sophisticated level (Level 8). The LOs are supported by indicators which elaborate on what learners are able to do in accomplishing the learning outcomes. It should be noted that the indicators serve to elucidate the LOs only and are neither prescriptive nor exhaustive. Annotated work samples are required to illustrate the expected performance of a learner at different levels for teachers’ easy reference.

Since learners may follow different paths as they progress, the continuum of LOs is not a description of the path that all learners must follow as they learn. It describes a path of typical progress and can be used as a frame of reference for studying the developmental patterns of individuals. Although the different levels of LOs may be useful in describing learners' current levels of achievement, it does not specify a sequence of learning activities.

The process of assessing a learner's level of attainment in a particular language skill (i.e. listening, speaking, reading and writing) always involves an 'on-balance' (or best-fit) judgement based on evidence collected over time. Learners are placed at the level at which they are showing the most evidence of progress across the different LOs of that particular language skill. When doing so, the relevant LOs of the adjacent levels should also be considered. When learners are placed at a particular level, it does not mean that they must demonstrate all the knowledge, skills and strategies listed for levels below their level of attainment. It is likely that they will demonstrate most knowledge, skills and strategies from the levels below and a few from levels above. Teachers are encouraged to reach a judgement by using their knowledge of a learner's performance across a range of tasks and activities to determine a learner's level of attainment in the particular language skill. There is no formula for deriving the judgement or prescribed weighting for the different LOs.


Basic Competency

  Basic Competency (BC) refers to the basic standard that learners should attain in relation to the Learning Targets and Objectives set out in the curriculum by the end of each key stage of learning. It describes the essential subject knowledge and skills which learners should possess for the various stages of basic education (Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 3) in order to progress to the next stage of learning. The idea of basic competency originates from the proposal by the Education Commission in its report Education Blueprint for the 21st Century: Learning for Life, Learning through Life - Reform Proposals for the Education System in Hong Kong (2000) to develop the Basic Competency Assessment from Primary 1 to Secondary 3 for the subjects of Chinese Language, English Language and Mathematics. The proposal aims to enable teachers and parents to understand pupils' learning needs so as to facilitate timely assistance.


Relationship between Learning Outcomes Framework and Basic Competency

  The LOF consisting of eight levels of LOs outlines the progress of individual learners within a developmental continuum that describes typical achievement in a learning area, while BC is a subset of the LOF that learners should achieve by the end of each key stage of learning. The figure on p.203 illustrates this relationship. BC should not be viewed as the ultimate set of expectation for all learners. It merely provides a territory-wide reference point of what learners need to know and to be able to do in order to progress to the next stage of learning. The fundamental aim of English Language education is to help learners develop along the continuum in the LOF rather than just identifying their levels of attainment. In brief, the LOF and BC are there to help teachers understand what learners need to achieve as they progress in English. The figure on the next page illustrates the relationship between the LOs and BC for any of the language skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing).



  Schools need to maintain a record of learners' performance as evidence of their progress. Learners' performance can be reflected in grades or marks further substantiated with comments in the form of an attachment (i.e. a short written report or a checklist on a separate sheet). These comments provide parents with more qualitative information on their children's learning in English. Teachers are encouraged to give comments that are positive and forward-looking, pointing out learners' strengths and weaknesses and giving suggestions on ways in which they might improve.

At the end of a period (e.g. end of a school term or school year), teachers can prepare a summary of learners' achievements in relation to the Learning Targets and Objectives. This is usually given out as a school report. The function of the school report is to give parents a comprehensive picture of their children's performance in English Language learning, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and where further improvement or assistance is necessary.

When reporting to parents, teachers should take into consideration learners' performance in the different modes of assessment recorded throughout the school term or school year. The different modes may reflect learners' performance in the integrative use of language or their achievements in individual skill-based assessment activities. Learners' achievements in dictation, which has traditionally been regarded as a central form of assessment of learning, can be included but it should not carry a heavy weighting in the overall performance of the learners. Any weighting of more than 10% on dictation is considered inappropriate. For a discussion on the use of dictation as a learning activity rather than an assessment tool, please refer to Section 4.8.


Extract from: English Language Curriculum Guide (Primary 1 - 6), The Curriculum Development Council, HKSAR 2004


Assessment in English Language Learning,
With acknowledgement to Dr Jennifer Frances Connelly



Back to Top