In Defense of Classroom Assessments

  • November 3, 2020
  • Blog

student taking assessment

Classroom assessments are closely aligned to instructional programs. They serve a variety of purposes for teachers: grading, informing instruction, and for teacher collaboration. At this time when classroom assessments are more difficult than ever to administer, their importance is never more paramount.

Classroom assessments do not necessarily have to take place in a classroom. Now that many classrooms are virtual our methodologies need to adapt. Administer some tasks and assessments digitally. In earlier grades, conduct interview and observation-based assessment one-on-one with students. And like many other initiatives this year, teachers and schools will have to scale back, focusing assessments on the concepts and skills that are most essential for each grade. 

No matter the quantity and how you administer them, classroom assessments are essential. From building teachers’ deep understanding of student learning to the importance of tasks that show how students respond to instructional content, these five reasons underline their critical importance in our classrooms.

Reason 1: Classroom Assessments Strengthen Teacher-Student Relationships

Teachers can strengthen teacher-student relationships, which is incredibly important, by studying and analyzing student work, and providing thoughtful feedback. By analyzing student work, teachers build a deeper understanding of and empathy for their learners. When classroom assessments present students with high-quality, engaging tasks, teachers increase their own knowledge of their students as they mark and study these assessments.

Because a teacher is directly involved in the evaluation, classroom assessments are also the most human of assessments. Teachers can use these opportunities to focus on strengths of students and consider thoughtfully how to support students where there is unfinished learning.

Reason 2: Marking Assessments Demonstrate the Value of Student Learning

When teachers are studying and contemplating student learning, they are showing that they value how students demonstrate their understanding. When teachers provide feedback and commentary on student responses, they help students to understand that the learning process is just as important, if not more important than “getting it right”. Teachers demonstrate that the time and thought the student gave when responding to tasks was important and valuable when they take the time to grade and analyze a student’s assessment.

Teachers can encourage the development of students’ growth mindsets when they present students with opportunities to demonstrate their ability to perform a skill and express their understanding of a topic. The alternative, computer scoring and digital assessments, demonstrates to students that right answers are more important than process and that understanding student learning is not as important as assessing it. 

Reason 3: Human Intelligence Matters

Digital assessments have wonderful potentials and critical limitations. Some types of tasks are very suitable for online assessment. With improvements in technology, more and more task types can be quickly and reliably assessed digitally. However, the limitations of online tests are significant and should not be overlooked. Some limitations are due to the technical limitations of the interface. For example, when we want students to use drawn representations to explain their reasoning, paper and pencil is more valid, efficient, and informative. Computer scored digital assessment works best for questions that are mere recall and for which we are looking for correct answers. These limitations become more critical the younger the students. In other words, there are appropriate applications to conduct classroom assessments online, but not all tasks can be conducted digitally, especially in the earlier grades.

Another limitation of digital assessments is that if they do not align directly to the sequence of lessons being taught. Teachers can use item banks to create assessments that align with the standards of the program, but the question types, language, and visual models can be misaligned. This can make it difficult for students, especially those just gaining proficiency with the topics of instruction, to fully express their understanding.

This is challenging in the COVID era. Digital assessments are so much easier to administer in the current learning environments. But do not misunderstand ease as high value. No one wishes to embrace full time remote instruction in perpetuity. Similarly, no one should seek to replace high quality, teacher-scored classroom assessments with digital ones. As advanced as some online systems are with tasks that can be appropriate and adapted for digital use, they cannot yet replicate the complexity and incredible insights of human intelligence. 

how online assessment replaces teachers

Reason 4: Put Teachers at the Center of the Classroom

As a society, we continue to demand more and more of teachers. This is never more evident than today. Now teachers must manage multiple remote, hybrid, and in-person learning environments alongside their own family responsibilities and health concerns.

Classroom assessments put teachers at the center of their classroom. Classroom assessments have teachers lead efforts to analyze and understand student learning. They empower teachers as the experts of student learning in their classrooms. As they are time-consuming to administer and mark, make sure that your schools administer high-quality assessments to the extent necessary. Scale back this year to focus on the essential, most important classroom assessments.

Reason 5: Classroom Assessments are Embedded in Instructional Programs

Curriculum-embedded assessments, or classroom assessments, are different from curriculum-agnostic assessments such as interim or benchmark assessments. The latter do not directly align to a school or district’s instructional programs. Data from curriculum agnostic assessment may be given more importance as results are readily available in visual reports. This is particularly true when this data is used for school-wide decision-making and resource allocation. In addition to the visibility and accessibility of curriculum-agnostic assessment data, they also are highly valued for their predictive purposes vis-à-vis state standardized tests.

But just because the data from curriculum-embedded assessment can be more difficult to collect and aggregate systematically, does not mean that it has less value. Curriculum-embedded assessments show how students respond to lessons. Their insights translate easily into instructional responses. For this reason, our team at Forefront often describes information from curriculum-embedded classroom assessments as “more meaningful” for teachers. They reveal areas of the instructional programs that students struggle with for teachers to adjust and adapt accordingly. 


This challenging year is one for the books. It is also forcing educators to focus on what is essential. Teachers need classroom assessments to understand student learning now more than ever. Yes, how they are used for grading may change this year, along with their number, since they have become harder to administer and collect. Teachers may find that they can better capture some assessment data through one-on-one interviews in the earlier grades. Others may explore tools that allow for online assessment of certain tasks. No matter their form or number, they are essential.

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Our team and tools help schools implement standards-based grading, streamline assessment systems, and use meaningful data to drive decision-making.

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