What should be in our assessment policy?
Assessment is one of the four key IB standards relating to curriculum.
“The IB does not publish a definitive assessment policy because a crucial process occurs when the school synthesizes its own expectations and practices with those of the IB.” (Guidelines for developing a school assessment policy in the Diploma Programme, IB, 2010 page 2). However, it does provide guidance to schools about what should be included in their assessment policy.
"All assessment has a single purpose: to establish where a student is in their learning in one point in time." (Evidencing Learning, Category 2 workshop, IB, 2019)
The word assess comes from the Latin assidere, which means to sit beside. Literally then, to assess means to sit beside the learner. Feedback: How am I doing? Feedforward: Where to next? is at the core of monitoring learning. It implies there is a conversation between students and teachers around learning. For younger students, this is most often verbal, and for older students, it can sometimes be documented (not just written, but as audio or video if those opportunities exist within the school). The more immediate the feedback, the more power it has to inform next steps in learning. (Evidencing Learning, Category 2 workshop, IB, 2019)
What are the key features of IB assessment?
IB philosophy on assessment
Begin your policy with a statement on your philosophy towards assessment. Tjhis should align with IB philosophy. The following extract is taken from a new Category 2 workshop on assessment entitled Evidencing learning.
The shift in the IB understanding of assessment is from assessment being seen as ‘tasks’ that measure learning (either throughout a unit or at the end) to a position of assessment as a way of evidencing learning. The language we use to describe assessment practices is important. Removing some terminology from assessment discussion (for example, formative, summative, assessment for, assessment of, etc.) challenges educators to engage more directly with assessment principles and practices to evidence learning, ALWAYS with the assumption that the result of any assessment is to inform next steps. While assessment terminology such as formative, summative, for/of/as is not incorrect, the challenge is to consider assessment without the terminology. If you discuss assessment for what it aims to do, without the terminology, it provides a clearer view of the WHY.
Key conceptual understandings are:
- Assessment is an integrated process that continually informs the learner, learning and teaching and the learning community to know what learning has been achieved and how to progress learning.
- Monitoring, documenting, measuring and reporting on learning informs next learning and teaching steps.
- Assessment capable students reflect on their learning, recognize how to adjust their learning and can give feedback to others.
- A positive assessment culture supports the learning community to make informed decisions that shape and strengthen learning and teaching.
(IB, Evidencing Learning, 2019)
This statement of philosophy draws on the work of Directions for Assessment in New Zealand (DANZ) report, Michael Absolum, Lester Flockton, John Hattie, Rosemary Hipkins, Ian Reid. This paper, published in March 2009, was written to provide broad advice to the New Zealand Ministry of Education to guide and inform the design of new and improved strategies, policies, and plans for assessment. The central premise of the paper is that all young people should be educated in ways that develop their capacity to assess their own learning. Students who have well developed assessment capabilities are able and motivated to access, interpret and use information in ways that affirm or further their learning. In placing students at the centre of assessment practice, the advice in this paper is consistent with the best of current thinking, including the ideas behind assessment for learning, the use of assessment feedback to enhance teaching and learning, and professional learning designed to assist teachers to enhance their students’ assessment capabilities.
Note: IB promotes a developmental model of assessment
The IB quotes: Masters (Australian Council of Educational Research) and Griffin (University of Melbourne) provide insight into current research and international thinking regarding educational assessment. In ‘Assessing Student Learning: Why Reform is Overdue’, Geoff Masters argues that advances in our understanding of human learning require new approaches to assessment. In ‘Assessment for teaching’ (extract), Patrick Griffin states a case that positions assessment as a developmental model rather than a deficit model. Understanding the relevance of this distinction is key, as it supports the view of learning progressions, not age-grade based learning and teaching. (Evidencing Learning, Cat 2 workshop, IB, 2019)
Consider the language you use around assessment in your school context.
- How do you describe or define it?
- What does assessment look like in your context?
- For whom, when, how and why is it conducted?
- What is the role of the student in assessment in your school?
- Consider how you would characterize assessment in your school using the following headings: Monitoring, documenting, measuring and reporting on learning. What currently carries the most weight as ‘counting’ as evidence for learning progress and achievement? How do you know? What is your challenge in how assessment is perceived through these dimensions?
Characteristics of effective assessment design
School culture is something that belongs to everyone within the learning community and it reflects beliefs, values, vision and philosophy of the collective community.
A school-wide assessment culture acknowledges the role assessment plays in informing the learner, learning and teaching, and the learning community about achievement and progress. It also supports decision-making about the next steps for teaching and learning.
Assessment culture requires a shared understanding of the integrated position of assessment within learning and teaching, a shared lexicon for discussing assessment, a commitment to strengthening the assessment capabilities of all its members, and a policy that reflects all the above.
Strong assessment practices determine how students are travelling in their learning, not just from where they have travelled.
The IB's understanding of the role of integrated assessment is reflected in what assessment looks like in learning and teaching – its characteristics. It is:
- Authentic: It supports making connections to the real world to promote student engagement.
- Clear and specific: It takes account of desired learning goals, success criteria and the process students use to learn.
- Varied: It uses a wider range of tools and strategies that are fit for purpose in order to build a well-rounded picture of student learning.
- Developmental: It focuses on an individual student’s progress rather than their performance in relation to others.
- Collaborative: It engages both teachers and students in the assessment development and evaluation process.
- Interactive: It encompasses ongoing and iterative dialogues about learning.
- Feedback to feedforward: It provides feedback on current learning to inform what is needed to support future learning and raises students’ motivation.
(Evidencing Learning, Category 2 workshop, IB, 2019)
Key Facts: Diploma Programme Assessment
- Assessment needs to support pedagogy: the aim of the IB is to nurture the attributes of the Learner Profile, therefore care needs to be taken that teachers’ do not just teach to the test.
- Criterion referenced: student performance is measured against set standards / criteria and NOT by each student’s rank order to other students. This provides objectivity and a useful tool for universities in assessing achievement.
- Internal (IA) and External Assessment: The IB uses both internally and externally (mainly examinations) assessed components to assess student performance. Internal assessment focuses largely on process skills and includes oral work in languages, fieldwork in geography, laboratory work in sciences, investigations in mathematics and artistic performances. One of the key advantages of internal assessments within the context of an international qualification is that they can be flexible in the choice of topic whilst continuing to address a common set of skills. Internal assessment should, as far as possible, be woven into normal classroom teaching. Samples of internally assessed work are moderated by the IB to ensure a common standard across all schools.
- Examinations: Majority of courses have written examinations at the end of the DP. They take place in May and November each year. Schools must conduct examinations according to a strict set of regulations laid out in the Vade Mecum. Candidates may participate in three exam sessions to be awarded the Diploma.
- Coursework: Certain components of the DP have coursework which is carried out over a period of time, then authenticated by teacher and externally assessed by IB (e.g. TOK and Extended Essay). In most subjects there are also in-school assessment tasks which are either externally assessed or marked by teachers and then moderated by the IB.
- Grades: students receive a grade for each DP course attempted. All are marked on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 7 (highest). A students’ final Diploma score is made up of combined scores for each subject. Minimum requirement score for DP = 24. However, note that there are also additional minimum requirements which include successful completion of each of Core elements.
- Core: TOK and Extended Essay (EE) are awarded individual grades which collectively can contribute up to 3 additional points towards the DP score. CAS is not ‘scored’ with a grade but it is essential that students complete CAS to gain a Diploma.
- Higher and Standard Levels: Both HL and SL award 1-7 points. This underlines the IB belief in a broad range of academic disciplines. HL and SL differ in the depth to which they are studied but are marked against the same grade descriptors.
- Bilingual Diploma: awarded to students who either (a) achieve a grade 3 or higher in two languages selected from the DP course ‘Studies in Language and Literature’; or (b) achieve a grade 3 or higher in ‘Studies in Language and Literature’ + a grade 3 or higher in an Individuals & Societies or Science subject which is completed in a different language.
- International aspect: a significant cross-cultural dimension is included in many DP subjects and their assessment. The IB utilizes more open-ended assessment questions and tasks that allow students to select their own context in which to respond.
- Inclusive access requirements: Access arrangements are available for candidates with long-term or permanent challenges (e.g. autism, learning disabilities, medical conditions, special learning difficulties etc.) to ensure they reach their full potential. Requests must be made online in IBIS six months in advance of examinations and accompanied with psychological/psycho-educational/medical report + school report. Inclusive access arrangements aim to reduce the adverse effects of a candidate’s long term challenges.
Activity 1: Assessment Quilt of Quotes
The following quotes are taken from IB documentation on assessment. Display them as quotes on the wall in the form of a Quilt of Quotes. Use the Quotes that speak to me protocol to explore what the IB means by assessment.
- Ask each person to individually look at the ‘Assessment Quilt of Quotes'. Try to read everyone. Then choose the quote that most speaks to you.
- Table groups - each person picks a relevant quote. Tell the “story” and significance of the quote to the rest of group and explain how it exemplifies current and future practice.
- Have a group discussion around the quotes. Which themes come out of your choices – how do the quotes shape your understanding of what the IB means by assessment?
- Make sure your write these themes down on slips of paper to use in the next activity. Collate all the slips (themes) from the staff discussion.
Ensure that in addition to the quote on the wall you have copies of the quote so that staff can take one away back to their table to discuss. Copies could be put in see-through folders below the quote in the quilt.
These quotes are taken from the key document Diploma Programme assessment principles and practice. The bold notation is mine to aid ease of reading.
This document is lengthy but is worth reading. Section 2, for example, provides an excellent historical background to key principles of assessment (including norm and criterion referenced assessment, psychometric and standardised assessment, bias etc.). It would be a useful section to read as a think piece in itself.
“Nearly all DP teachers necessarily participate in the assessment process, making a direct contribution to the final assessment carried out on their own students. In addition, many DP teachers have further involvement as examiners in marking other students’ work, in checking the marking of other examiners, or even by contributing to the writing of examination papers.”
“A distinction is often made between summative assessment, aimed at determining the level of achievement of a student generally at the end of a course of study, and formative assessment, aimed at identifying the learning needs of students and forming part of the learning process itself. Although these two functions are apparently quite distinct, the same assessment instruments can often be used for either purpose, the difference lying in the way the outcomes of the assessment are interpreted and applied…. The two approaches should interact and be mutually supportive. In the context of the Diploma Programme (DP), the term formal assessment is preferred to describe all those assessment instruments that are used to contribute to the final qualification. Some of these instruments can be used formatively during the course of study as well as summatively towards the end of it.”
“For formative assessment, the main purpose is to provide detailed feedback to teachers and their students on the nature of students’ strengths and weaknesses, and to help develop students’ capabilities. The teacher is seen as a supporter rather than a director of learning, and should make use of assessment tasks and instruments that help the student work in what Vygotsky refers to as the “zone of proximal development”. This is the range of achievement between what the student can do on his/her own, and what the student can do with the support of the teacher… It is more important that formative assessment correctly identifies the knowledge, skills and understanding that students should develop, rather than accurately measuring the level of each student’s achievement.”
“By its very nature, formal DP assessment is summative assessment, designed to record student achievement at, or towards the end of, the course of study. It should be noted, however, that many of the assessment instruments can also be used formatively during the course of teaching and learning, and teachers are encouraged to do this. This is particularly true of the internal assessment tasks.”
Summative assessment: “There is no formal role for DP assessment as an accountability mechanism by which school performance is judged.. The IBO considers it to be largely the individual school’s role to evaluate its own effectiveness. A five-year programme evaluation of authorized DP schools is conducted, primarily through self-study….The policies applied by DP schools in the way they decide which students should enter for the diploma, and the social and educational contexts in which the schools operate, are so varied that it would be inappropriate to judge school effectiveness solely on the basis of DP examination results.”
“The primary role of DP assessment is generally perceived to be that of certification of achievement, leading in most cases to a selection process for university admission…. DP assessment is also seen as a major tool for reinforcing the teaching of the curricular goals of the programme…. A third purpose, that of providing differentiated information about student achievement (and hence teacher effectiveness) to inform the professional development of teachers.”
"Our thinking about what it means to teach must be framed as a response to learning, with assessment as the method through which the learner understands how to improve." (Global Digital Citizen Foundation)
"There are no year level expectations in a series of achievement standards. No one is at, on, above or below expectations. Every student is simply at a level of development defined by what learning is developmentally appropriate." (P Griffin, 2009)
"Finely tuned assessment … is non-linear but integrative and iterative, whereby the learner, the learning community, and learning and teaching are woven together throughout the assessment process." (PYP: From principles into practice)
“A further aspect of bias that must be countered is the potential for an assessment task to discriminate unfairly against students with special educational needs such as dyslexia, attention deficit disorder or impaired vision. The conditions under which assessment tasks are taken should make appropriate allowances for such students, so that they can demonstrate their level of educational achievement on equal terms with other students.”
“DP assessment must reflect the international-mindedness of the programme wherever possible, must avoid cultural bias, and must make appropriate allowance for students working in their second language. DP assessment must pay appropriate attention to the higher-order cognitive skills (synthesis, reflection, evaluation, critical thinking) as well as the more fundamental cognitive skills (knowledge, understanding and application).”
“There is a very real conflict in assessment design between techniques that can give the most accurate and reliable measures of certain aspects of student achievement, and techniques that measure and encourage the most desirable educational achievements of students. This dilemma was very well acknowledged by Alec Peterson (1971), who described the early development of DP assessment as follows: “What is needed is a process of assessment which is as valid as possible, in the sense that it really assesses the whole endowment and personality of the pupil in relation to the next stage of his life, but at the same time [is] sufficiently reliable to assure pupils, parents and teachers, and receiving institutions that justice is being done. Yet such a process must not, by its backwash effect, distort good teaching, nor be too slow, nor absorb too much of our scarce educational resources.”
“If the aim of the DP is to achieve the development of students who are “inquiring, knowledgeable and caring” and who become “active, compassionate and lifelong learners” (IBO mission statement), then these characteristics should be reflected in the assessment system. It is an inevitable fact that what is not assessed is not so highly valued and may even be overlooked altogether. The aspirations expressed in the mission statement must be supported by the assessment system.”
“The desired personal characteristics of students, expressed in the IBO mission statement, fit very well with a constructivist theory of student learning, in which students actively engage in the learning process, take responsibility for their own learning, and enlarge their knowledge, understanding and skills through inquiry. Sympathy with cultural perspectives other than the students’ own is expected in the assessment requirements of a number of subjects. The more affective qualities of caring and compassion are more difficult to include in formal assessment, but nevertheless must be represented within the overall assessment system. This is largely achieved through the creativity, action, service (CAS) requirement, though there are a number of references to ethical working practices elsewhere in the assessment system.”
“Some DP students may have previously been exposed only to multiple-choice tests, others only to lengthy essays, or oral interviews, or portfolios as modes of assessment. This is yet another reason for including as wide a range of formats as possible within the DP assessment system, so that all students and their teachers meet some formats with which they are familiar and more comfortable, and other formats with which they are less familiar.”
“A significant proportion of DP students enter for examinations in a language that is not their best. Nearly all such cases relate to English, because students working in French or Spanish (the other two languages in which DP assessment is conducted) tend to be native speakers. Considerable extra care has to be taken in the wording of questions so as not to disadvantage second-language speakers. Sentences should be short, with simple wording and sentence structure used wherever possible. However, subject-specific terminology should not be avoided. Additionally, tolerance must be shown towards errors in spelling and grammar when marking is carried out, except in languages examinations. As long as the meaning and communication are clear, no penalty should be applied and full marks should be available.”
“DP assessment, along with the great majority of formal assessment systems, is highly individualistic. This is largely because the DP falls within the western European tradition, and western European societies are individualistic in nature. Students are assessed almost exclusively on what they achieve on their own. This may be said to be culturally inequitable, since there are a number of cultures in which the contribution of the individual is always subservient to that of a larger group; it is what the group achieves that matters. It is also the case that in terms of individual equity, there are some people who work better in a team than they do individually, and vice versa. Additionally, it is common practice, both in the classroom and in the world of work, for individuals to work interdependently rather than independently…. Diploma Programme assessment does include a limited element of cooperative group work. In all the science courses, students must participate in an interdisciplinary project, which by its nature requires group work…. In a slightly different vein, the music course has a performance component, which may optionally be a group performance…. These instances form only a small part of the overall DP assessment, and it would be true to say that group work is still considerably under-represented in the overall structure.”
“It is often stated that we now live in a knowledge society. ...The more valued academic skills of today are in accessing, ordering, sifting, synthesizing and evaluating information, and creatively constructing knowledge. As the rate of development and change in many societies’ increases, learning to learn becomes a more valuable skill than just learning knowledge and concepts. A similar point was made by Peterson .He stated that “what matters is not the absorption and regurgitation either of facts or of pre-digested interpretations of facts, but the development of powers of the mind or ways of thinking which can be applied to new situations and new presentations of facts as they arise”… The DP assessment system deliberately attempts to give significant attention to the so-called “higher order” cognitive skills (Bloom et al, 1956).”
Different types of assessment: “There are a number of reasons why a wide variety of types of assessment task and component is used in relation to the DP. First, from a historical and pragmatic perspective, Peterson says of the original development of DP assessment that “we had both an obligation and an opportunity to take into account the differing techniques of assessment used in those countries to whose institutions IB candidates were mostly seeking entry”. Second, a variety of assessment techniques helps to reduce the potential for inequity in assessment. There are also theoretical considerations, relating to fitness for purpose, that require a varied approach to assessment. The range of components and the set of tasks within them ensure that, taken across the assessment model for a whole subject, student achievement against all the objectives for that subject is adequately represented.”
“There are other advantages to internally assessed work within the context of an international qualification. Such work can be very flexible in the choice of topic, while continuing to address a common set of skills. This allows schools to place study in a local cultural or geographical context, or to draw closer links between the classroom and the world immediately outside. International schools, whose students often have a different cultural background from the one in which the school is embedded, can use internally assessed work to develop a closer involvement in the local society or environment. Alternatively, internal assessment can be used in a different fashion to develop links with distant cultures, generally by electronic contact with schools in other parts of the world. Brown (2002) also points out the value of internal assessment in allowing for cultural diversity within DP assessment. This encourages a “broader perspective of internationalism”, both by allowing for a multiplicity of cultural approaches and by giving individual students the opportunity to experience a range of cultural values.”
“Authenticity is another problem that raises questions over the reliability of internal assessment. Because of fears that people other than the student may contribute significantly to the work carried out, some assessment systems have either excluded internal assessment completely, or required that internally assessed tasks are carried out only under supervised classroom conditions. The IBO’s view is that this represents an overreaction. For internally supervised but externally marked work, both the teacher and the student are required to sign a declaration of authenticity. Teachers must also sign a declaration that internally assessed work is the student’s own. If evidence is subsequently found that the work is not genuinely the student’s, then a judgment of malpractice becomes a possibility (IBO, 2003b). Plagiarism, particularly via the Internet, is obviously a major concern, and strong measures are taken to discourage, identify and penalize plagiarized work.”
“Internal assessment focuses on skills, not subject content, but the internal assessment activities chosen by the teacher or the student can often be used as vehicles for teaching prescribed course content…. internal assessment is conducted by applying a fixed set of assessment criteria for each course. These criteria describe the kinds and levels of skills that must be addressed in the internal assessment.”
“The approach used in DP assessment in the application of criterion achievement levels is a “best fit” model. The examiner or teacher applying an assessment criterion must choose the achievement level that overall best matches the piece of work being marked. It is not necessary for every detailed aspect of an achievement level to be satisfied for that level to be awarded, and it is worth noting that the highest level of any given criterion does not represent perfection.”
Access requirement: “Standard assessment conditions may put candidates with learning support requirements at a disadvantage by preventing them from demonstrating their level of attainment. Inclusive assessment arrangements may be authorized in these circumstances. This policy applies to candidates with long-term or permanent challenges. The inclusive assessment arrangements that are requested should be a candidate’s usual way of working; the coordinator must ensure that a candidate is, or becomes, familiar with those arrangements. The candidate must be familiar with any assistive equipment, including a computer and any software authorized for use in an examination. If support from a scribe, reader, prompter, practical assistant/aide or communicator is required, the candidate must practise with the person acting in this capacity in advance of the examination. (Candidates with assessment access requirements).”
Sources of information
- Click here to access the IB webpage on Assessment and Exams.
- Click here to access the IB webpage on Understanding DP assessment
- The Handbook of procedures for the Diploma Programme contains a good brief section on inclusive assessment arrangements.
- Diploma programme assessment: principles and practice (IB, 2010) is a guide to assessment for teachers and coordinators: a quick and clear guide to the methods the IB employs to ensure assessments are fair. It provides a useful guide to the moderation process – both of internal assessments (IA) and examination scripts; and a description of E-marking, scaling (weighting of separate components of exam) and how grade boundaries are set. It can be found on the IB Online Curriculum Centre.
- Candidates with assessment access requirements (IB, 2013) provides an outline of principles underpinning this policy (section 1), guidelines for applications for access requirements (section 2) and guidance on arrangements that can be made for individual students with their needs (sections 3 and 4). Depending on need arrangements could include in-school facilities (scribe, reader, word processor, separate room etc.), IB assistance (papers in Braille, extra time provisions etc.). The document can be found on the IB Online Curriculum Centre.
- Type 'Inclusive Assessment Arrangements' into a web based search engine to find a really helpful IB PPT from IBAEM's regional conference in 2013.
A number of key concepts underpin the IB approach to assessment. It is:
- criterion-based as opposed to norm-referenced scoring
- formative and summative
Activity 2: Understanding summative assessment
Summative assessments sum up a student's learning and take place at the end of a unit of work or, in the case of the formal IB examinations, at the end of the two year course. Since the ultimate summative assessment is the IB exam any summative assessments you design at the end of a unit of work should be modeled on the IB exams and the rubric you use to develop and mark these assessments should be the same as that applied in the IB exams.
Students are assessed on a set of published criteria with scores from 1 (low) to 7 (high). The lowest passing score for a subject is 4.
- Work in subject table groups
- Locate the rubrics for specific assessments in the assessment section of your subject guide.
- Pick an assessment to focus on in this activity.
- Discuss in detail what the rubric means as it is applied to your chosen assessment focus.What aspects of the assessment are measured in the rubric?
- Design a summative assessment for your topic based on this rubric. Your goal is to enable your students to reach the highest score possible.
In order to help your students reach the highest score possible they need to know the rubrics inside out.
Activity 3: Understanding formative assessment
Formative assessments often focus on a single criteria.
- Work in subject table groups to design a quality piece of formative assessment.
- Which skills, knowledge and understanding do you wish the students to demonstrate?
- What form of assessment would provide the optimal demonstration of these skills, knowledge and understanding (e.g. a lab report, a comparative essay etc.).
- Which form of assessment will provide the best learning experience for the students?
Writing or revising your policy
Key issues to consider
- What is the purpose of assessment?
- What is the school's philosophy on assessment? What are the key principles underpinning this philosophy?
- To what extent does your philosophy align with that of the IB programmes (e.g. criterion referenced and norm referenced assessment)?
- What does effective assessment look like in practice?
- How does assessment support student learning?
- Include both internal and external assessment.
- What is the role of predicted grades?
- What processes are in place for standardization of students' work?
- How do students access their assessment scores?
- Can students retake assessments? If so, under what criteria?
- What is your context: what are the local and national assessment requirements and how do these impact on the IB programme(s)?
- What are your formative and summative assessment practices? How regular? This should include marking / grading, recording and reporting practices? Do you have particular policies regarding homework and how this should be assessed?
- Make links with other key policies explicit - e.g. academic honesty, special educational needs, admissions, language policies).
- Who is responsible for monitoring and reviewing the assessment policy?
- Which committee is responsible for this policy?
- How is this policy communicated to the whole school community?
Who are the students who require arrangements to access assessments? Who makes the decision? What is the role of external experts (e.g. medical personnel)? Have you established the need for access arrangements (history of need)? Are access plans specific for each student who requires them? Once assessment arrangements are planned who monitors them? Ensure that all colleagues who teach students with learning support requirements have a copy of the IB policy document Candidates with assessment access requirements.
Activity 4: Meeting Standard C4 - Assessment
- In subject table groups closely examine Standard C4 on Assessment.
- Pick out all the key concepts.
- Identify evidence you could provide to meet this standard.
- In plenary share your findings with other subject groups.
There are a number of compilations of formative assessment strategies on the www. Whilst they are not specifically IB documents they contain a useful compendium of ideas. You may like to look up: