Session 1:
Purposes and effects of assessment (4.1)


This session introduces into the purposes and effects of assessment, including its effect as hidden curriculum.



After this session the participant will:

  • be sensitised on assessment as a "hidden curriculum"
  • be able to describe and critically reflect on assessment and evaluation processes
  • be able identify procedures within own education institution and system
  • be able to consider how e-portfolios might be evidenced and evaluated
  • know different forms of assessment
  • discuss the role of evaluation and assessment within portfolio development
  • distinguish between assessment for and of learning


On a general view, a fair assessment of competencies or learning outcomes is the base for democratic society, where jobs and opportunities are not a question of birth or money. Beside this sophisticated view, assessment is an unloved, but important question for educators and teachers, because it defines and directs the learning process directly and indirectly.

Keri Facer, Director of Learning Research Futurelab, writes in the foreword of a study about e-assessment his increasing interest in assessment:

" I have to admit to being someone who for many years has avoided thinking about assessment – it somehow always seemed distant from my interests, divorced from my concerns about how children learn with technologies and, to be honest, just a little less interesting than other things I was working on… In recent years, however, working in the field of education and technology, it has become clear that anyone with an interest in how we create equitable, engaging and relevant education systems needs to think long and hard about assessment. What I and many others working in this area have come to realise is that we can’t just ignore assessment, or simply see it as ‘someone else’s job’. Assessment practices shape, possibly more than any other factor, what is taught and how it is taught in schools. At the same time, these assessment practices serve as the focus (perhaps the only focus in this day and age) for a shared societal debate about what we, as a society, think are the core purposes and values of education. If we wish to create an education system that reflects and contributes to the development of our changing world, then we need to ask how we might change assessment practices to achieve this." (see )

The 'purpose of assessment' is to provide an assessment of hitherto learning and to give a feedback and recommendations for future learning.

According to JISC (2007, p. 6) assessment may be used at each of the three stages at which a learner's attainment and progress come under review:

  • diagnostic assessment of a learner's knowledge and skills at the outset of a course.
  • formative assessment that provides developmental feedback to a learner on his or her current understanding and skills. Formative assessment can also be described as assessment for learning since an assessment that is entered into voluntarily, and on which no final qualification depends, can prompt learners to adjust their own performance.
  • summative assessment is the final assessment of a learner's achievement, usually leading to a formal qualification or certification of a skill or competence.

Summative assessment is also referred to as assessment of learning.

Different purposes of assessment and its influence on learning

According to Carr et al. (2006) assessment of students can be for several purposes, namely:

  • to give feedback to students about their learning and progress.
  • to give feedback to teachers about the effectiveness of their teaching and curriculum planning.
  • to report on student learning and progress to parents, caregivers and the school management.
  • for the award of national qualifications and accreditation of individuals and institutions.
  • to evaluate the education system, through public accountability of institutions and teachers.Assessment for all the above purposes has the potential to intervene (either positively or negatively) in learning, pedagogy and the curriculum.
    (Source: Malcolm Carr, Clive McGee, Alister Jones, Elizabeth McKinley, Beverley Bell, Hugh Barr and Tina Simpson (2006). The Effects of Curricula and Assessment on Pedagogical Approaches and on Educational Outcomes. URL: )

The items and form of assessment influence the learning processes as a "hidden curriculum": Assessment affects the environment in which the process of teaching and learning occurs.

To summarise this: The portfolio method will probably not work, if the students will be formatively or summatively assessed with a multiple-choice test as the only base for grading.


Discuss your last assessment:

  • What was the purpose of your assessment?
  • How did you assess?
  • What did you measure and assess?
  • How does your assessment fit to the learning goals/curricula?
  • How did the form and content of assessment influenced the learning habits of your students?

Assessment of learning and for learning

As forms of assessment can distinguish:

  • self assessment, peer assessment, group assessment, teacher assessment
  • quantitative (testing or counting) and qualitative assessment
  • different forms of feedback (grading, comment)

Assessment always influences the learning process, whether it is "for" or "of" learning´: The assessment of learning seeks to discover how much have students learned as of a particular point in time. Assessment for learning asks how can we use assessment to help students learn more (see Rick Stiggins 2004).

The Assessment Reform Group (2002) defines assessment for learning as “the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there.”

According to H. Barrett (2005), the characteristics of portfolios used in assessment of learning::

  • Purpose prescribed
  • Artifacts mandated - scoring for external use
  • Organized by teacher
  • Summative (past to present)
  • Institution-centered
  • Requires extrinsic motivation

In contrast, the characteristics of portfolios used in assessment for learning:

  • Purpose negotiated
  • Artifacts chosen - feedback to learner
  • Organized by learner
  • Formative (present to future)
  • Student-centered
  • intrinsically motivating”


How should you think that your e-portfolio should be assessed? You will find more information about learning goals and assessment criteria in the following modules, but as a first step we ask you for a brainstorming:

  • Find criteria: How should a teacher measure and assess your e-portfolio if (s)he likes to support your learning?
  • Find criteria: How should a teacher measure and assess your e-portfolio if (s)he likes to evaluate your learning outcomes?
  • Discuss the differences!

Characteristics of assessment of learning with e-portfolios

For a better illustration, how assessment of e-portfolios is to be characterized, we contrast it with e-testing as another form of e-assessment. Online-testing is a form of testing, which is performed on a computer and is provided via a computer network. The answers (e.g. in a multiple choice test) are assessed by a computer too (according to Hornung-Prähauser, Veronika / Geser, Guntram / Hilzensauer, Wolf / Schaffert, Sandra (2007): Didaktische, organisatorische und technologische Grundlagen von E-Portfolios und Analyse internationaler Beispiele und Erfahrungen mit E-Portfolio-Implementierungen an Hochschulen. Salzburg. URL: .)

Assessment of e-portfolios is intricate for the candidate: It takes a lot of time to prepare the assessment, because the assessment involves the whole learning phase. In contrast to well developed online-testing (which is normally used for high numbers of candidates), it takes less time for the examiner to prepare and to arrange the e-assessment of an e-portfolio (which is normally used for small number of candidates). Nevertheless, the effort for the examiner is high.

Whereas the assessment of an e-portfolio looks at a “presentation portfolio” or at a candidate’s presentation of an e-portfolio, e-testing allows online multiple choice testing, online exercises or computer based simulations (e.g. flight simulator). In a consequence, the assessed materials and the assessment criteria are different: Everything that documents a personal learning process could be used as an assessable artifact, e. g. a homework (including its correction), a learning diary or a group work result. The assessment of e-portfolios takes more diverse materials into account: learning and studying goals, learning plans, artefacts (materials, certificates), reflections about learning, layout and content in an “overall view”, the presentation and feedback from others. In addition, the presentation of the presentational portfolio can be assessed, too.

An e-test evaluates the correctness (similarity to example solution) and the completeness of answers (e.g. multiple choice answers, drag and drop). The criterion for the assessment of an e-portfolio is its fulfilment; it focuses on competencies and it should follow individual orientation (“subjective” criteria). As mentioned above, in the practice of assessment of learning with e-portfolios most of the time class-wide goals and criteria, sometimes even “objective” criteria are applied.

Whereas the rating and assessment of the materials is quick and objective with online-tests, it is intricate and subjective with e-portfolios. Last not least the candidate’s behaviour in the assessment can be characterized as passive interrogation of knowledge for e-testing but as active and self-reflective within the e-portfolio work.

With these exaggerated comparison of these two forms of e-assessment shows clearly that assessment of portfolio can enable a more holistic, individual, learning supportive assessment: “From the viewpoint of assessment, the rationale for portfolios is clear: there are a number of valuable activities and attainments that cannot be assessed using the format of timed tests” (McCusker, Pead & Ridgway, 2006 Report 10: Literature Review of e-asessement. Bristol: Future Lab.).


Read this carefully and discuss, if there are other important points you see for assessment with eportfolios! You can also use other sources, e.g. ( 1 )


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The project is managed by the Salzburg Research Forschungsgesellschaft , if you have any questions or contributions, please contact the project co-ordinator Wolf Hilzensauer