What is the Purpose of Assessment in Education?

Is assessment necessary in education?

Before we answer the question, let’s consider what actually is assessment.

What is assessment?

Assessment is not just giving a student or a grade. It is also a process to measure the progress of a student’s learning.  It means gathering data to understand the strengths of the student’s learning, but also their weaknesses.

For example, in a test on plant varieties, they may score 50%. What does that tell us? This may mean that they have passed an exam, but it doesn’t tell us what plants they did recognise. It doesn’t tell us the plants that they don’t recognise. It doesn’t tell us a great deal really.

Say a student was brilliant at recognising tree varieties, but poor at recognising flowers or herbs.  We need to know more about a student than a simple percentage or grade.

Types of Assessment

Let’s look at four types of assessment –

  • Diagnostic – Usually carried out at the start of a course to see what the student’s existing knowledge is.
  • Formative assessments are usually carried out part way through a course or year to see how a student is doing
  • Interim assessments are usually carried out across a year group, to compare how different students are doing
  • Summative – a summative assessment tends to be carried out at the end of the year to give an overall view of how the student did and the way forwards.Why Carry Out Assessments?/

But why carry out assessments in online education?

Principal of ACS, John Mason, reflects –

“I think a lot of approaches to assessment are often based on what is required by 'big brother' rather than what benefits can be derived from assessment. I see assessment as

Firstly, it can also provide bureaucrats with statistics to use for political and management purposes (which may be the most used and least important purpose).

Secondly, a learning opportunity - you revisit hence reinforce

Thirdly,, it is an opportunity to review progress of individual students - but that is only of value if responded to on a case by case basis to overcome an individual's learning problems.

Fourthly, it can indicate success in order to do better in the future.”

What does this mean?


Assessments in education provide us with statistics. For example, if you ask all sixteen year old children to take an assessment when they leave school, this would give us a lot of information on the education system.  We find that 75% of children pass the assessment. Great. So this means that the education system is doing really well because so many children pass. Well, no, not actually. It actually means that the education system is training children to pass that particular assessment. It doesn’t mean that they are educating students in a general way, just to pass that test.

That doesn’t mean that assessments aren’t useful, of course. Statistics can give us information on how one region is doing compared to another. How one school is doing compared to other schools. How students are doing compared to other students. This can be useful as the government can then decide where extra funding is needed, where students need more help and so on.

But statistics are not the only answer.

Learning Opportunity

Assessments are also a learning opportunity.   Assessments can take many forms. For example –

  • Observations
  • Project
  • Essay
  • Multichoice questions
  • Assignment
  • Exam
  • Professional discussion
  • Presentation
  • Work products (creating something eg. building a chair in a woodwork class, or correctly pruning a fruit tree)

An assessment should not be a “seen it, done it, that’s it” type situation. So, a tutor has to observe a student prepare pastry for a pie. They watch the student, then tell them they have passed. That is not useful at all.

  • Why have they passed?
  • What did they do well?
  • Where can they improve?

An assessment should include feedback to help the student to improve what they are doing.

Review Progress

That leads on to point 3. An assessment should also help us to review a student’s progress. A student is taught how to prune a fruit tree. The first time they do it, they do ok. The second time, they do better, the third time even better and so on. When the tutor is observing them, they give feedback and the student should use this to improve their performance.

By acting on the feedback of the tutor, the student improves.

The tutor can also use the student’s performance to review their progress, to see how they are improving as they are working through the course.

A student studies psychology. In their first assignment, they describe an experiment, but they do not include all the important points or do it very well. The student gives feedback. In the second assignment, the student does the same thing. Again, not describing it well. The student can again give feedback. They can see that the student is not acting on feedback to improve their performance.

Reviewing progress therefore shows us how the student is (hopefully) improving as they work through the course.

If they are not, they should be encouraged to pay attention to, and act on, the feedback of their tutor.

Future Success

Assessments are not always indicative of future success. James gets 50% in his exam. Does that mean he will be a good horticulturalist? Or a bad one? Who knows? He might be amazing at horticulture, but not great in exams. He might be ok in exams and not that great at horticulture. A grade or percentage does not really tell us much.

An assessment should tell us how good the student is in their area.  For example, do they have a good basic understanding of horticulture, which means that they can take on a trainee role in a particular job?

An assessment should give us more than a percentage or grade. It should tell us what skills they have, where they do well and how they can improve. 

Assessments with ACS

With ACS, we carry out a range of assessments with our students –

  • They complete multichoice self-assessment tests. These tell the students, and us, their current level of knowledge. If they do not do well, we ask them to review their work, and take the test again.
  • If students are not sure about something, we encourage them to ask their tutor. Sometimes, a student just needs someone to explain something in a different way.
  • In our courses, we have set tasks at the end of each lesson. In these, the student is required perform various tasks, such as carry out a small piece of research or do a practical task.
  • In our courses, we also have assignments at the end of each lesson. These consider of short and long questions that the students are required to complete and submit to their tutor for marking and feedback.
  • We do not give a percentage grade on the assignments. We give detailed feedback, telling students what they did well and where they can improve.
  • If they do not do well enough to demonstrate that they have attained the appropriate skill or knowledge, the tutor will give them feedback on how to improve and ask them to redo the assignment.
  • If they do well, we encourage them to build on this knowledge in future assignments.

By the end of a course, the student has hopefully developed and improved their knowledge and achieved the level of skill required to pass the course.


Assessments are important

Assessments are important. They tell us how a student is doing, how they are progressing, but they are not enough. An assessment should also include feedback to tell a student what they are doing well and where they need to improve.

At ACS, we want our students to do well. We won’t just give them a grade or percentage. We will give them detailed feedback on how to improve and develop in their chosen career or subject.

If you want to study to improve and expand your knowledge, study with us!


Not sure what to Study ? We have a team of Academic Staff happy to help you decide what course is best for your current needs  .  


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