Assessment as Learning

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This page originally authored by Jessica Rowe (March 2012)

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Assessment as Learning is the use of ongoing self-assessment by students in order to monitor their own learning, which is “characterized by students reflecting on their own learning and making adjustments so that they achieve deeper understanding.” (Western and Northern Canadian Protocol for Collaboration in Education [WNCP], 2006, p.41) The table above provides a summary of Assessment as Learning as a part of a three-part assessment pyramid (taken from WNCP, 2006, 85).

An understanding of Assessment as Learning is essential in a digital age where information is readily accessible and teachers move from being the "knowledge-bearers" to knowledge-guides. Just as teachers guide students through the acquisition of knowledge, they must guide students through the process of understanding their own cognitive processes so that students learn to monitor their own learning and make adjustments.


Metacognition according to Schraw (1998) is the, "thinking about one's own mental processes" or the "regulation of cognition." Thus if cognition is defined as the knowledge or act of knowing then metacognition is understanding one's own knowledge. For students, this means that they understand what they do and do not know. With teacher guidance, they can learn to monitor this; they also learn to seek out the knowledge or develop their skills with this new sense of self-awareness.

Assessment Pyramid

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Assessment as Learning is a part of a three-part assessment model recommended for use in classrooms by the Western and Northern Canadian Protocol for Collaboration in Education (2006). Earl (2003) argues that the traditional assessment model utilizing predominantly Assessment of Learning to report progress and compare students should be replaced by a balanced model including all three of the types of assessments. Figures 3.1 and 3.2 below demonstrate Earl's suggested balance for the three types of assessment: Assessment as Learning, Assessment of Learning and Assessment for Learning.

Assessment for learning

Assessment for Learning [1], a type of formative assessment, is utilized by teachers in order to gain an understanding of their students' knowledge and skills in order to guide instruction.

Assessment as learning

Assessment as learning, as previously mentioned, is also a formative assessment which focuses on teaching students' the metacognitive processes to evaluate their own learning and make adjustments.

Assessment of learning

Assessment of Learning is a summative assessment used primarily to compare students and report progress according to Earl (2003). Unit tests are a commonly used form of Assessment of Learning.


This assessment model supports the view of today’s learners as actively involved in the learning process. Students are educated on the purpose of assignments and the outcomes they are trying to achieve. Black and William argue that student self-assessment is often accurate and honest; however, it is problematic when students do not have a "sufficiently clear picture of the targets that their learning is meant to attain." (Black and William, 2001, p. 6-7). Hence the teacher and the student both have critical roles in understanding learning outcomes and modifying learning in Assessment as Learning.


Ensuring assessment methods are appropriate and the purpose is clear to students ensures quality and fair assessment practices as per the Principles for Fair Student Assessment in Canada (1993). Beyond choosing the learning outcomes to be covered, the activities to follow and the assessment methods, in Assessment as Learning, the teacher engages the students in this process.

In Assessment as Learning, the teacher is a guide, “Giving them [students] the tools to undertake their own learning wisely and well.” (WNCP, p. 42) Students learn to monitor their own learning and make adaptations as required. In addition to monitoring learning and guiding instruction through assessment for learning, the teacher is assessing the students’ ability to assess themselves as they learn how to assess their own learning.

Teachers can follow the following model in order to practise Assessment as Learning in their classroom: (adapted from WNCP, p. 42-43)

  1. Discuss the learning outcomes with the students
  2. Create criteria with the students for the various tasks that need to be completed and/or skills that need to be learned or mastered
  3. Provide feedback to students as they learn and ask them guiding questions to help them monitor their own learning
  4. Help them set goals to extend or support their learning as needed in order to meet or fully meet the expectations
  5. Provide reference points and examples for the learning outcomes

Teachers are also responsible for ensuring that students have a learning environment in which they feel comfortable and safe to learn as well as have ample time to practise what is being taught.


Beyond completing the tasks assigned to them by their teacher, students move from the passive learner to an active owner of their own learning. Initially, with teacher guidance and tools, students learn to monitor if they have understood the learning outcome being explored and the metacognitive process. Once the metacognitive skills have been acquired, students can independently adjust their learning accordingly and demonstrate the “self-reflection, self-monitoring and self-adjustment.” (WNCP, 2006, p.85) Extensive and relevant modeling in the questions below can help students reach this point:

Monitoring Metacognition (Protocol adaptation of Shraw, “Promoting General Metacognitive Awareness” in WNCP)

  1. What is the purpose of learning these concepts and skills?
  2. What do I know about this topic?
  3. What strategies do I know that will help me learn this?
  4. Am I understanding these concepts?
  5. What are the criteria for improving my work?
  6. Have I accomplished the goals I set for myself?

Classroom Examples

Literacy Mentoring Among Students

Deborah Koehn and her fellow teachers at Glenview Elementary School in Prince George used Assessment as Learning as a tool to review reading strategies and metacognitive skills in reading for grade 4/5 students and to have them in turn, mentor grade 1 students. Through the process, "Both sets of students learned to clarify their thinking, and were using similar language to describe their learning processes." (Koehn, 2008, p. 3) The grade 4/5 students became adept at using both teacher-created criteria and their own criteria and were able to mentor grade 1 students through the process. Koehn observed that, "They [grade 4/5 students] naturally began each lesson with a stated learning intention." (2008, p. 4)

Attendance Procedures

The ESL Network suggests having students record their own attendance as late or absent on a class posted list. The teacher would have continued discussions around class expectations for attendance and the impact of tardiness or being absent on learning. Students will then have continual opportunities to reflect upon and make changes to their attendance and punctuality.

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Physical Education Work Habits

Art Uhl's rubrics concerning work habits in Physical Education (2009) can help clarify teacher expectations and increase students' abilities to self-monitor thus developing their metacognitive skills. This also serves the dual purpose of making a class that is sometimes stressful and unmanageable more ordered and manageable.

Introducing Work Habits Rubric

The following is based on the WNCP's suggested methodology for Assessment as Learning:

  1. Introduce related learning outcomes
  2. Introduce rubric and modify criteria with students to fit curriculum expectations
  3. Have students self-assess and peer-assess at intervals throughout a unit
  4. Guide students through setting goals to improve
  5. Provide feedback throughout the unit and ask guiding questions
  6. Highlight examples throughout the unit of positive P.E. work habits as defined by the rubric
  7. Finish unit with Assessment of Learning by teacher completion of the rubric


An Electric Portfolio encourages "self-guided learning" according to Tuttle (2007). Students start with an understanding of the outcomes to be met throughout the year or term and then gather evidence of learning throughout the term to complete a finalized digital project. This ability to select the assignments that best demonstrate their abilities in a given area demonstrate the metacognition necessary for Assessment as Learning. Tuttle reinforces this argument by stating, "Self-assessment becomes a regular part of learning as students frequently select or re-evaluate which of their work is the best evidence of their skills and strive to create even better evidence in future assignments." (2007, P 4)


  1. Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (2001). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Retrieved March 1, 2012 from Website:
  2. British Columbia Ministry of Education. (2004). Principles for Fair Student Assessment Practices. Retrieved March 1, 2012 from Website:
  3. Britzman, D. (2003). "Practice Makes Practice: A Critical Study of Learning to Teach. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York.
  4. Cognition. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Science Dictionary. Retrieved March 04, 2012, from website:
  5. Earl, Lorna Maxine. (2003). Assessment as Learning: using classroom assessment to maximize student learning. Thousand Oaks, Ca: Corwin Press.
  6. ESL Literacy Network. (2011). Assessment As Learning Samples. Retrieved March 1, 2012 from Website:
  7. Koehn. (2008). Together is better. BCTF Teacher Inquirer. Retrieved March 1, 2012 from Website:
  8. Schraw, G. (1998). Promoting General Metacognitive Awareness. Instructional Science. 26. 113-125.
  9. Tuttle, H.G. (2007) E-portfolios are the wave of the future. Digital-Age Assessment. Retrieved March 3, 2012 from
  10. Uhl, A. (2009, March). Assessment in Physical Education. Lecture conducted from Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C.
  11. Western and Northern Canadian Protocol (WNCP). (2006). Rethinking Classroom Assessment: Assessment for Learning, Assessment as Learning, Assessment of Learning. Retrieved # March 1, 2012 from: