Shiken: JALT Testing & Evaluation SIG Newsletter
Vol. 3 No. 1 April. 1999 (p. 2 - 9) [ISSN 1881-5537]
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Practicalities of ongoing assessment

Susan Carbery
Obirin University, Tokyo

Assessment is the estimation of the quality or value of something. In the context of education, it refers to "the practices and procedures for monitoring and measuring learners' performance in relation to goals and objectives" (Vale, Scarino and McKay, 1991, p. 94). Educational assessment can be divided into summative assessment, which is given at the end of a unit, course or programme as a final judgement of a student's performance; and formative assessment, which consists of both formal and informal tasks to help both teacher and student form an opinion about performance. Formative assessment is also labelled ongoing assessment (OA) as it is continually taking place within the classroom. Whereas summative assessment is concerned with the product (test results), ongoing assessment is also concerned about the process of learning. In this way, teachers can identify how students acquired the language proficiency suggested by their test performance.
Ongoing assessment is not something new to education. Each time a teacher makes a judgement about student performance (whether consciously or sub-consciously), assessment is taking place. However, often the criteria used to make these judgements are vague and ill-defined. To be of real value, OA must be developed in a principled and systematic way. This article considers some of the more common activities used as OA, which principles of OA they incorporate, and the practicalities of using them in the classroom. The accompanying article 'Fundamentals of Ongoing Assessment' offers a detailed definition of OA, a description of its principles and discusses the concerns of test reliability and validity.

Activities Used As Ongoing Assessment

Table 1 provides a list of some of the more common activities that can be used as OA. It is by no means exhaustive, but has attempted to include assessment items that many teachers may normally incorporate in their classes. The table identifies which of the principles of OA is most appropriate for each activity:
  1. Purpose - Is it assessment-oriented, instruction-oriented, or learner-oriented?
  2. Form - Does it require students to respond to set questions or is it purely teacher observation of routine classwork?
  3. Nature - Is it quantitative or qualitative? and
  4. Formality - Is it formal or informal?

[ p. 2 ]

Journals, Questionnaires & Student Feedback Forms

Journals, questionnaires, and student feedback forms are similar in purpose, form, and nature. Their main use is to obtain information about the teaching and learning processes. This information includes students' goals and expectations; their feelings and attitudes about themselves and their peers; their experiences and the learning process. As these activities usually take the form of a response based activity, teachers can control the kind of response they elicit by being systematic in the choice of questions. Journals are used often in the language classroom as a means to encourage fluency in writing. However, with a more systematic approach, journals can provide informative insights into the learner and the instruction process itself.


  1. Ask students to respond in their journals (three or four times) about the unit they are currently studying as in Table 2.
  2. Have students use their journals as 'learning logs' in which they record what they've learned in class, then reflect and comment on it.
  3. Have students keep scrapbook journals of news clippings, songs, pictures, etc. relevant to the current study theme and respond to each scrapbook item.
  4. Have students complete questionnaires at the beginning of a course regarding their expectations and feelings about studying English.
  5. Prepare a detailed questionnaire for students to complete at the end of a course as formal feedback about the course.
  6. At the end of a lesson, issue students with small scraps of paper and have them quickly write one or two sentences about a particular activity they just did.

[ p. 3 ]

Portfolios & Conferences

Both portfolios and conferences involve the learner as well as the teacher in recording and monitoring language proficiency. Portfolios are used as a collection of the students' work to demonstrate their abilities and achievements. This has the benefit of being a continuous record of accomplishment available to show to others. Portfolios also encourage students to be a part of the assessment process. However, the nature of portfolios and conferences is that they need to be an integral part of teaching if they are to be of benefit.


  1. Students keep a file folder in which all their 'best' pieces of writing throughout a course are included. At the end of the course students are asked to select 6-8 pieces, rewrite them and submit them for final summative assessment.
  2. Students keep an audio tape of speaking samples and submit a selection for summative assessment as above.
  3. Students and teacher work together in a conference to determine the class goals and/or assessment criteria.
  4. Teacher keeps notes on file cards from conferences with individual learners regarding their writing style, speaking strategies, etc.

[ p. 4 ]

Classroom Observations, Observed Communicative Activities & Group Discussions

Observations in the classroom are undoubtedly occurring all the time. However, to be of value they need to be carried out in a systematic and manageable fashion. Classroom observations are distinct from observed communicative activities in that they are always informal and involve the teacher making observations of normal classroom activity and behaviour. Teachers often do this immediately after setting a task to ensure that students have understood the instructions, etc. Observed communicative activities on the other hand, can be formal with the teacher recording a grade from set criteria for a particular activity. Group discussions have been included here as they provide teachers with an alternative means to observe students using the target language and employing language strategies.


  1. Keep an anecdotal record on file cards or in a teacher journal about students' performance or behaviour.
  2. Create a checklist or rating scale for use with a particular communicative activity or group discussion as in Table 3.

- continued -

[ p. 5 ]