Although responsibility for assessment falls to the entire educational system, teachers and students are the primary designers, collectors, and users of assessment data in the direct service of learning. Recognizing the unique position of the classroom teacher, the science standards seek to recognize, legitimate, and extend the purview of the teacher in a range of assessment purposes and practices. In a comprehensive and coherent assessment system, teachers must accommodate the range of purposes that classroom assessment must serve—from self-reflection on practice, to monitoring achievement for individual students and assigning grades, to gauging levels of engagement, to reporting to parents, to making decisions about the placement of students. Black (1997) categorizes the purposes of assessment into those concerned with (a) support of learning; (b) certification, which includes reporting individual achievement, or grading, placement and promotion; and (c) accountability. Table 2-2 presents a visual overview that highlights the distinctions among the types, purposes, and locus of influence, as well as who takes on the primary roles and responsibilities with respect to the assessment.

Because different people are making judgments about students for different purposes, there are often serious areas of overlap that lead to ambiguities and tensions. Teachers, for example, must balance their roles as facilitator and coach to promote learning along with their role as judge when they assign grades at the end of the term. External assessors, who prepare the standardized tests, serve primarily a summative function. It is important to keep in mind the different uses of assessment, the people who have the major responsibilities for them, and the intended audience, especially when considering the mechanisms employed to collect evidence and the inferences drawn from the collected data. For teachers especially, because they must engage in both formative and summative assessment practices, it is necessary to identify and attempt to mitigate the existing tensions. The challenge for classroom teachers becomes one of recognizing the range of factors that constitute assessment activity and taking full advantage of them to advance curricular, instructional, and learning goals. The challenge for the system becomes one of providing teachers and their students with the structures and necessary support to do so. These challenges are further elaborated in the chapters that follow.

TABLE 2-2 Types, Purposes, and Roles and Responsibilities for Assessment



Roles and Responsibilities


Improve learning

Student and teacher


Inform instruction




Teachers and external tests







External tests (and teacher)

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