Self Assessment

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People reading this document are likely to find the following IAE-pedia document useful:

Self-assessment Instruments.

Self-assessment and self-instruction go hand in hand. For an interesting article about self-instruction see Will Richardson (2012).


One of the most important goals in education is to help students to gain steadily increasing knowledge and skills in taking responsibility for their own learning and for the effective and responsible use of their learning.

Our current formal educational system does a relatively poor job in achieving this goal. One type of evidence for this is provided by the poor results that many students receive on placement tests in English and math when they enter college. Such students find that they must take remedial courses that are at such a low level they do not carry credit toward college graduation. The students have previously taken secondary school courses that cover the content and skills being assessed, but still are unable to do well on the college placement tests.

This is certainly not a new problem. Notice the publication dates on the following two articles.

Haynes, V. Dion and Jain, Aruna (10/7/07). Whatever happened to the class of 2005? The Washington Post. Retrieved 10/9/07: Quoting from this article:

Danielle Chappell had no reason to doubt she was a solid student. She earned decent grades, even scoring some A's in English and math, while balancing schoolwork with basketball, track and a spot on the dance team.
Then she graduated from Cardozo High School and arrived at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, where she bombed the placement tests so badly that she had to take remedial English and math. She failed the makeup math course twice before passing it. Low grades overall put her on academic probation. Finally, mid-sophomore year, she was forced to withdraw.

Vogell, Heather (5/3/09). Easy grades equate to failing grads. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved 12/28/2013: Quoting from the article:

Some metro Atlanta public high schools that don’t grade rigorously produce more graduates lacking the basic English and math skills needed for college, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has found.
Many graduates of those high schools are sent to freshmen remedial classes to learn what high school didn’t teach them. As many as a third or more college-bound graduates from some high schools need the extra instruction.
Unprepared high-school graduates are a growing problem for the public university system, where remedial students are concentrated in two-year colleges.
Statewide, the remedial rate has climbed to 1 in 4 first-year students after dropping in the 1990s, said Chancellor Erroll Davis Jr. of the University System of Georgia.

We can make progress in helping students to become better at self assessment by:

  1. Teaching students how to self assess.
  2. Providing students with good formative evaluation self-assessment instruments.
  3. Helping students learn to take increased responsibility for their own learning.

The Problem

As students progress through school, they receive a variety of feedback on how well they are doing. Teachers assign and grade homework, have students answer questions in class discussions, give tests, and so on. Students may participate in group discussions or group projects. Students may make presentations to the whole class and observe presentations by other students. Teachers may make use of rubrics in assessment, and share these rubrics with their students. End-of-term report cards (grades in courses) provide one type of overall measure of a student's progress. All of this formative and summative feedback and assessment can help a student learn to self assess.

There are two major components missing from this picture:

  1. Often students do not get authentic, detailed information that lets them compare their knowledge, skills, understanding, and rate of progress against national norms and against standards being set by or expected by: themselves; teachers in subsequent courses they will be taking; potential employers; colleges; and so on.
  2. Often the formal school environment does not adequately enable and empower a student to make good use of self-assessment and other assessment information. Good assessment includes useful recommendations on what the student can do to improve. Useful recommendations are ones that can be carried out by the student and that will move the student toward the specified learning goals that are being assessed.

Suggestion to Teachers and Students

Consider the various forms and instruments for self assessment that are available. Some lead to quantifiable results, and with some of these it is possible to measure change over time.

So, teachers can help students learn about uses of self-assessment in which repeated measures are made over a period of time. Students can learn to look for trends in their performances over time.

This is easy in areas of physical performance, such as performance in various track events. It is more of a challenge in measuring performance in "doing math" or "doing science" or in writing over a period of time.

Take writing as an example. Quoting from Texas A & M University Writing Center:

Self-assessment occurs when students assess their own work, either finished or in-progress. This process can benefit faculty by saving them time (since self-assessments are not graded), and it can benefit students as well. Through self-assessment, students improve editing, writing, and critical thinking skills. However, achieving these benefits depends upon self-assessment that is rooted in reflection. In other words, students need to go beyond assigning themselves a grade or a rating. They need to be able to reflect upon and articulate the strengths and weaknesses in their writing and the writing habits that work best to achieve the results they want. While for some, reflection comes naturally, most students must learn to reflect.

Also see:,d.cGE .

Roles of Assessment in School Improvement

When viewing an educational problem, it is always easy to assert that schools should do better. More specifically, here are some of the typical "excuses" for poor student learning:

  1. Blame is assigned to: the Federal Government; a state's educational systems; a school district; an individual school; school administrators and teachers; and so on.
  2. Blame is placed on low standards in courses, low standards in promoting a student to the next higher grade level, and low standards for graduating from elementary school to middle school, from middle school to high school, or from high school.
  3. Blame is assigned to poverty.
  4. Blame is placed on parents.
  5. Blame is placed on the financial system that funds the schools.
  6. Blame is also is placed on the individual students—"if they would only work harder"!

Clearly, there are many scapegoats in this educational problem. Moreover, there are many different proposals to improve the situation. From the highest political levels (No Child Left Behind and other Federal initiatives) to the individual student, parent, and teacher, each stakeholder group has ideas for improving education.

Here is a very broad suggestion. Consider each stakeholder group and what it is doing to improve education. Develop measurements to evaluate the group's success. Include in these measurements self-assessment instruments designed to provide high-quality formative evaluation to students, teachers, school administrators, and others who are directly involved in the educational improvement processes. That is, "the proof is n the pudding." People advocating for specific changes that are designed to improve education should provide high quality research results to support their claims.

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment provides information about how well one is doing. It provides this information in a timely manner, to permit mid-course corrections in longer term projects. It includes information about how to improve on what one is doing.

However, none of this makes any difference unless the stakeholders are interested in learning how to make effective use of formative assessment, regularly engage in formative assessment, and make effective use of the information gained through the formative assessment.

Formative Self-assessment for Students

Consider the idea of formative self-assessment for students. This would require a significant change in the instructional practices of many teachers.

  1. Starting in the earliest grades, help students learn to assess their own work, assess and learn from the work of others, provide constructive feedback to themselves and others, and to take responsible actions based on the assessment information they get from themselves and others. Kindergartners can begin to learn to do metacognition (thinking about their thinking) and reflection on the problem-solving and task accomplishing activities they are carrying out or have carried out.
  2. Provide students with private, confidential, self-administered, high quality, interactive self-assessment instruments. The Web is an excellent vehicle for this. Good quality self-assessment instruments also include (1) good quality analysis of the results, and (2) information about how to make effective use of the analysis. Thus, for example, it is easy to determine one's reading speed and comprehension level through use of assessment instruments available on the Web. Some of these sites provide information about how to increase one's speed and comprehension. An alternative approach is to discuss the results with a teacher and get other types of professional advice on how to deal with performances that are not as good as oneself and others would like for them to be.

Teachers have the responsibility to assist students in learning how to do formative self-assessment. Students can learn how to do this as soon as they start writing, including pre-writing skills. For example, kindergarten students can draw pictures in response to questions or prompts.

In brief, process writing consists of the steps:

  1. Prewriting, beginning with thinking carefully about the topic(s) to be covered.
  2. Drafting.(This may involve using a word processor.)
  3. Revising.(A computer is very useful in revising word processed documents.)
  4. Proof reading, and final editing and polishing the document. (A word processor with spell checking, grammar checking, and desktop publication capabilities is very helpful in this step.)
  5. Publishing.

Students can be introduced to process writing as they first begin to write short documents.

Computers can have a great positive effect on this process. Students as early as first grade can learn to use a word processing format, and proof and edit their work. Of course the teacher would need to model this activity.

A excellent example of this type of instruction is having the class work together to create a story. The teacher sits at a computer keyboard and a projection system displays the results so the whole class can see it. The teacher and students interact, making small and larger corrections and changes, and eventually ending up with a story suited to the cognitive developmental level of the students.
Copies of the story can then be printed out so that students can read the story to themselves and to each other, add pictures to illustrate the story, and take the story home to read to their siblings and parents.

In a group or whole class writing activity, word processing enables the students and teacher to manipulate the text. Children can learn how a spelling checker identifies some words that may be misspelled. Children can make use of a spelling checker. Indeed, for writers of all ages, a spelling checker is a very good aid in improving one's spelling. Similarly, a grammar checker can be a useful aid.

When students are taught to write and then self assess their writing at an early age, they learn to be critical of their own skills. This self assessment, self-critical analysis is a worthwhile lifelong skill.

Web-based Self-assessment Instruments

Imagine a future in which a learner can readily find free high-quality—fair, reliable, valid—self-assessment instruments that cover any topic that the student decides to study. Imagine that such instruments are accompanied by free, high-quality Highly Interactive Intelligent Computer-Assisted Learning materials.

We are a long way from achieving that future. However, there is growing understanding that this is a good way to improve education. A growing collection of Web-based self-assessment instruments is available at More generally, a well-crafted Google search is apt to come up with useful information for a person's areas of interest.

Good Computer-assisted Instruction Materials

Computer-assisted instruction and learning is of steadily growing importance in education. Such systems are steadily growing in their ability to adjust to individual students and to provide useful feedback in a timely and personal manner. This type of instruction has, in essence, built in formative assessment.

A key aspect of "good" computer-assisted instruction systems is that they adjust to the individual needs (differences) of students and provide useful and timely formative assessment.

Over Confidence in Self Assessment

Quoting from How To Know If You Know in Annie Murphy Paul's The Brilliant Report, March, 2013:

Confidence is indisputably a good thing. But over-confidence can spell trouble—especially when we're learning. Research has shown over and over again that we are not very good judges of how effectively we're learning new information, or how accurately we'll remember it. This means we may stop the studying or training process prematurely, before new material is truly absorbed, and it means we may be in for an unpleasant surprise when we realize (at test or performance time) that we didn't know that material as well as we assumed.
This overconfidence shows up in all kinds of settings: among debate teams taking part in a college tournament; among hunters quizzed about their knowledge of firearms just before the start of hunting season; and among medical residents evaluating their patient-interviewing skills, to cite a few examples collected by Cornell University psychologist David Dunning in a study published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science. In that study, Dunning and his coauthors found that the lowest-performing students in a college psychology course overestimated their own performance by an average of 30 percent.

The term Illusory Superiority is described by the Wikipedia as follows:

Illusory superiority is a cognitive bias whereby individuals overestimate their own qualities and abilities, relative to others. This is evident in a variety of areas including intelligence, performance on tasks or tests, and the possession of desirable characteristics or personality traits. It is one of many positive illusions relating to the self, and is a phenomenon studied in social psychology.
Illusory superiority is often referred to as the above average effect. Other terms include superiority bias, leniency error, sense of relative superiority, the primus inter pares effect, and the Lake Wobegon effect (named after Garrison Keillor's fictional town where "all the children are above average"). The phrase "illusory superiority" was first used by Van Yperen and Buunk in 1991.

The cited reference includes a number of examples in which people tend to show illusory superiority.


Richardson, W. (February, 2012). Preparing students to learn without us. ASCD. Retrieved 3/28/2016 from

Author or Authors

The initial version of this document was created by David Moursund.