Glossary of Assessment Terms


    Assessment is the process of gathering, describing, or quantifying information about performance.


    Accommodations and Adaptations are modifications in the way assessments are designed or administered so that students with disabilities and limited English proficient students can be included in the assessment. Assessment accommodations or adaptations might include Braille forms for blind students or tests in native languages for students whose primary language is other than English. (CMU)

    Analytic Scoring. Evaluating student work across multiple dimensions of performance rather than from an overall impression (holistic scoring). In analytic scoring, individual scores for each dimension are scored and reported. For example, analytic scoring of a history essay might include scores of the following dimensions: use of prior knowledge, application of principles, use of original source material to support a point of view, and composition. An overall impression of quality may be included in analytic scoring. (CMU)

    Anchors are samples of student work that exemplify a specific level of performance. Raters use anchors to score student work, usually comparing the student performance to the anchor. For example, if student work were being scored on a scale of 1-5, there would typically be anchors (previously scored student work), exemplifying each point on the scale. (CMU)

    Benchmarks are detailed descriptions of a specific level of student performance expected of students at particular ages, grades, or development levels. Benchmarks are often represented by samples of student work. A set of benchmarks can be used as "checkpoints" to monitor progress toward meeting performance goals within and across grade levels. (CMU)

    Criteria are guidelines, rules, characteristics, or dimensions that are used to judge the quality of student performance. Criteria indicate what we value in student responses, products or performances. They may be holistic, analytic, general, or specific. Scoring rubrics are based on criteria and define what the criteria mean and how they are used.

    Criterion-Referenced Assessments are assessments in which an individual's performance is compared to a specific learning objective or performance standard and not to the performance of other students. Criterion-referenced assessment tells us how well students are performing on specific goals or standards rather that just telling how their performance compares to a norm group of students nationally or locally. In criterion-referenced assessments, it is possible that none, or all, of the examinees will reach a particular goal or performance standard. (CMU)

    Dimensions are desired knowledge or skills measured in an assessment and usually represented in a scoring rubric. For example, a measurement of student teamwork skills on a performance assessment might include six dimensions: adaptability (recognizing problems and responding appropriately), coordination (organizing team activities to complete a task on time), decision making (using available information to make decisions), interpersonal (interacting cooperatively with other team members), leadership (providing direction for the team), and communication (clearly and accurately exchanging information between team members). (CMU)

    Formative assessment refers to the gathering of information or data about student learning during a course or program that is used to guide improvements in teaching and learning. Formative assessment activities are usually low-stakes or no-stakes; they do not contribute substantially to the final evaluation or grade of the student or may not even be assessed at the individual student level. (CRESST)

    High-stakes tests are any tests used to make important decisions about students, educators, schools, or districts, most commonly for the purpose of accountability—i.e., the attempt by federal, state, or local government agencies and school administrators to ensure that students are enrolled in effective schools and being taught by effective teachers. In general, “high stakes” means that test scores are used to determine punishments (such as sanctions, penalties, funding reductions, negative publicity), accolades (awards, public celebration, positive publicity), advancement (grade promotion or graduation for students), or compensation (salary increases or bonuses for administrators and teachers). (EdReform)

    Holistic Scoring Is a system of evaluating student work in which the score is based on an overall impression of student performance rather than multiple dimensions of performance.  (CMU)

    Interim assessment is a form of assessment that educators use to (1) evaluate where students are in their learning progress and (2) determine whether they are on track to performing well on future assessments.  Interim assessments are usually administered periodically during a course or school year (for example, every six or eight weeks) and separately from the process of instructing students. (EdReform)

    Items are individual questions or exercises in an assessment or evaluative instrument. (CMU)

    Local Assessments are formal sets of assessments used by schools or districts to meet their own needs. 

    Norm-Referenced Assessments compare student performance or performances to a larger group. Usually the larger group or "norm group" is a national sample representing a wide and diverse cross-section of students. Students, schools, districts, and even states are compared or rank-ordered in relation to the norm group. The purpose of a norm-referenced assessment is usually to sort students and not to measure achievement towards some criterion of performance. (CMU)

    On-Demand Assessments take place at a predetermined time and place, usually under uniform conditions for all students being assessed. The SAT, district and state tests, and most in-class unit tests and final exams are examples of on-demand assessments. (CMU)

    Open Response Questions (or open-ended response) is a question that requires students to demonstrate content knowledge and to apply that knowledge to a particular situation. 

    Performance Assessment requires students to demonstrate that they have mastered a set of skills by generating a completing a complex task.  Examples of performance assessments include portfolios, designing and implementing an investigation, playing a musical instrument, performing a dance routine, demonstrating proficient use of a piece of equipment, reflective journals, written and oral products and portfolios that demonstrate they have learned what they were intended to learn.  Authentic assessment requires students to actively accomplish complex and significant tasks, integrating prior knowledge, recent learning, and relevant skills.

    Portfolio-based assessments are collections of academic work—assignments, lab results, writing samples, speeches, art projects, websites, etc.—that are compiled by students and assessed by teachers in consistent ways. Portfolio-based assessments are often used to evaluate a “body of knowledge”—i.e., the acquisition of diverse knowledge and skills over a period of time. Portfolio materials can be collected in physical or digital formats. (EdReform)

    Pre-assessments are administered before students begin a lesson, unit, course, or academic program. Students are not necessarily expected to know most, or even any, of the material evaluated by pre-assessments—they are generally used to establish a baseline against which educators measure learning progress over the duration of a program, course, or instructional period. (EdReform)

    Rubrics are scoring tools that explicitly represent the performance expectations for an assignment or piece of work. A rubric divides the assigned work into component parts and provides clear descriptions of the characteristics of the work associated with each component, at varying levels of mastery. Rubrics can be used for a wide array of assignments: papers, projects, oral presentations, artistic performances, group projects, etc. Rubrics can be used as scoring or grading guides, to provide formative feedback to support and guide ongoing learning efforts, or both. (CRESST)

    Scoring Guide:  see Rubrics

    Screening assessments are used to determine whether students may need specialized assistance or services, or whether they are ready to begin a course, grade level, or academic program. Screening assessments may take a wide variety of forms in educational settings, and they may be developmental, physical, cognitive, or academic. A preschool screening test, for example, may be used to determine whether a young child is physically, emotionally, socially, and intellectually ready to begin preschool, while other screening tests may be used to evaluate health, learning disabilities, and other things. (EdReform)

    Selected Response Questions (or Multiple Choice)  pose a question and provide three or more possible answers from which students choose.

    Standards are concise, written descriptions of what students are expected to know and be able to do at a specific stage of their education.  Learning standards describe educational objectives – what students should have learned by the end of a course, grade level, or grade span – but they do not describe any particular curriculum, instructional practice or assessment.  (EdReform)

    Student self-assessment is a process in which students reflect on and evaluate the quality of their work and their progress towards specific outcomes.

    Student-led conferences:  see Three-Way Conferences

    Summative Assessments are used to evaluate student learning at the conclusion of a specific instructional period—typically at the end of a unit, course, semester, program, or school year. Summative assessments are graded tests, assignments, or projects that are used to determine whether students have learned what they were expected to learn during the defined instructional period. (EdReform)

    Tasks are activities, exercises, or questions requiring students to solve a specific problem or demonstrate knowledge of specific topics or processes. (CMU)

    Three-Way Conferences are meetings between the teacher, parent/guardian, and student to confer about the student's growth and performance. The focus is on samples of student work which represent significant aspects of learning and growth. The student leads the conference by choosing the work samples and discussing the strengths and weaknesses the work presents.


    Definitions in this glossary are either directly quoted or informed by: