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Re: Principles of good Assessment

In general, assessment in education and training is about collecting evidence of learners’ work so that judgements about learners’ achievements, or non-achievements, can be made and decisions arrived at.

The decisions may have to do with the learner

    • Is the learner able to do a certain job?

    • Is the learner able to embark on a particular course of study?

    • What other learning does the learner need to do in order to be deemed qualified?

It may also have to do with the learning programme –

    • What is the quality of the programme?

    • What improvements or changes are needed?

Decisions may need to be made about the education and training system itself, and judgements made in the process can inform such decisions.

The most important use of assessment though, is to judge the performance of learners in education and training so that qualifications may be awarded.

SAQA views assessment as:

‘A structured process for gathering evidence and making judgments about an individual’s performance in relation to registered national standards and qualifications’.

The Principles of good Assessment

As assessment is central to the recognition of achievement, the quality of the assessment is therefore important to provide credible certification. Credibility in assessment is assured through assessment procedures and practices being governed by certain principles.

These principles are:

    • Fairness

    • Validity

    • Reliability

    • Practicability

These principles help to allay the concerns and anxieties of users of assessment results. The learners, parents, employers, learning institutions and the general public want the assurance that the assessment results are credible. This is because these results often affect personal, social and economic progression and mobility in society. In addition, the results provide accurate information about the individual.

The above-mentioned principles are looked at more closely below:


An assessment should not in any way hinder or advantage a learner.

Unfairness in assessment would constitute:

    • Inequality of opportunities, resources and appropriate teaching and learning approaches in terms of acquisition of knowledge, understanding and skills.

    • Bias in respect of ethnicity, gender, age, disability, social class and race in so far as that the assessment approaches, methods, instruments and materials do not take into account these differences.

    • Lack of clarity in terms of what is being assessed.

    • Comparison of learners’ work with other learners, particularly in terms of diversity of

Fairness in assessment would constitute:

    • The above-mentioned influences are taken into account and addressed.

    • The assessment process is clear, transparent and available to all learners.

    • Appeal mechanisms and re-assessments are accessible to all learners.


Validity in assessment refers to measuring what it says it is measuring, be it knowledge, understanding, subject content, skills, information, behaviours, etc.

Validity in assessment would constitute:

    • Assessment procedures, methods, instruments and materials have to match what is being assessed.

For example:

A learner is assessed on research skills. However, a learner’s ability to write may not necessarily provide evidence that the learner has the ability to do research.

The assessment must assess the learner’s ability to perform. In this case, the learner should be assessed on the various activities of the stages of research, namely –

    • Formulation of the research question

    • Literature review

    • Development of research instruments

    • Collection of data

    • Analysis of data and writing a report

Therefore, the assessment should stay within the parameters of what is required – not less than the unit standard or qualification, nor more than the unit standard or qualification.

In order to achieve validity in the assessment, assessors should:

    • State clearly what outcome(s) is/are being assessed

    • Use an appropriate type or source of evidence

    • Use an appropriate method of assessment

    • Select an appropriate instrument of assessment


When designing an assessment, the assessor must look at the specific outcome(s), the assessment criteria and the range so as to determine the kind and amount of evidence required from the learner.

The kind and amount of evidence will also determine the assessment method and instruments to be selected and used.

The assessment criteria, the range, contexts and underpinning knowledge indicated in the unit standard, will inform these decisions.


Reliability in assessment is about consistency. Consistency refers to the same judgements being made in the same, or similar contexts each time a particular assessment for specified stated intentions is administered.

Assessment results should not be perceived to have been influenced by variables such as:

    Assessor bias in terms of the learner’s gender, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, religion, like/dislike, appearance and such like

    • Different assessors interpreting unit standards or qualifications inconsistently

    • Different assessors applying different standards

    Assessor stress and fatigue

    • Insufficient evidence gathered

    Assessor assumptions about the learner, based on previous (good or bad) performance

To avoid such variance in judgement (results), assessments should ensure that each time an assessment is administered, the same or similar conditions prevail. Also, that the procedures, methods, instruments and practices are the same or similar.

In addition:

    • Assessors should be trained and competent in administering assessments

    • Assessors should give clear, consistent and unambiguous instructions

    • Assessment criteria and guidelines for unit standards and qualifications should be adhered to

    • Assessors should meet and talk to each other

    • Assessors should be subject experts in their learning field(s)

    • Where possible, more than one assessor should be involved in the assessment of one learner

    • Assessors should use checklists, or other objective forms of assessment, in addition to other assessment instruments

    • Internal and external moderation procedures for assessment should be in place

    • Clear and systematic recording procedures should be in place


Practicability refers to ensuring that assessments take into account the available financial resources, facilities, equipment and time. Assessments that require elaborate arrangements for equipment and facilities, as well as being costly, will make the assessment system fail.


Where the ideal assessment require specialized equipment and facilities, such assessment could be done by means of a simulation or by means of collecting evidence in the workplace.

To conclude:


The critical overriding principle of assessment is that of ethics.

Because the results of an assessment can lead to an increase in pay, improved career prospects and the like, the principles of assessment should be applied ethically and responsibly.

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Originally posted 2013-09-11 15:10:53. Republished by Blog Post Promoter