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  • Writer's pictureTara O'Brien

Can Assessment Motivate Students?

Assessment is used for two primary reasons: to obtain evidence to inform decisions related to learning (on multiple levels) and to inform and motivate students. To meet the need for instructional decision-making, assessment must be designed for purpose, include clear definitions for achievement, and yield dependable results (Stiggins, 2008). Meeting the second need related to student motivation to learn, is far more complex as students respond to assessment in different ways.

While some students are motivated by assessment and try their best, others experience test anxiety and/or do not perform. Years of cumulative "failure" or "lack of progress" as experienced or felt by a student can result in lack of confidence and reduced drive to persevere in school (Stiggins, 2008).

"If society wants all students to meet standards,

then all students must believe they can meet those standards;

they all must be confident enough to be willing to take the risk of trying"

(Stiggins, 2008, p. 8).

Stiggins (2008) advocates for a focus on the development of student self-efficacy, a shift in classroom environment, and clearer communication about what assessment results mean in terms of student academic goals. We need to develop a balanced system of assessment including formative and summative classroom-based assessment as well as standardized testing. Each level includes purpose-developed assessment meant to inform decisions and verify learning. The levels include classroom level, program level, and institution and policy level. Each level of assessment serves the needs of different stakeholders in decision-making and verification processes, but the most important stakeholder must be the students themselves (Stiggins, 2008).

Assessments must inform students about the progress they have made and the progress that they should make in the future (Stiggins, 2008). How we measure the quality of assessment has changed. Now, the quality of an assessment must be measured by it's reliability in measuring progress towards standards and it's positive impacts on student learning (Stiggins, 2008). Therefore assessment results must do more than simply describe what a student knows against criterion-referenced information, they must also inform the student about how they can improve.

Student assessment for learning on the classroom level can increase student academic achievement, confidence, and motivation to learn (Stiggins, 2008). Assessment for learning is built into instruction and provides students with information about what they know and what they are learning. This type of assessment is regular and ongoing, empowers students, and counts them as partners in the assessment process (Stiggins, 2008). Rather than being subjects of an assessment, students become partners in assessment.


Stiggins, R. (2008). A call for the development of balanced assessment systems. Assessment Training Institute.

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