three levels of assessments

The three levels of assessments (1) move toward increasingly larger portions of the curriculum, (2) assess learning and provide feedback during longer periods of time, and (3) use increasingly formal representations of domain knowledge (see Table 1). As such, the three different forms of assessment serve very different formative functions for learners and for teachers, designers, and researchers.  

Table 1. Three Levels of Assessment 









Time Scale




Representation of Knowledge

Semiformal and internal, same context

Formal and internal, different context

External, associations from standards

Ideal Assessment

Activity-oriented quizzes

Curriculum-oriented exams

Criterion-referenced tests

Formative Function

Guide discourse and understanding

Formal remediation


Formative Function

Refine the activity (teachers)

Refine the curriculum(teachers and developers)


Compare curricula and promote students (administrators and researchers)

Quizzes. Quizzes are used to informally refine an investigation and ensure that it is appropriately enacted[1]. The quizzes are activity oriented in that they closely align to the specific investigation. Accompanying formative feedback rubrics reinforce the learner’s understanding of the targeted concepts and skills. To facilitate scientific discourse and learning, the rubric explains how the problems were solved without directly stating the correct answer. Learners complete the quizzes individually (not for a grade) and then collaboratively review each quiz with the feedback rubric.

Exams. Exams ensure that learners can transfer that knowledge to new and more formal contexts. Exams are used for assigning grades, guiding remediation for specific students or topics, and formally refining the curriculum. The exams are curriculum oriented because they assess knowledge covered by the entire curriculum. They use a mix of item formats and may include items that are “cherry picked” from other sources. 

Tests. A standards-oriented assessment is necessary if you wish to refine and formally estimate any impact of your activities on external achievement tests. A larger pool of items that are aligned to the targeted standards (but not necessarily the curriculum) is first developed. Items are selected at random from that pool and used to make a test that should be administered independently before and after the curriculum and not shown to the classroom teacher.

If you would like to review some examples of assessment items, you can access them in activity 4-2.

[1] By “enacted” we mean something different from merely “implemented.” Enactment refers to the way the intentions of the instructional designer unfold within the local context and culture of the classroom community. The same implementation method can lead to very different enactments of the same activity. In particular, enactment relates to the way learners and teachers collectively negotiate the interactions and conversations that should occur around the activity.

close window