Skip to main content
California Department of Education Logo


A means to improve instruction and program design.

Skip QSF Main Navigation

Assessment is the ongoing process of gathering evidence of what each student actually knows, understands, and can do. Comprehensive assessment approaches include a combination of formal and informal assessments—formative, interim, and summative. An effective assessment system can be used to evaluate the extent to which students are learning and thriving based on state standards and local goals. Assessment results can be used to suggest which curriculum goals need to be addressed, how instructional strategies should be modified, and whether or not a particular form of instruction has been successful.

QSF LogoResources


These tools are provided as resources to support implementation of the Quality Schooling Framework (QSF). Their use is not intended as a requirement for schools and districts.

  • Formative Assessment: An Enabler of Learning External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)
    Contains Margaret Heritage’s explanation about formative assessment and promotes formative assessment as “a powerful day-to-day tool” for teachers and students to improve the quality of teaching and learning. This article also explains how classroom climate and the role of the teacher and students all play a significant part in making formative assessment successful.
  • California Assessment of Students Performance and Progress (CAASPP) System
    Visit this California Department of Education (CDE) Web site to view the most current information about California statewide assessments. Find resources for the communication to stakeholders including communication toolkit and videos. Subscribe to the e-mail list to receive regular updates.
  • CAASPP Portal External link opens in new window or tab.
    Visit this portal for the information of CAASPP test administration, training materials, and access to the Test Operations Management System, Practice & Training Tests, Smarter Balanced Digital Library, and etc. Login credentials are required for the access to the test and Digital Library but not to the information and training materials. California Kindergarten through Grade Twlve educators may obtain their login credentials through their local education agency’s CAASPP coordinators.
  • Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium External link opens in new window or tab.
    Understand what and how students are being tested with these and many other useful documents to guide curriculum implementing and instructional strategy planning in your schools and districts.


  • Using Student Achievement Data to Support Instructional Decision Making External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)
    The goal of this practice guide is to formulate specific and coherent evidence-based recommendations for use by educators and education administrators to create the organizational conditions necessary to make decisions using student achievement data in classrooms, schools, and districts. The guide provides practical, clear information on critical topics related to data-based decision making and is based on the best available evidence as judged by the panel.
  • Using Student Achievement Data to Support Instructional Decision Making External link opens in new window or tab.
    The guide provides recommendations for creating the organizational and technological conditions that foster effective data use. Each recommendation describes action steps for implementation, as well as suggestions for addressing obstacles that may impede progress. In adopting this framework, educators will be best served by implementing the recommendations in this guide together rather than individually.
  • Using Formative Assessment to Improve Student Achievement in the Core Content Areas External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)
    A number of states are using or exploring the use of formative assessment in their districts and schools to improve learning outcomes for students.

Excerpted from CDE’s External Linking Policy: The CDE is providing these external links only as a convenience, and the inclusion of any external link does not imply endorsement by the CDE or any association with the sites' operators.


“Assessment is an integral part of a cycle of standards, curriculum, and instruction that forms an ongoing feedback loop to provide desired information to teachers, parents, and students.” (1)

While standards describe what students are expected to know, understand, and be able to do, assessment is the ongoing process of gathering evidence from multiple sources to determine what each student actually knows, understands, and can demonstrate. Assessment results are then used to improve instruction and program design. An effective assessment system will evaluate a student's academic progress, but also may include measures that look at other aspects of a child’s educational development. It provides valid, reliable, and fair data to support high-quality teaching and learning activities for teachers, parents, and students. Assessments help teachers and leaders make informed decisions about which curricular goals or strategies need to be strengthened, how instructional strategies can be modified or expanded depending on what students are understanding or misunderstanding in the course of instruction, and whether or not a particular sequence of instruction has been successful. (2) They also provide information about how to focus and design professional learning activities:

When assessment items capture student mastery of the goals identified through standards, they can help teachers more deeply understand what those goals are, and can therefore act as a catalyst for building teacher capacity and changing instruction. Moreover, student responses to assessment items provide teachers with feedback on student performance that can inform their instructional decisions. (3)

Formative assessment tools and processes embedded in instruction provide teachers and pupils with timely feedback to guide shifts in instruction and learning. Effective assessment processes provide immediate, actionable data about classroom learning to help teachers adjust their teaching practices. Formative tools help teachers and students gauge learning, which can lead to more targeted student questions and learning activities. Teachers can use formative assessment tools to provide corrective feedback, modify their instruction, or identify areas where additional instruction and other supports are needed.

Interim assessments are typically administered formally at a school- or district-wide level at regular intervals throughout the school year. They provide information for teachers that can be aggregated and reported at a broader level for the purposes of predicting students’ ability to succeed on a summative assessment, providing data on the impact of specific programs or instructional practices, or diagnosing gaps in a student’s learning.

Summative assessments are conducted at the end of a specific timeframe, often at the end of a semester or school year. They are designed to evaluate students’ performance against a defined set of content standards and are often highly structured.

Teachers should play a critical role in developing and scoring local assessments. When teachers are involved in this process, they better understand the nature of different types of assessment so they can teach in a manner that is consistent with the intent of the standards. This also allows them to become more skilled in their own assessment practices. (4)


A report from the National Research Council describes the importance of assessment as follows: “Educational assessment seeks to determine how well students are learning and is an integrated part of the quest for improved education. It provides feedback to students, educators, parents, policymakers, and the public about the effectiveness of educational services.” (1) Ultimately, assessments are important because they provide information that can be used to ensure that all students achieve at comparably high levels.

Researchers Black and William found that using formative assessment in the classroom improves student learning, with the most notable gains among low-performing students. (2) The results show that formative assessment helps to narrow achievement gaps and raise overall performance. This is consistent with a number of other studies that point to student gains supported by formative assessments.


A 2001 National Research Council report called Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Educational Assessment, highlighted three key dimensions of effective assessment:

  • Cognition: a model for how students think and learn within the particular content area being assessed,
  • Observations: students’ cognition-based tasks or activities that provide evidence of their learning, and
  • Interpretations: the process or methods by which educators make sense of the evidence yielded through assessment. (1)

Assessment Triangle: Three Dimensions of Effective Assessment Skip Assessment Triangle Observation: A set of specifications for assessment tasks that will elicit illuminating responses from students. Interpretation: The methods and analytic tools used to make sense of and reason from the assessment observations/evidence. Cognition: Beliefs about how humans represent information and develop competence in a particular academic domain.

By focusing on the relationships among the learning model for a given content area (Cognition), assessment methods based on that learning model (Observation), and inferences, educators can make instructional decisions based on the observations made about what students truly know and can do (Interpretation). (2) The assessment triangle above serves as the foundation for the work of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced), tasked with developing an assessment system and tools based on the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English language arts (ELA)/literacy and mathematics. Smarter Balanced is committed to ensuring that all students, regardless of subgroup status, have the opportunity to learn and demonstrate their knowledge of CCSS content. The consortium is currently developing a balanced set of measures and tools—formative, interim, and summative—that are designed to yield student data to inform instruction, interventions, and professional development and to accurately measure each student’s progress.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment System is included in the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) System. The CAASPP assessment system is comprised of a variety of assessment instruments, including:

  • The Smarter Balanced Assessment System
  • Grade-level California Standards Tests, the California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA), and the California Modified Assessment in science for grades five, eight, and ten
  • CAPA for ELA and mathematics in grades two through eleven
  • The Early Assessment Program for grade eleven
  • Standards-based tests in Spanish (optional for local educational agencies)

In a 2013 report on transitioning to a new “future” assessment system, the California Department of Education provided as guiding principles the following components of a high-quality assessment system:

  • Conform to rigorous industry standards for test development.
  • Incorporate multiple methods for measuring student achievement.
  • Use resources efficiently and effectively.
  • Provide for inclusion of all students.
  • Provide readily available and understandable information on the assessment system for parents, teachers, schools, and the public.
  • Use assessments for multiple purposes.
Questions: Quality Schooling Framework | | 916-319-0836 
Last Reviewed: Tuesday, April 23, 2024
Related Content
  • Connecting with Stakeholders
    This strand of videos discusses the communication and relational factors essential to the success of any initiative.
  • Introduction to the QSF
    A conceptual model for gauging and supporting a school's effectiveness
  • Processes for Change
    This series of videos provides overviews about managing and implementing change at a broader level to make any specific strategies successful so that students learn and thrive.
  • QSF Videos
    The Quality Schooling Framework (QSF) videos are designed to provide process recommendations for organizational leaders and educational partners who wish to enact critical change--this is the 'how' of implementing positive organizational change.
Trending in Assessment
  • Assessment (this page)
Recently Posted in Assessment
No items posted in the last 60 days.