Assessment is the tail that wags the curriculum dog (Hargreaves, 1989). Often, we view assessment as something that follows learning, that comes after instruction (Burgess and Adams, 1985). However, as Broadfoot (1979) argues, assessment commonly has a ‘backwash’ effect on the curriculum and on the processes of teaching and learning that go on within it. Assessment therefore operationalizes our educational goals as much as it reflects them (Murphy and Torrance, 1988). Any changes in educational assessment should, in this sense, be planned in accordance with changes being proposed for curriculum. Curriculum and assessment reform should be undertaken together, with planned coherence. Otherwise assessment reform will simply shape the curriculum by default (Hargreaves, 1989).
If our educational goals promote a broad range of outcomes and recognize a wide variety of educational achievements, these goals should be reflected in an equally broad assessment policy (Leithwood et al, 1988). Given the power of assessment to shape curriculum, teaching and learning, imbalances in assessment will likely create imbalances in curriculum, teaching and learning. Some types of assessment like written examinations and standardized testing are commonly criticized for their negative effects on curriculum, teaching and learning (for example, Hargreaves, 1982; Haney and Madaus, 1989). This has led some to advocate abolishing particular assessment strategies which are seen to have these effects (for example, Whitty, 1985). But assessment overall cannot be abolished. It is a constitutive part of teaching. Teachers assess all the time. They monitor the progress and response of their students continually in the ongoing flow of classroom events. Scanning for facial expressions, checking students’ work, asking questions to test understanding—teachers undertake this kind of informal assessment as a routine part of their job (Jackson, 1988). Without it, they would scarcely be teaching at all. Assessment cannot be abolished, but it can be reformed. In view of our earlier argument, it seems sensible to suggest that the driving force behind assessment reform should be the goal of meeting our curriculum and teaching objectives more effectively.
Assessment fulfills many purposes. These include accountability, certification, diagnosis and student motivation. No single assessment strategy (for example, standardized tests or portfolios), can meet all these purposes (Haney, 1991; Hargreaves, 1989; Broadfoot, 1979). Some assessment strategies, like