Five basics of baseline assessment

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Assessment is the bridge between teaching and learning. When done well, assessment can drive improvement, shape behaviours and maximise student learning. Good assessment means good responsive teaching, and we should use assessments that meet where students are in their learning.

Baseline assessments help teachers and students find out what the student already knows and can do and then help the teacher make decisions about what the best next steps might be.

Baseline assessments:

1. Are the beginning of the journey

Using a baseline assessment is the beginning of a journey. Teachers know that it is particularly important to get to know students quickly at key turning points such as:

    • At the beginning of a period of study
    • At transition points such as a change of curriculum, change of course, a new school, a new year
    • After gaps in learning
    • When other evidence is missing.

Take-aways for teachers:

Unless this newly acquired insight into your new students is quickly followed, the value of a baseline assessment may be diminished. Tymms et al (2018) highlight the value of early intervention.

2. Support teaching and learning

Teachers understand that students have different starting points for entering and moving through the curriculum.  A good baseline assessment can show you a student’s starting point and generate feedback for both learners and teachers. The feedback should highlight successes, be integral to future teaching and learning, help teachers ask the right questions, and make the best decisions.

Take-aways for teachers:

Does your baseline assessment

    • Support learners?
    • Drive instruction?
    • Reveal student strengths and weaknesses?

3. Influence teachers’ expectations 

‘Faulty’ or inaccurate teacher expectations have been found to be more likely to occur in the earlier years, at the beginning of a school year, and at times of school transitions - i.e. when there has been no time for teachers to really get to know their students and establish the relationship that is so important in understanding how best to guide them on their learning journey.

Research also shows that teachers’ expectations of students make a difference and that student motivation and learning outcomes are affected when teachers express high expectations.

Take-aways for teachers:

    • By indicating student ability early on, baseline assessments may help to clarify and adjust expectations on an individual basis. Teachers can think of student potential as an iceberg—most of it hidden from view—and act upon the belief that high expectations and high-quality support will reveal what lies beneath. 

4. Support goal setting 

A baseline assessment is not a high-stakes test with a focus on the ‘score’ at the end of it. Rather, it focuses on the student’s starting point and helps to strategically set goals and targets that will drive student motivation and future teaching and learning.

Take-aways for teachers:

Research shows that students need to be provided with many opportunities to set short-term, specific, and moderately difficult goals in their classroom work. Short-term goals are more motivating than long-term because it is easier to judge progress toward proximal goals.

5. Build a bigger picture

No single piece of data can tell the whole story of a student’s progress and performance, or about the quality of teaching they are receiving. Using baseline data in conjunction with other data points such as teachers’ observations, prior attainment and end of unit, term or year grades, builds a clearer picture.

Take-aways for teachers:

Data won’t give you all the answers, but it can be used to ask better questions. Understanding how to use data is important. It improves your understanding of assessment, what it can tell you, how it can inform your teaching and ultimately improve learning in your classroom.


A baseline assessment isn't intended to measure everything a student knows and can do but a sample of that knowledge. A baseline assessment can give you the insight it isn’t possible to find out in any other way and then helps you to make better choices for your students.


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