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Methods of Teaching Assessment

Discover the different methods of assessment a teacher uses in the classroom.
Teacher and secondary students
© Photo by VineStar/

With various methods of assessment, many might question whether assessment can be democratic. First, in most classrooms, there are teachers and students. Many of you will have been in both situations. Teachers can be fair to students and embrace many democratic values, but in the context of the classroom, teachers and students are not equal.

In most classrooms, teachers are there because they have certain knowledge and skills that can help children and young people to gain a critical understanding. And teachers often have the power to assess students’ work. As much as we can try to equalise our relationship with students, it is impossible to be ‘equals’. We are at school for different reasons and we have different positions of power.

Second, most teachers are expected to carry out assessments. This implies grading students’ work often in relation to grading scales. As a result of this, students are positioned in rankings that very often can condition their possibilities in later life. As teachers, we all try to do our best so that all students do their best. But we need to admit that most educational practices do not lead to equal outcomes. At the end of the teaching, some students will reach ‘higher’ positions than others.

Building on these general issues of power, it may not be surprising that some forms of assessment are better at fostering a democratic culture than others. On the one hand, for example, multiple-choice tests are not suitable to promote and assess a democratic culture. This is because in these types of tests learners are unable to demonstrate their full capabilities as their answers must fit certain mark schemes with specific answers being deemed correct or wrong. In multiple-choice tests, it is difficult to say, “It depends …” or “It is not possible to answer this question with a simple yes or no” or “I feel that this is ambiguous – i.e. this can be interpreted in multiple perhaps conflicting ways”. It is precisely this “tolerance of ambiguity” which is actually a key democratic competence for democratic culture. Yet, multiple-choice tests only allow for predefined answers which, by definition, have to be unambiguous. So multiple-choice tests are not suitable. On the other hand, there are various assessment strategies that are well-suited to foster democratic competencies which will be discussed in what follows.

Different Types of Assessment Methods

Various assessment strategies are particularly well suited to assess and promote democratic culture.

According to the Council of Europe, these are

(a) open-ended diaries, reflective journals, and structured autobiographical reflections.

(b) observational assessments

(c) dynamic assessments

(d) project-based assessments

(e) portfolio assessments.

We will only focus on two types of assessment here: portfolio assessment and observational assessment.

Portfolio Assessment

In portfolios, learners can include many different materials and resources. This makes portfolios a personal way of collecting evidence of learning. Portfolios are therefore both suitable to foster a democratic culture (by, for example, giving students a genuine voice in the process of their assessment of their learning) and also for assessing learners’ democratic competences. In aesthetic portfolios, learners may incorporate anything that they find valuable, interesting, or of aesthetic value.

On the other hand, sometimes the content of portfolios needs to be specified. For example, to assess the Competences for Democratic Culture, the Council of Europe (CoE, 2018, p.68) suggests that it might be necessary for teachers to provide guidelines for what materials should be included, as well as the ‘learning outcomes’ and ‘assessment criteria’ that are assessed.

Portfolios can, nevertheless, be adjusted to the specific group of learners and specific educational contexts. Portfolios have many advantages, such as allowing learners to show their proficiency in their subject area, knowing where to go next in their learning, encouraging being critical with their own work, allowing students to work at their own speed as well as reflecting on their own development, and giving learners ownership of assessment (CoE, 2018).

Observational Assessment

In observational assessment, the teacher observes learners’ behaviours (CoE, 2018). This can happen in a range of contexts (e.g. social situations or lessons) with the teacher usually deciding on the exact moments when a learner is to be observed. The teacher then makes notes about the behaviour observed or may audio or video record the learner to assess their competence later. One of the issues might be that observational assessment could lack reliability as one assessor may judge a situation differently from another. It could also be argued that the power imbalance between learners and teacher becomes apparent here because the teacher is “doing the assessing” and not the learners themselves.


Council of Europe. Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Culture: Volume 1 Context, Concepts and Model. Available from [Accessed 20th October 2021]

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Promoting Democracy in the Classroom: A Practical Guide for Teachers

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