Key assessment practices that impact student performance

This article is part one of the John Hattie series of articles.

Assessment is a cyclical process. From formative assessment during learning time, to summative assessment at the end of term, a considerable amount of teacher and student time is allocated to reviewing progress. It is crucial to make sure the assessment strategies you use have an impact.

Many teachers will know of the work of John Hattie, globally renowned professor of education, and the current Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne.

His groundbreaking research, Visible Learning, was first released in 2009. The study focuses on the impact of what Hattie refers to as effects on student achievement. These include different assessment strategies, along with other factors.

The findings shed light on how effective certain assessment strategies are, and which can have the most impact on student achievement. When time for teaching curriculum content is limited, his research could help to both save time and to shape assessment practices for the better.

In this series on Hattie’s research, we are looking at the assessment strategies he outlines as having the highest impact on student achievement.


Hattie’s groundbreaking study

Hattie’s study, Visible Learning, reviewed effects in six areas relating to learning: student, home, school, curricula, teacher, teaching and learning approaches and the classroom.

The study provides a list of effects within the six areas, showing the positive or negative impact they have on student achievement. Impact is measured by effect size. Effect size is measured by the strength of the relationship between the effect and student achievement.

The original list included 138 effects, which has since been revised to 195. Hattie explains that while there were some additional effects to add, the majority of effect sizes have remained constant over time.

He found that the key to making a difference to students is to make teaching and learning visible, or to reveal the teaching process to students. Hattie defines ‘visible learners’ as those who can articulate what they are learning.

While best practice for assessment is controversial amongst academics, Hattie believes that, when used appropriately, tests can be a great tool for teachers and students. He believes that tests can reveal what impact teaching has had on students, and which students it has impacted.

No matter where you align yourself in the debate, testing is an integral part of the education system in Australia, and Hattie’s research offers useful insights. 


Assessment strategies with the greatest effect size

Here, we list five strategies linked to assessment outlined in Visible Learning with the greatest effect sizes. You can use them to guide your practice, or to improve efficiency when giving students feedback.


1. Self-reported grades or ‘student expectations’

This comes out at the top of the list for effect size. It involves asking the students the grade they think they will achieve on a trial exam or topic test.Hattie’s research shows that if a student expects to receive a higher grade, they are more likely to do so, and the same applies for those who expect a lower grade.


2. Teacher estimates of achievement

This includes giving out predicted grades, but can go further. How teachers communicate with students about their performance in a subject also has an impact. The opinions of teachers do matter to students, so it is worth taking the time to praise and encourage them.


3. Cognitive task analysis

Common practice when planning is to consider the types of thinking skills different activities will entail. Developing cognitive task analysis skills involves teaching students how to identify which cognitive skills they will need to complete a task or to answer an exam question.


4. Deliberate practice

Spending time on practice tests and giving back results will only get students so far. Teachers need to take steps to deliberately improve student performance using the results from testing, such as teaching the specific skills needed to answer a difficult problem, making a success criteria explicit, or giving feedback to explain where the student needs to focus revision.

For more information, you can download the full chart explaining Hattie’s findings


Neap has been active in the education community for over 30 years, with an established reputation for producing high quality materials for VCE and HSC. We are driven to deliver assessment materials that teachers can trust for their accuracy, level of complexity and adherence to the curriculum. To view Neap’s range of teacher resources, click here.

This article is authored by Sophia Wichtowska, an experienced writer and English teacher with a Masters in Education from the University of Cambridge. She enjoys writing about learning and passing on knowledge to others.