Is Differentiated Assessment Valid?


exam timetable

Can you have students being assessed in different ways and still make comparisons across a cohort?

In a word – Yes!

Not all students perform well in test conditions – often their reading, writing and quick recall is being tested more than their knowledge, understanding or skills.

By using ‘Backward by Design‘ planning, alternative assessments seem a lot more doable. In summary, this type of planning starts, as you might expect, at the end, asking, “When you have finished this unit, what do you what the pupils to be able to do?”

Make a list of the key skills, facts and understandings (these will become your learning objectives for this unit) and design a rubric* around them. Then, think how a pupil might demonstrate that they’ve achieved each one. This should be done before planning the individual sessions so that when you come to your lessons you can ensure that you are teaching all of the necessary success criteria.

Now, to differentiate all you need to do is add in one extra step. Instead of planning out one task to assess their understanding, develop two (or three if you’re feeling very brave!) and – here’s the important bit:


Let the pupils know what assessment choices they will have from the outset and remind them throughout the unit. The same well thought out assessment rubric* can be used for multiple methods of assessment and should be handed out at the start of the unit.

Here are some ways that a pupil might demonstrate that they have achieved an objective. This list is far from exhaustive – Add your own methods of assessment and what units you’ve used them for in the comments.

  • Written test (this should be written after you have designed the rubric to ensure it can be used in parallel)
  • Multiple choice test
  • Demonstration
  • Presentation
  • Explanation of common misconceptions
  • Create a model or draw an annotated diagram
  • Share their learning – make a video, poster or animation (I’ve had pupils write poems, songs and even perform interpretive dance to demonstrate their understanding)
  • Design a solution to a modern day problem
  • Write their own lesson plans for the unit complete with objectives, success criteria and resources (this is a great one to use to reflect on your own planning!)
  • Discussion or debate (personally, I find this more useful that just a presentation as it allows me to ask probing or clarifying questions)

Don’t forget to Follow this blog for more great ideas.

*Coming soon: How To Write An Effective Rubric (sometimes referred to as Criteria Sheets)


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