Assessment and Student Agency in the IB PYP

I recently attended an IB ARMS ( Rocky Mountain Association of IB World Schools) symposium in Denver and found myself in an interesting conversation regarding student agency.  I think that the current buzz word student agency must be recognised for its role of bringing greater awareness to our role of giving the children more pertinent opportunities to use their agency. In other words, providing the children with more authentic chances to use their voice, make choices for themselves, both collectively and as individuals, and to encourage ownership for their own learning. So, let’s look at the area of assessment and how we, as the facilitators, can increase the children’s’ involvement with this part of their learning cycle.

Since this is a lengthy subject, I’m going to break it down into 2 parts. I will also be including free samples of assessment tools. If you’d like to follow along, please add your e mail into the box on the right and you’ll receive the posts directly into your mailbox as they are released.

The Three Roles of Assessment in the IB PYP Classroom

When we consider teaching and learning as a cycle, then assessment is a critical part of that cycle, which if removed, would render the cycle incomplete. There’s the traditional teaching-learning-assessment cycle, which we are all familiar with and take responsibility for, as teachers.  Then there’s, what I like to call, the Inclusive Assessment Cycle, where the children take certain responsibilities for their assessment. The methods & expectations from the cycle would obviously look different according to their age level but the cycle would remain the same.

Sharing the responsibility of assessment with the children, within the teaching-learning cycle, enables greater agency and investment in their progress.

Overall, it enables a greater degree of collaboration with your students in, what is ultimately, their learning experience. It is no surprise that is shares commonalities with the reflection cycle. You can read more about developing reflective thinkers here.

Looking at the functions of the two TRADITIONAL forms of assessment, we are able to identify ways to make it more inclusive. And if we begin to make it all more inclusive, ultimately it becomes its own title of Assessment AS Learning.  

  1. Assessment FOR Learning:
    Commonly known as formative assessment, think along the lines of
    on-going assessment,
    reflection sheets,
    KWL charts,
    the portfolio over time and so on.

Traditionally: Teachers use evidence from these assessments to look at the children’s’ content knowledge, understanding and skills. We use the information from these assessments to inform our planning and the direction of our teaching as the learning progresses.

Reflective Thinking journals are available for upper grades and lower grades, developing those reflective thinking skills necessary for assessment.
Developing reflective thinking for younger grades.

Inclusively: Give the children the opportunity to predict their own outcomes prior to the assessment and then to reflect upon their results afterwards. This can include free choice of working on differentiated materials, keeping track of scores on simple charts or graphs, looking back upon previous assessments and sharing feedback. Keeping those records in their working binders or portfolios allows them free access to look back, review and reflect. If we need to redirect our plans at this stage, then the children are aware of this need.

2. Assessment OF Learning: You probably know this form of assessment as the summative assessment. It is used at the end of a unit of learning, whether it is for a transdisciplinary unit or a single subject unit.

Traditionally: Its job is to create evidence of the students’ cumulative learning and compare their achievement against specific standards. I find that this type of assessment can be subjective and therefore less valid if the activities are not planned effectively. The validity of the activities and the quality of the feedback determine the effectiveness of the assessment, thus thoughtful consideration of the expectations of the assessed activity is crucial.

Inclusively: Encourage the children to use the initial lines of inquiry, key concepts and skills as a starting point for creating a checklist or rubric to show expectations. Discuss what content ( standards) and strategies were included in their learning of the unit and have them come up with their own ideas to show what they know.

3. Assessment AS Learning: And so, we can see that this is where much of the student agency can be seen and encouraged. It is an inclusive assessment method. Think along the lines of~

    • peer assessment,

teacher assessment & feedback

      goal setting.


  • The student will monitor their progress, question their understanding and reflect upon their next steps and goals for themselves. They rely on quality feedback from a variety of sources to add to the effectiveness of this assessment and use the assessment process as a learning experience. It requires responsibility and encourages accountability, enabling them to feel that they are an important part of their own development. And, it takes time to develop their reflective thinking skills. Guide them through it.

Inclusive assessment is a path that I believe increases agency. The implementation of the assessment can be differentiated according to the students’ needs, interests and learning profile. It naturally develops the ATL skills and leads to the student’s voice being a loud and clear part of their PYP learning experience. The evidence gathered can be used to inform parents of their child’s progress from their child’s  own perspective and in alignment with the teacher’s perspective. This is, in itself, valuable information and lends itself naturally to student led conferences.

There are many tools and strateigies for assessment out there and I’d like to look more closely at those tools that will encourage inclusive assessment – assessment AS learning.

In part 2, I will be sharing ways to include the children in their assessment, record evidence and gather assessment data for both teachers and students, covering everything from anecdotal records to creating student-led assessment activities.  Meanwhile, you can read more about ways to implement greater student agency in your classroom here as well as co-planning your unit of inquiry with your kiddos here.  

Looking forward to continuing the chat, ( *update: link to part 2 here*)


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