The Difference Between Assessment Of Learning And Assessment For Learning

by Terry Heick

What is the difference between assessment of learning and assessment for learning?

It boils down to purpose.

In 50 Ways To Measure Understanding, I talked about the purpose of assessment:

Is the assessment for the teacher or the student? If you’re not clear about why you’re assessing (and what you’re going to do with the data the assessment provides) you’re wasting a lot of time, energy, and resources–your own and that of the students.

Think like a doctor: You have to have a plan what you’re going to do with what you learn from the assessment (the data) before you give the assessment–ideally, before you even design the assessment to begin with.

The Difference Between Assessment Of Learning And Assessment For Learning

Assessment for learning is commonly referred to as formative assessment–that is, assessment designed to inform instruction. If we can agree that the purpose of assessment is to provide data to revise planned instruction, then the only type of assessment that’s not ‘assessment for learning’ is ‘assessment of learning,’ commonly referred to as summative assessment.

Assessment is generally broken down into three categories: assessment before instruction (pre-assessment), assessment during instruction (formative assessment), and assessment after instruction (summative assessment). To further complicate matters, it could be argued that pre-assessment is both assessment of and for learning–that is, it assesses ‘prior knowledge’ (as a pre-assessment) and that data is then used to revise planned instruction (making it formative assessment).

In truth, most of this is semantics and a bit confusing. There are many ways to measure understanding and the primary distinction in most K-12 classrooms for most assessments is function: What is the assessment supposed to do? If you’re using the ‘test’ so that you can see what students do and don’t know so that you can more accurately plan future learning lessons and activities, then it’s assessment for learning (even if you’re obviously doing so by performing an assessment of learning).

If instead, the assessment is merely a kind of benchmark to see ‘how well they can do’ and you’re moving on, then it’s primarily an assessment of learning. There is significant overlap between the two; in fact, the same test given in one circumstance would be considered an assessment of learning while in another circumstance be considered an assessment for learning.

In short then, the difference between assessment of learning and assessment for learning is a matter of function and purpose–a matter of ‘who’: assessment of learning is a way to see what the students can do while assessment for learning is a way to see what the teachers should do in response.

You can check out more of TeachThought’s assessment resources for teachers or contact us for assessment professional development, and let us know in the comments if there is a distinction or example you think other teachers could benefit from.

The Difference Between Assessment Of Learning And Assessment For Learning

*previously published at


1 Comment

  1. Slimane

    When a cook taste his/ her soup , it is a formative assessment. But when a client taste that soup, it is then a summative assessment…


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