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Assessment in PE

Ongoing and Collaborative

Assessment can be scary for some educators (and students). Some educators have differing ideas of what constitutes assessments. Some use different language/terms within their teaching team to represent different forms of assessments which can be confusing at team meetings (and day-to-day for students).

Assessment in PE has its difficulties. The traditional assessments used in PE are very problematic.

In this blog, I will communicate what is included within the term "assessment." Additionally, I will break down some research on what assessment has looked like in the past in PE and where we are moving with assessment in PE. Lastly, I will provide some tips to help with assessing effectively in PE.

What is assessment?

Assessment provides evidence to inform learning and teaching. CAST (2011, p. 8) defines assessment as, "the process of gathering information about a learner's performance using a variety of methods and materials in order to determine learners' knowledge, skills, and motivation for the purpose of making informed educational decisions." Assessment should provide evidence to find out where each student is toward selected targets in order to help student's next steps (Jung, 2023).

Formative/Summative; Assessment for/of Learning

Sometimes, formative assessment is a phrase/term used as a substitute for assessment for learning while summative assessment is often referred to as assessment of learning.

For the purpose of this blog (which may be confusing as the literature is scattered with researchers who use one or the other), I will be using the language assessment for learning and formative assessment interchangeably. I will also be using assessment of learning and summative assessment interchangeably.

According to Chng & Lund (2018), assessment for learning is the process of gathering evidence to use to decide, by both teachers and students, where students are in their learning, where they need to go, and how they might get there. Formative assessment becomes assessment for learning only when the learners are included in the learning process and they help make decisions on next steps which helps students adjust their own learning. Assessment for learning helps answer, "where to next?" (Hattie & Clarke, 2020). This moves the learners forward and uses students as an instructional resource for one another; it is ongoing and collaborative. Assessment for learning and formative assessments are linked to what will be eventually be used for assessment of learning or a summative assessment (if the unit includes this type of assessment).

Summative assessments and assessment of learning often takes place at the end of a unit.

This helps answer, "how did it go?" (Hattie & Clarke, 2020). Assessment of learning identifies what the student has learned or not learned.

Jung (2023) suggests that during a school year there is a formative period of time and summative points in time. The entire school year is the formative period which is focused on building mastery. A small portion of the year happens only when we need to report learning - often at the end of reporting periods. This is where teachers need to summarize where each student is on a set of standards and competencies.

Dimensions of Assessment

Assessment is happening all of the time. No, this doesn't mean we are documenting learning all the time. That would be overwhelming and unnecessary. The IBO (2019) communicates four dimensions of assessment:

1) Monitoring - This occurs frequently (daily). This happens through questionning, observing, reflecting, and discussing. Students might ask, "How am I doing?". Teachers can feedforward student learning by providing them information on where they will go next in their learning.

2) Documenting - This is the evidence of learning that is shared with others to make learning visible. This includes learning stories and learning logs. Tools such as checklists, rubrics, anecdotal records, and portfolios can be used to document learning.

3) Measuring - This includes the gathering of data on achievement and progress. Remember that not all learning needs to be measured. This includes standardized tests; it is not uncommon to see teachers measuring learning (?) using fitness tests (e.g. beep test). In a PE context, the TGMD-3 is a norm-referenced test used to identify children and their gross motor skills (locomotor and manipulative).

4) Reporting - This informs the community about the learning that has happened/is happening. This includes student-led conferences, teacher-led conferences, three-way conferences (student, teacher, and family), and report cards.

Most of the assessment that occurs is monitoring. It is happening all the time.


Feedback is one of the most effective teaching practices and should form the core of assessment (IBO, 2019). Valuable feedback provided to students is helping the child improve (Hattie & Clarke, 2020). The greatest motivational benefits, as outlined by Hattie and Clarke (2020), come from focusing feedback on the following:

1) Quality of child's work (not comparing to others)

2) Specificity. Providing specific ways that the student's work can be improved.

3) Communicate improvements that the students has made compared to their previous work.

Students are more likely to perform better when they receive feedback that is specific and shows the gap between where they are now and where they are going (Jung, 2023). The feedback we provide students should be encouraging, actionable, and delivered in a timely manner (William, 2016).

Feedback given to students needs to be used by students otherwise it is not effective

(Jung, 2023).

Assessment in PE

According to AIESEP (2019), the quality of assessment used in PE is troubling. Below are some of the issues PE has traditionally, and sometimes currently, faced (faces) with assessment.

  • It is not uncommon for PE teachers to have product-oriented assessments (Lopez-Pastor et al., 2013; Moura et al., 2020; & Penney et al., 2009) that focus on assigning "grades" based on isolated physical skills and/or fitness scores.

  • There is also a trend, especially in the past, for PE teachers to have assessments based on student management (Matanin & Tannehill, 1994; Moura et al., 2020; & Penney et al., 2009). This includes focussing assessment NOT on student learning which includes: attendance, effort, participation, and coming to class in the "correct" PE kit.

  • Students often do not know the criteria on which they are being assessed (Moura et al., 2020). There is a lack of clarity on what is expected and sometimes when criteria is shared with students, it is at the last minute.

  • Assessments can have little or no student involvement (Moura et al., 2020). Students are not included in the assessment process. The students are omitted from co-constructing rubrics and criteria. There is little or no emphasis on student agency and teachers select how students will provide evidence of their learning.

  • Sadly, some teachers will assess based on comparing performance to other students. For example, the top 3 students who made the most free throws out of 20 get the highest grade. While the bottom 3 students who made least free throws get the lowest. Assessments should be focused on an individual's progress rather than performance in relation to others (IBO, 2019).

  • Summative, or assessment of learning, can be the only assessments used during a PE experience. Veal (1988) found that 54% of assessments, in secondary PE, were summative. Formative assessments composed of only 30% thus suggesting that formative assessments weren't happening! Moura et al. (2020) reported that an increased focus on formative assessments has a positive impact on teaching and learning in PE.

  • Assessments based on scores from fitness testing (Lopez-Pastor et al., 2013; Moura et al., 2022; Penney et al., 2009). Students often do not see fitness testing as relevant and believe they do not learn anything from the testing (Alfrey, 2023). PE programming does not have the time to providing the training stimulus to improve an individual's fitness (Naughton et al., 2006). If you want to read about fitness and fitness assessments, check out a past blog here.

Tips for Assessment in PE

Certainly there are issues, current and in the past, related to assessment in PE. Here are some suggestions moving forward:

  • Focus assessment efforts on the essential skills and understandings (Jung, 2023). Consider the core competencies within your curriculum, learn to learn skills (e.g. PYP/IB's approaches to learning (ATL)), and the big ideas that are transferable in and outside of school which are needed for a lifetime. Learning experiences should have meaning for each students' lives (Penney et al., 2009).

  • Give students as many options as you can when they are needing to provide evidence for learning. Allow students the choice to use their talents and preferences to show their learning (Jung, 2023). For example, if a child performs best by writing then have them do this to show their learning. If another student wants to a make a video, then allow them to do this. We all have preferences where we perform at our best - our students are the same (Jung, 2023). When students have a choice and have autonomy in their learning, they are more likely to perform higher (Patall et al., 2010). Don't we want our students to succeed and show their best learning?

  • Establish a learning environment that is based on cooperation and collaboration rather than competition. This creates a safe environment for students to perform and learn at their best (Jung, 2023).

  • Guide students to set their own learning intentions and success criteria (the benchmark for the quality of the learning). This ensures clarity, promotes relevance, and helps students to become self-regulated adults (Jung, 2023).

  • If your school must give out grades, ensure that you are grading learning. Missing work, late work, and behaviour does not show evidence of learning. Including compliance or participation in an achievement grade can be harmful to students' motivation and engagement (Jung, 2023). Related to grading, "averaging" (grades) harms those students who were slower (and perhaps needed intervention(s)) to master the learning expectations (Jung, 2023). If the child or students shows evidence of learning the content or standard, why should they get a lower grade because it took them a bit longer to achieve this?

  • Use students as a resource to provide evidence of learning for themselves and others. Students can regulate their learning by using self, peer, and co-assessments which can develop higher order thinking skills, can help students to think and analyze critically, improve communication, and develop collaborative skills (Moura et al., 2020).

  • Establish a culture where making mistakes is normal and even celebrated. Feedback that links to error can be very helpful for students as the progress through their learning (Black & William, 1998).

After examining the concerns of assessment in PE and now the "next steps" to improve assessment in PE, what are your thoughts moving forward? How might you ensure there is more student agency in your assessments? How can you make assessments more relevant?

Blog Delay

I have not forgotten about blogging! I have had a lot happening in the month of June, both professionally and personally, that has disrupted the "blog a week" flow that I had been pretty consistent with over the past few months. I'm hopeful more blogs will continue to be published into summer (winter for Southern Hemisphere people)!

Membership Plan

If you want more information about what the website offers (both free and paid), check out the post here. We have added a Department Member option to support PE teams (up to 5 members of PE department for a reduced cost). Receive 15% off all membership options when using the the coupon code: JUNE15. The deal concludes at the end of June.

Thanks for reading!

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