Understanding the what, why and how of assessments in the PYP

Assessment – I think this word evokes as much fear and trepidation in teachers as it does in students today!!

The enhanced PYP has sought to make assessment a more authentic, student-centered process that encourages and involves student voice.

It stresses on including a variety of assessment strategies and tools to make the process meaningful and engaging.

As teachers, we are also transitioning to this new understanding – we must give ourselves the time and the space to do this.

I am attempting to lay out my understanding of the assessment process and how I have started integrating a variety in my classroom practices – in follow-up posts I will explore other aspects of assessments in more depth.

What is the purpose of assessment?

The purpose of assessment is to inform learning and teaching. It involves the gathering and analysis of information about student learning to inform teaching practice. It identifies what students know, understand, and can do at different stages in the learning process. A unique feature of assessments in the PYP is the focus on student knowledge, conceptual understanding, skills, and dispositions – the process and the product of student learning.

Characteristics of effective assessment (From ibo.org)

Highly effective assessment shares some key characteristics (Adapted from Clarke 2012).

  • Authentic: It supports making connections to the real world to promote student engagement.
  • Clear and specific: This includes desired learning goals; success criteria and the process students use to learn.
  • Varied: It uses a wider range of tools and strategies that are fit for purpose to build a well-rounded picture of student learning.
  • Developmental: It focuses on an individual student’s progress rather than their performance in relation to others.
  • Collaborative: It engages both teachers and students in the assessment development and evaluation process.
  • Interactive: Assessment encompasses ongoing and iterative dialogues about learning.
  • Feedback to feedforward: It provides feedback on current learning to inform what is needed to support future learning (Hattie, Timperley 2007) and raises students’ motivation.

What to assess?

In the PYP we assess students for the following –

  • Prior knowledge informs our teaching – gives us a start point for our teaching and helps in grouping students as per their understanding and thus differentiating instruction appropriately.
  • Formative assessmentsassessments for learning. These are conducted throughout the learning and teaching process. It is primarily for the teacher to assess if students are understanding as per the learning intentions which would mean she/he is on the right track. If there is a gap in understanding, there is time to modify teaching and learning strategies to ensure that learning objectives are met.

“Formative assessment is not a task. Formative assessment is an ongoing, embedded practice that allows teachers to constantly adjust their teaching based on what they’re observing. Feedback is a mindset.” Ron Ritchhart

  • Summative assessments are assessments of learning. In a very significant move, there is a shift away from the summative assessment in the enhanced PYP. The summative task was always the first thing planned by teachers (the traditional assessors) before the unit started – as we followed a backwards by design process. Now, assessment is built in throughout the planner. It involves evidencing the learning by the students themselves, as well as peers and teachers, and it is ongoing.  There is no longer any requirement to have a summative assessment at the end of every unit, as the process of gathering, analysing, reflecting and acting on evidence of learning is what is used to inform next steps in teaching.

Backwards by design v/s forward by design

  • The traditional backwards by design philosophy encourages teachers to design assessment by first identifying –
    • the desired knowledge,
    • conceptual understandings,
    • and skills,

followed by the design of the assessment, and finally planning learning activities to ensure acquisition of the desired outcomes listed above.

  • “Forward by design” takes into consideration what other learning may have occurred beyond what has been planned – the development of “soft” skills, that are not immediately measurable, and that can emerge through the learning process. 
  • This paradigm shift in thinking means that both students and teachers need to develop their assessment capability, to consider the learning goals and success criteria and to focus on assessing both the learning process as well as the learning outcomes.

How to assess?

The lingo explained – assessment tasks, assessment strategies and assessment tools

Assessment task – what do we want the students to express an understanding about. This would be based on the learning intentions e.g. –

  • To assess enduring understanding of the central idea
  • To assess language skills
  • To assess conceptual understanding in math

Assessment strategies – How students can express their understanding using a variety of strategies

Some examples –

  • Assess enduring understanding of a central idea
    • through a visible thinking routine like ‘I used to think …. Now I think’ eg. Sustainable practices improve quality of life. Students can express what they used to think about sustainable practices and how their thinking changed during the unit. Student agency through a choice of writing a paragraph or recording a Flipgrid video fir the same task.
    • through language integration
      • writing a story to express how ‘Resolving conflicts can lead to better quality of life’
      • writing a poem to express how ‘Exploration leads to newer understandings, discoveries and challenges’.  (Central idea for Where we are in place and time)
  • Assess language or math skills  
    • Integrated with the Unit of inquiry – eg. Write a formal letter to the Municipal officer to request safety crossings near schools (Government unit)
    • Create a presentation on divisibility rules using Powerpoint / Canva etc.
    • ICT enabled quizzes – Nearpod, Quizizz etc. There is quite a good selection of Math and English concepts available and reports are generated for individual students.

Assessment tools –

How will the students be assessed on their completed tasks? How will teachers give feedback? Will students be given opportunities to co-construct success criteria, rubrics, self-assess, or peer assess?

Examples of commonly used tools :



Anecdotal notes/records


I have attached below some samples of assessments I have used in my class

Summative assessment for a unit on conflict resolution

Summative assessment for a unit on exploration

Math formative and summative assessment samples

Links for additional reading –

Assessment Strategies for the IB PYP – PYP Teaching Tools

Tech Transformation: What’s New and Different: Assessment in the PYP (maggiehosmcgrane.com)t

PYP resources – Home – IB programme resources (ibo.org)


5 thoughts on “Understanding the what, why and how of assessments in the PYP

  1. In modern times so many new methods of assessment have come up with the help of computer, moblie where both the teacher n the student know where they stand. The quiz, padlet n flipgrid is helping a lot

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, this is quite relevant in my line of work, which is about evaluation. Interesting to see similar concepts being explored here!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very very valuable information and highly beneficial to all including the teachers. Well thought put in words which could be understood easily. Thank you for always coming up with something new.

    Liked by 1 person

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