Back to coverpage
Introduction to school-based assessment

Differences between SBA and external exams

School-based assessment (SBA) is assessment which is embedded in the teaching and learning process. It has a number of important characteristics which distinguish it from other forms of assessment:
  • It involves the teacher from the beginning to the end: from planning the assessment programme, to identifying and/or developing appropriate assessment tasks right through to making the assessment judgments.

  • It allows for the collection of a number of samples of student performance over a period of time.

  • It can be adapted and modified by the teacher to match the teaching and learning goals of the particular class and students being assessed.

  • It is carried out in ordinary classrooms, not a special examination hall.

  • It is conducted by the students' own teacher, not a stranger.

  • It involves students more actively in the assessment process, especially if self and/or peer assessment is used in conjunction with teacher assessment.

  • It allows the teacher to give immediate and constructive feedback to students.

  • It stimulates continuous evaluation and adjustment of the teaching and learning programme.

  • It complements other forms of assessment, including external examinations.

To view Dr Peter Hill, Secretary General of the HKEAA, talking about school-based assessment being introduced into Hong Kong schools.

Some people are concerned that school-based assessment is not as reliable or as fair as traditional end-of-course examinations which are set and marked by external assessors, but in fact SBA has a number of advantages over external examinations. Table 1 below summarises some of the advantages of SBA compared with external examinations.


Table 1: Advantages of SBA compared with external examinations

Point Characteristics of SBA Characteristics of Exams
Scope Extends the range and diversity of assessment collection opportunities, task types and assessors Much narrower range of assessment opportunities: less diverse assessment; one exam per year
Authenticity Assessment done by students' own teacher; less possibility of cheating as teacher knows student capabilities; assessments more likely to be realistic Removes assessment entirely from teaching and learning; stressful conditions may lead to students not demonstrating real capacities
Validity Improves validity through assessing factors that cannot be included in public exam settings Limits validity by limiting scope of assessment, e.g. difficult to assess interaction skills in exam environment
Reliability Improves reliability by having more than one assessment by a teacher who is familiar with the student; allows for multiple opportunities for assessor reflection/standardisation Even with double marking, examiners' judgments can be affected by various factors (task difficulty, topic, interest level, tiredness, etc); little opportunity for assessor reflection / review
Fairness Fairness is achieved by following commonly-agreed processes, outcomes and standards; teacher assumptions about students and their oral language levels is made explicit through collaborative sharing and discussion with other teachers Fairness can only be achieved by treating everyone the same, i.e. setting the same task at the same time for all students.
Feedback Students can receive constructive feedback immediately after the assessment has finished, hence improving learning The only feedback is usually a grade at the end of the course; no opportunities for interaction with assessor; no chance to ask how to improve
Positive washback (beneficial influence on teaching and learning) Ongoing assessment encourages students to work consistently; provides important data for evaluation of teaching and assessment practices in general
Examination is purely summative, and does not serve any teaching-related purpose; effects on teaching and learning may even be negative; may encourage teaching to the test and a focus on exam technique, rather than outcomes.
Teacher and student empowerment Teachers and students become part of the assessment process; collaboration and sharing of expertise take place within and across schools Teachers play little to no role in assessment of their students and have no opportunity to share their expertise or knowledge of their students; students treated as numbers
Professional development Builds teacher assessment skills, which can be transferred to other areas of the curriculum Teachers have no opportunity to build their assessment skills; get little or no feedback on how to improve as teachers



To view glossary of key words

To view Dr Chris Davison, SBA Project, The University of Hong Kong, talking about different views of fairness in SBA, compared with traditional testing.

To view Prof Dylan Wiliam, Educational Testing Services, USA, talking about involving teachers in school-based assessment for summative purposes.