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									             Dynamic Assessment as a Teaching Tool:
      Assessment for learning - and learning from assessment
                       By Erica Garb (linked)

Abstract: Dr. Garb talks about why we test, in the context of our
present use of summative and formative assessments (which she
defines) and the subsequent widespread practice of ―teaching to the
test‖. She then offers an alternative—dynamic assessment—and tells
us how to use it, and how it has impacted on learning according to

--Why do we test (link)
--Summative and formative assessment:
--Summative assessment (link)
--Formative assessment (link)
--“Teaching to the test” (link)
Is teaching to the test all that bad?
If we don‘t teach to the test, what should we do?
--Dynamic Assessment (link)
A merger between learning and testing
Dynamic Assessment of EFL text comprehension.
    How does it work? (link)
Example of items on a dynamic assessment
--Methodology (link):
--Mediation (link)
--Information page for home study (link)
--Post-test (link)
--Theoretical Background: the development of DA(link)
--Conclusion (link)

Why do we test?

Most teachers spend a considerable amount of classroom time on
assessment, giving and checking tests, and „going over‟ the tests with
their students. Of all classroom activities, testing is possibly the activity
that pupils and teachers take most seriously.
Why do we test?

Summative and formative testing

Summative assessment is the attempt to summarize student learning at
some point in time, say the end of a course. There's a lot to be said for
these summative tests. They provide a snapshot of a school system, and
can be easily compared to previous years. High quality summative
information can, of course, shape how teachers organize their courses or
what schools offer their students.

However, they are not designed to provide the immediate, contextualized
feedback useful for helping teacher and student during the learning
process. Moreover, summative tests compare students with each other,
the prime purpose of which seems to them to be competition rather than
personal improvement. This leads pupils to look for ways to obtain the
best marks rather than to improve their learning. One reported
consequence is that, when they have any choice, pupils avoid difficult
learning tasks and spend time and energy looking for clues to the „right

Teachers are often able to predict pupils' results on external summative
tests because their own tests imitate them. But at the same time,
teachers know too little about their pupils' individual learning needs.

By contrast, formative assessment occurs when teachers feed
information back to students in ways that enable the student to learn
better, or when students can engage in a similar, self- reflective process.
If the primary purpose of assessment is to support high-quality learning,
then formative assessment ought to be understood as the most important
assessment practice.

“Formative assessment is at the heart of effective teaching… We start
from the self-evident proposition that teaching and learning must be

interactive. Teachers need to know about their pupils' progress and
difficulties with learning so that they can adapt their own work to meet
pupils' needs -- needs that are often unpredictable and that vary from
one pupil to another.”( Black and William (1998b)
    Feedback given as part of formative assessment helps learners
       become aware of any gaps that exist between their desired goal
       and their current knowledge, understanding, or skill, and guides
       them through actions necessary to obtain the goal (Ramaprasad,
       1983; Sadler, 1989).
    The most helpful type of feedback encourages students to focus
       their attention thoughtfully on the task rather than on simply
       getting the right answer (Bangert-Drowns, Kulick, & Morgan, 1991;
       Elawar & Corno, 1985).
    This type of feedback may be particularly helpful, because it
       emphasizes that students can improve as a result of effort, and
       specifically shows pupils how to go about achieving that
      Formative assessment helps support the expectation that all
       children can learn to high levels, and counteracts the cycle in which
       students attribute poor performance to their own lack of ability
       and therefore become discouraged and unwilling to invest in
       further learning (Ames, 1992; Vispoel & Austin, 1995).

Black and William compared the average improvements in test scores of
the students involved in an innovation to strengthen formative
assessment with the range of scores found for typical groups of students
on the same tests, including end-of-the year, summative tests. They
found that the innovation produced significant learning gains, and
concluded that high quality formative assessment does indeed have a
powerful impact on student learning.

“Teaching to the test”

Neither formative nor summative testing alone meets the needs and goals
of public schools. The aim should be a combination of low-stakes, ongoing,
formative assessment that guides teaching and learning, tied tightly to
both the curriculum and the state's high-stakes summative test.

However, the public pressure on students, teachers, principals, school
superintendents and inspectors to raise scores in high-stake tests (such
as „bagrut scores‟) is tremendous. This has led, worldwide, to an almost
irresistible temptation to tailor instruction only, or mainly, to that which
will be tested, a phenomenon widely known in the literature as „teaching to
the test‟. Indeed, in many classrooms, instruction is synonymous with
preparing students for the final (summative) bagrut test.
It is this teaching to the final test which has become the focus of much
of the „teaching to the test‟ criticism.

A recurring criticism of tests used in high-stakes decision-making (such
as entry to college, university, or prestige faculties) is that they distort
instruction by forcing teachers, whether they want to or not, to teach to
the test. For example, Herman (1992) states that “time spent on test-
taking often neglects higher-order thinking skills, Research suggests that
“while student scores will rise when teachers teach closely to the test,
learning often does not change” (Shepard, 2000; Smith and Fey, 2000.)
Specifically with regard to reading, Neil (2003a) reported cases where
pupils had been “taught to read by learning to look at the answer options
to questions and then search the passage to find the clue to selecting the
correct answer. Independent evaluators found that these pupils could
not explain what they had just read even though they got the test item
correct.” The implication is that there may be a significant number of
test-wise students who lack the basic skills needed to be successful in
higher education settings. In addition, it seems logical to assume that
teaching to the test provides students with a skewed measure of their
ability and a false sense of security.

Is teaching to the test all that bad?

From a different perspective, instructing pupils on anything other than
the actual test seems illogical. Boser, (2000) for example, reflects what
many teachers say: “Our mandate is to get our kids through the exam.”
Boser states categorically: “States should delineate what students should
know and be able to do, teachers should match instruction to those
standards, and state tests should measure how well students meet those

If we don‘t ‗teach to the test‘, what should we do?

„Teaching to the test‟ is in sharp contrast with the priority attached to
the value of „learning to learn‟, one of the key indicators in the European
Union report on the quality of school education (2000), and implicit in the
desire to foster the development of problem-solving and thinking skills.
“Classrooms in which „learning to learn‘ takes priority over „I have learned
what I need to know for the exam‟ are positive learning environments….
learning is at its most effective, when learners are actively involved in
and take responsibility for their learning” (Freeman, 2001). According to
Freeman (and the EU) the purpose of education today is to produce
autonomous life-long learners, and the emphasis should be placed on
assessing pupils‟ ability not only to acquire information and skills, but also
on their ability to transfer and use information, skills, and thinking and
problem-solving strategies in a wide and flexible range of situations
(Freeman 2001).

In short, it is by concentrating on the process of learning, and our pupils‟
conscious engagement in this process that teachers can facilitate the
acquisition of effective learning skills for the 21st century.

Dynamic Assessment: a merger between learning and testing

Instead of bemoaning the understandable inclination of teachers to teach
to the test, and the understandable inclination of students to take this
seriously, we should take advantage of these inclinations. Through using
the Dynamic Assessment model, which I will discuss below, we can
construct tests that integrate instruction and assessment, literally
merging these two elements so that they are virtually indistinguishable.

Dynamic Assessment of EFL text comprehension.

At the end of the year, we conduct a summative assessment in the form
of matkonet exams ,mock exams based on the ubiquitous „unseens‟, which
are modeled on previous exams. Often, in order to accustom our pupils to
the exam format, we use the same kind of assessments during the course
of the year as well, as a form of ongoing assessment. However, student
feedback has indicated that using this form of assessment during the
learning process presents a number of problems.

Problems. Students often complain that:
    The tests do not assess what they have learned in class. By their
      very nature, they often contain elements that have not been
      studied – after all, they are „unseen‟.
    In class , students are introduced to many different strategies for
      reading and answering questions. When faced with an unseen, they
      have difficulty recognizing which strategies to use, and where to
      use them. That is, should they apply all of these strategies
      simultaneously, or choose the relevant strategies and adapt them
      to the specific text or question?
    Each unseen deals with different content, different level,
      different vocabulary, and requires different strategies and
      different background knowledge.
    Sometimes the test is beyond their own particular level, especially
      at the beginning of the semester, which saps their self-confidence
      and drains their motivation.
    They have no way of assessing their own learning processes except
      through one inclusive mark.
    They often feel that although they passed the test, they did not
      understand the text.

The dynamic assessment model. How does it work?

The model consists of a pre-test, mediation (the heart of the process),
a brief period for revision at home (an “information page” is constructed
for students to take home) ,and a post-test. The construction of each
of these sections can be tailor-made by teachers to suit their individual
classes. Briefly, the dynamic assessment (DA) model uses all the same
test items that the teacher wishes to assess in a static assessment, but
scaffolds them in order to address the problems mentioned above.

The role of the evaluator is to identify the pupils‟ problems during the
pre-test and to provide the necessary mediation during the learning phase
(mediation). Items on the post-test are identical to those of the pre-test
in level, background knowledge, grammatical structures, new terminology,
and required strategies, but differ in content.

The goal of dynamic assessment is not only to measure a pupil‟s current
performance, but, more important, to reveal the pupils‟ learning
potential,-– the extent to which he is able to absorb and integrate
instruction during the mediation process. This enables teachers to
formulate an optimal educational intervention for each pupil (Kozulin and
Falik, 1995). At the same time, the assessment can also be used to teach
strategies for answering the kind of questions that the pupils will
encounter in final, summative tests.

Example of items on a dynamic assessment.

Let us say, for example, that you have taught and now want to want to
test (and reinforce) personal pronouns, question words, auxiliary verbs,
and negatives. At the same time, you want to introduce strategies for
dealing with multiple-choice questions.

You might give something like the following example as your pre-test.

                                                               ‫הקף בעיגול את תשובה המתאימה‬
                   )‫מתח קו מתחת לרמזים המובילים אותך אל התשובה הנכונה(חלק זה הוא חלק מהבחינה‬

      ‫ : דוגמא‬Example
      Where are you going?
 a.     I am not at home.
 b.    You are going to the post office.
 c.     I am going home.
 d.    She is going home.

    1. What is his name?
 a. My name is Tom.
 b. His name is Ron.
 c. He lives in Jerusalem.

 d. He is a boy.

      2. Are you happy?

 a.     No, they are not.
 b.     No, he is not.
 c.     Yes, I am sad.
 d.     Yes, I am.

      3. Where do Benny and Dan study?

 a.     They study in Tel Aviv.
 b.     She studies in Tel Aviv.
 c.     They are in the classroom.
 d.     They are in Tel Aviv university.

4. When did he come to Israel?
   a. tomorrow
   b. still
   c. yesterday
   d. home
5. How often does he play tennis?

 a. He played last week.
 b. He is playing.
 c. He plays every day.
 d. He is playing at 4 o‟clock.

 6. Why did you come to this class?

 a.   I wanted to learn English.
 b.   I came here.
 c.   I have not come.
 d.   Because I didn‟t want to come.


1. Pre-test: The pre-test is given to students as an ordinary, static test,
except for the following preamble. (Note to teachers: Number each of
the tests, and give each student the same number on their pre- and post-
tests. This will make your life easier when you compare the tests.)

Instructions: (In Hebrew or English). You are going to do a test in three
parts, so that we can see what you know about personal pronouns,
question word, auxiliary verbs, and negatives. We also want see how you
think ,and how you plan your work. This will help us to plan the best
possible programme for you for this year. It is very important that you
come to all three lessons. First you will do a test, then we will discuss this
test with you and show you the best strategies for doing such tests, and
then we will give you another test to see how much you learned from the

Mediation of the example.
Let‟s begin. Look at the example.
We are going to use our first strategy: Look for clues.

a) Look for clues in the question. The question is, Where are you going?
The question is addressed to “you”. This is your first clue. What will the
answer begin with? That‟s right, with “I” Only a) and c) begin with “I”, so
we can immediately eliminate b) and d).

b) Elimination is your second strategy. You eliminate all the answers
that will not fit.

c) The next clue is the verb, ―going”

d) Your next strategy is comparison. Compare the two answers that
remain. a) does not tell us about “going”, so the answer must be c). Does
this answer make sense? Yes. Please mark the clues “you” and “going” with
your high-lighters, and when you do the test, please highlight the clues
that you find.

   Are there any questions?
   What other words can we use as clues? (Pupils might answer
      “where”). That‟s a good idea.
   What will the answer be if the question is “Where?” That‟s right, a
   Look at the answers. All of the answers mention a place. Sometimes
      the question word is a good clue, but here it does not help us much.
Any questions? Please begin.

Note to teachers: During the course of the test, do not allow any
questions– tell pupils that understanding the questions is part of the test.
Gently tell students to look carefully, do the best they can, and if
something is difficult, to go on to the next section. Advise them to do
whatever is easiest for them first, and then come back later to more
difficult questions if they have time.

The students do the test, and the teacher marks them and records the
scores in preparation for the mediation stage, but does not record the
marks or correct/incorrect answers on the students‟ test papers. The
test should be marked immediately, and the mediation given at the next

2. Mediation
Mediation is divided into two categories.
(a) Knowledge required. This can include grammatical or lexical
information, as in the information page below, or, with regard to reading
comprehension, information such as paragraph structures, awareness of
metaphorical language or background knowledge.
Among your pupils might be those who do not have this information, or on
the other hand, they may have the information, but not use it when
required. Mediation therefore also focuses on activating their knowledge
(b) Strategies, which provide the students with a plan for applying what
they know.

Hand students back their tests without any correct or incorrect
answers indicated, (uproar!) and the information handout.



                         what                              how

                         where                             how many

                         when                              how much

                         why                               how often

                         who                               how old


                         I                                        my
                         you                                      your
                         he                                       his
                         she                                      her
                         it                                       its
                         we                                       our
                         they                                     their


                    Base              Simple             Past             Future
                   to be: be          am/ is / are       was /were        will be
                   to do: do          do/does            did              will do
                   to have: have      have/has            had             will have

am not, is not, was not, were not, will not be (isn‟t, wasn‟t, etc. )
do not, does not, did not, will not do (don‟t, doesn‟t, didn‟t)
have not, has not, had not ( haven‟t, hasn‟t, hadn‟t)

We are now going to see how to do this test. I have marked your work,
and now you can mark your own work and see how you did.

Mediation before the post-test.
The teacher briefly discusses the contents of the information page with
the students, advising them to write translations of words they do not

Instructions: We are now going to see how we can use our strategies to
do this test. Do you remember which strategies we used:
Look for clues

Write them down on your information sheet.

Now look at question 1.
    Who wrote a)?
    Why? What were your clues?
    Who wrote b) Why? etc.
(The teacher does not give the correct answer but discusses with the
students their reasoning and method of answering the questions, to arrive
at a consensus.)

Question 1:
    “What is his name?”
    What is your first clue? The first clue is “his”.
    What can we eliminate?
    What other clues can we use? Question word - What. The
      question is about an object ( a name), therefore the answer
      should point to the object ( a name). Pronoun - his, possessive,
      male. e.g. “His name is Ron”, etc.

   The first clue is the pronoun – you.
   If the question is addressed to “you” the answer must begin “I”.
     (eliminate a) and b) Compare c) and d).
   If the question is “Are you happy?”, you cannot say “Yes, I am sad”
     – this is a contradiction.

Q-3: “Where do Benny and Dan study?”
   The question is about location, (Where) therefore the answer
      should include a location.(Tel Aviv).
  But all the answers have a location.

    The next clue is Benny and Dan - two people,- therefore the
     pronoun must be plural. (They). Eliminate b).
    The verb is “study”. We need: They – study - and a place. Only a)
     has all three.

Q-4. “When did he come to Israel?”
The clue is “did”. The question is about time in the past, therefore the
answer should include a time frame in the past. Only one answer indicates
the past. e.g. “yesterday”

Q-5: “How often does he play tennis?”
The question is about frequency, therefore the answer should include
indication of how many times something happens, e.g. “He plays tennis
twice a week.”

Q-6: Why did you come to this class?”
   The question is about the cause of the event, therefore the answer
     should include an explanation, a reason.
   The word “because” (d) might indicate an explanation, but look
     carefully: “Why did you come”. The answer cannot be “Because I
     didn‟t want to come.” This is contradictory. Therefore only a) gives
     a logical reason.

NOTE: Make sure that after the mediation you get back ALL the tests.
You can easily check according to the numbers.
Students take home the information page to prepare for the post-
test, which should be given at the next lesson.

(Given without any mediation – no dictionaries – no questions)
      Where are you going?
  a. I am not at home.
  b. You are going to the post office.
  c. I am going home.
  d. She is going home.

  1. What is her name?
  a. My name is Sarah.
  b. She is a girl.
  c. She lives in Jerusalem.
d. Her name is Roni.

2. When did he come to Israel?
a. tomorrow
b. home
c. yesterday
d. still

 3. Are you American?
a. Yes, I am Israeli.
b. No, he is not.
c. No, they are not.
d. Yes, I am.

4. How often does she phone her mother?
  a. She phones every day.
  b. She is phoning.
  c. She phoned last week.
  d. She is phoning at 4

 5. Where do Sue and Jane live?
 a.  They are in school.
 b. She lives in Tel Aviv.
 c. They live in Tel Aviv.
 d. They are in the house.

 6. Why did you go to the hospital?

a. I went to the hospital
b. I was in a car accident.
c. Because I didn‟t go.
d. I haven‟t been.

After the post-test

Students now get back their pre and post- tests and can assess their
Since pupils are assessed on their improvement rate, they are competing,
not against others, but against themselves.
DA (Dynamic Assessment) distinguishes between information and
strategies, and the post-test is limited to the items that have been
taught in the mediation session. This enables pupils to take control of,
and responsibility for their own improvement, since they know exactly
which strategies and information they will be required to apply. It also
enables the teacher to supply, if necessary, additional material to those
students whose improvement was limited.

The same formula can be applied to any material, including reading
strategies on increasingly more sophisticated levels.

Theoretical Background: the development of DA.

As early as 1934 the Swiss psychologist Andre Rey proposed basing the
evaluation of students‟ abilities on directly observable learning processes.
The concept of learning potential assessment was further developed by
Vygotsky (1934-1986) and Feurstein in the field of psychology to assess
cognitive functions. (See also Minick 1987, and Kozulin, 1998). While the
results of static testing (assessing current performance levels( show us
the already existent abilities of the student ,DA allows us to evaluate the
ability of the student to learn from the interaction with a teacher. This
learning ability may serve as a better predictor of the students‟
educational needs than the static scores.

It is only recently that the DA concept has been adopted (and adapted)
for use in domains that depend on the use of cognitive strategies (thus
far, physics, astronomy, mathematics and reading comprehension.)

How do we know it works? Well, there has been some promising research.
A recent study (Vollmeyer & Rheinbreg, 2002) showed not only that it
works, but also produced an additional surprising result. Using the DA
format to test learning in physics, the researchers predicted that

mediated feedback would affect both motivation and performance. What
they found instead was that learners who were told that they would
receive explicit feedback on the use of strategies, used better and
more systematic strategies (compared to a previous static assessment)
even before the mediation stage had begun. In other words, the mere
expectation of strategy feedback led to deeper processing of the
learning material.

With specific relation to DA of text comprehension, a model has been
widely tested in Israel (Kozulin & Garb, 2002,) with a variety of student
populations (including native-born Israelis and immigrants.)

The results indicate that the procedure is both feasible and effective in
obtaining information on students‟ learning potential. All students
benefited in varying degrees from the mediation and were able to apply
the acquired strategies to the new texts, but the DA test also pin-
pointed those students who needed extra help with specific strategies. It
was confirmed that students with similar static performance levels
demonstrate different, and in some cases dramatically different ability
to learn and use new text comprehension strategies. The findings confirm
the practical value of the EFL dynamic assessment procedure, showing
that it provides in-depth information about the different learning needs
of students.

At the same time, it can be integrated into the learning process as part
of classroom instruction.

For example, a number of students with identical pre-test scores
performed very differently at the post- test. Students T. and H., for
instance, both had 29% correct answers at the pre-test, but after
mediation T. got 59%, while H. only 38%. This was true also of initially
higher achieving students. For example, L. and A. both received 62% at
the pre-test, but at the post-test A. improved her result to 82%, while L.
remained with 65%. These findings enabled the teacher to provide A with
enriched materials, knowing that her learning strategies enabled her to
benefit from them. L, on the other hand, needed some extra coaching in
relevant strategies, despite her high pre-test score.

The instructional value of a dynamic EFL assessment lies in the fact that
although DA is given as a group assessment, its results can be used for
the development of individual learning plans for students with different

learning needs. For example, work with students who demonstrated an
average pre-test performance but insufficient learning potential should
focus on providing them with learning and information-processing
strategies, i.e. teaching them “how to learn”. Students with an average
pre-test performance and high learning potential should be given more
challenging material and more opportunity for independent study.
Students with low pre-test performance and low learning potential need
an intensive investment into their general learning and problem solving
skills that should be based on very simple EFL material. Only after these
students acquire the basic learning skills should they be challenged by
standard EFL tasks.


DA provides us with a model of how formative assessment can be
integrated into the learning process and combined with the goals of
summative assessment. In other words, “testing and teaching are not
separate entities” (Rudman 1989)

Endnote: For teachers who are interested in seeing further models of
DA assessment of EFL reading comprehension, I would be happy to supply
examples. Contact me at

For suggestions for using formative assessments useful sites are

Ames, C. (1992). Classrooms: Goals, structures, and student motivation.
Journal of Educational Psychology, 84 (3): 261-271.

Angelo and Cross, (1993).Classroom Assessment Techniques: A
Handbook for College Teachers

Baker, L. B., and Brown, A.L. (1984a). Cognitive monitoring in reading.
In J. Flood (Ed.), Understanding reading comprehension: Cognition,
language, and the structure of prose (pp. 21-44). Newark, DE:
International Reading Association.

Baker, L. B., & Brown, A.L. (1984). Metacognitive skills and reading.
In P. D. Pearson (Ed.), Handbook of Reading Research (Vol. 353-394,
). New York: Longman.

Bangert-Drowns, R.L., Kulick, J.A., and Morgan, M.T. (1991). The
instructional effect of feedback in test-like events. Review of
Educational Research, 61 (2): 213-238.

Black, P., and Wiliam, D. (1998a). Assessment and classroom learning.
Assessment in Education, 5 (1): 7-74.

Black, P. and William, D. (1998b). Inside the black box: Raising standards
through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 80 (2): 139-148.
(Available online:

    Boser, U. (2000). Teaching to the test? Education Week 19 (39),
    pp. 1, 10.

Elawar, M.C., and Corno, L. (1985). A factorial experiment in teachers'
written feedback on student homework: Changing teacher behaviour a
little rather than a lot. Journal of Educational Psychology, 77 (2): 162-

Freeman. E., Holmes, B. & Tangney, B. (2001). Teaching to the Test: the
impact of assessment on teaching and learning. Proceedings of the 12th
International Conference of the Society for Information Technology and
Teacher Education, Charlottesville, VA, USA

Herman, J.L., Ashbacher, P.R., and Winters, L. (1992). A Practical Guide to
Alternative Assessment. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and
Curriculum Development

Kozulin, A. (1998) Psychological Tools: A Sociocultural Approach to
Education. Cambridge, MA, Harvard Uniersity Press

Kozulin & Garb, (2002). Dynamic assessment of EFL Text
Comprehension, School Psychology International, Vol 23, I, pp 112-

Kozulin, A. and Falik, L. (1995). Dynamic cognitive assessment of the child.

Directions in Psychological Science, 4: 192-196.

Minick, N. (1987). Implications of Vygotsky‟s theory for dynamic
assessment. In C. Lidz (ed) Dynamic Assessment pp 116-140, New York:
Guilford Press

Neil, M. (2003a). High stakes, high risk: The dangerous consequences of
high-stakes testing. American School Board Journal, 190(2), 18-21.

Ramaprasad, A. (1983). On the definition of feedback. Behavioral Science,
28 (1): 4-13.

Rey, A. (1934). D'un procede pour evaluer L'educabilite, Archives de
Psychologie, 24: 297-337.

Rudman, H.C. (1989). Integrating Testing and Teaching. Practical
Assessment, Research and Evaluation, 1 (6) or

Sadler, D.R. (1989). Formative assessment and the design of instructional
systems. Instructional Science, 18 (2): 119-144.

Shepard, L. (2000). The role of assessment in a learning culture.
Educational Researcher, 29(7), 4-14.

Smith, M. L., & Fey, P. (2000). Validity and accountability of high-stakes
testing. Journal of Teacher Education, 51(5), 334-344.

Vispoel, W.P., and Austin, J.R. (1995). Success and failure in junior high
school: A critical incident approach to understanding students'
attributional beliefs. American Educational Research Journal, 32 (2):

EU [2000] European Report on Quality of School Education: Sixteen
quality indicators:


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