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Although it is a necessary part of delivering quality education at the classroom, learner, school, and system level, the assessment of learning outcomes at the individual level is a contested terrain in South Africa. To optimise resources targeted at improving learning outcomes, assessments must be conducted at the individual learner, classroom, and school levels. In addition, some assessments must provide information on performance at the national (or system) level, while other (more universal) assessments are more important for improvement at the learner, classroom and school levels.

The Grade 12 examination – a universal, summative learning assessment – has helped to galvanise resources and effort to improve instruction and learning in the higher grades of school. However, universal assessments in lower grades have been fraught with political and administrative difficulties, despite the need to measure foundational skills. The sudden demise of the Annual National Assessments (ANAs) in 2015, due to what unions regarded as their punitive use, is a clear demonstration of this.

In this chapter, we examine the international assessments that South Africa participates in, and national assessments such as the previous and planned Systemic Evaluations (SEs), the ANAs, and the school-based assessments (SBAs), as sources of information andpressure for accountability and improvement. In this chapter, we argue that increasing the use of common SBAs offers an opportunity to develop a comprehensive assessment system that includes examinations, SBAs, SEs, and international assessments.

With some adjustments and external moderation, common curriculum-aligned SBAs can be used for effective feedback and improvement at the classroom and learner levels. However, to prevent common SBAs from being used as a tool to punish schools, the mistakes made with the design and administration of the ANAs should be borne in mind.