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Assessment in the Primary Years Program

Assessment is integral to all teaching and learning. It is central to the PYP goal of thoughtfully and effectively guiding students through the five essential elements of learning: the acquisition of knowledge, the understanding of concepts, the mastering of skills, the development of attitudes and the decision to take action. The prime objective of assessment in the PYP is to provide feedback on the learning process.

Assessment involves the gathering and analysis of information about student performance and is designed to inform practice. It identifies what students know, understand, can do, and feel at different stages in the learning process. Students and teachers should be actively engaged in assessing the students’ progress as part of the development of their wider critical-thinking and self-assessment skills. Teachers need to employ techniques for assessing students’ work that take into account the diverse, complicated and sophisticated ways that individual students use to understand experience. Everyone concerned with assessment, including students, teachers, parents and administrators, should have a clear understanding of the reason for the assessment, what is being assessed, the criteria for success, and the method by which the assessment is made. The PYP approach to assessment recognizes the importance of assessing the process of inquiry as well as the product(s) of inquiry, and aims to integrate and support both.

Assessment in the classroom will include:

  • using representative examples of students’ work or performance to provide information about student learning
  • collecting evidence of students’ understanding and thinking documenting learning processes of groups and individuals engaging students in reflecting on their learning
  • students assessing work produced by themselves and by others
  • developing clear rubrics

Making the PYP Happen, IBO, 2007


Inquiry, as the leading pedagogical approach of the PYP, is recognized as allowing students to be actively involved in their own learning and to take responsibility for that learning. Inquiry involves the synthesis, analysis and manipulation of knowledge, whether through play or through more formally structured learning throughout the PYP. Inquiry allows each student’s understanding of the world to develop in a manner and at a rate that is unique to that student. At King Elementary School students are invited to investigate significant issues by formulating their own questions, designing their own inquiries, assessing the various means available to support their inquiries, and proceeding with research, experimentation, observation and analysis that will help them in finding their own responses to the issues. The starting point is students’ current understanding, and the goal is the active construction of meaning by building connections between that understanding and new information and experience, derived from the inquiry into new content. While there is certainly a role for practice and the need for some things to be known automatically, it is felt that teaching to the fullest extent possible through inquiry leads to the most substantial and enduring learning.

What does inquiry look like?

Inquiry, interpreted in the broadest sense, is the process initiated by the students or the teacher that moves the students from their current level of understanding to a new and deeper level of understanding. This can mean:

  • exploring, wondering and questioning
  • experimenting and playing with possibilities
  • making connections between previous learning and current learning
  • making predictions and acting purposefully to see what happens collecting data and reporting findings
  • clarifying existing ideas and reappraising perceptions of events
  • deepening understanding through the application of a concept
  • making and testing theories researching and seeking information
  • taking and defending a position
  • solving problems in a variety of ways .

An Inquiry: Think about an inquiry that you elected to do. How did you go about answering your questions?

Making the PYP Happen, IBO, 2007

Key Concepts

A set of eight concepts is used in PYP schools to guide inquires. These concepts and a question suggested by each one is:

  • Form : What is it like?
  • Function : How does it work?
  • Causation : Why is it the way it is?
  • Change : How is it changing?
  • Connection : How is it connected to other things?
  • Perspective : What are the points of view?
  • Responsibility : What is our responsibility?
  • Reflection : How do we know?

It is these concepts and questions, used flexibly by teachers and students, which shape the unit by giving it direction and purpose. It is in this sense that the key questions, and the concepts to which they relate, are said to drive the PYP curriculum. Since inquiry is a vehicle for learning in the PYP, the natural way to present the key concepts is in the form of these broad, open-ended questions. The concepts liberate the thinking of teachers and students, suggesting a range of further questions, each one leading to productive lines of inquiry. These questions should not be interpreted in any restrictive sense as the only questions, to be used in a strict order, or to be given equal weight in every inquiry. Rather, they represent an approach, a springboard, an introduction to a way of finding out.

An Inquiry: How can you use the key concepts when talking with your children?

Making the PYP Happen, IBO, 2007

Organizing Themes

In the PYP the vast array of disciplines are combined across traditional boundaries and configured in the Organizing Themes . The students at Northern Heights investigate a unit of inquiry in each of the Organizing Themes every year.

Who We Are

An inquiry into the nature of the self; beliefs and values; personal, physical, mental, social and spiritual health; human relationships including families, friends, communities, and cultures; rights and responsibilities; what it means to be human.

Where We Are in Place and Time

An inquiry into orientation in place and time; personal histories; homes and journeys; the discoveries, explorations and migrations of humankind; the relationships between and the interconnectedness of individuals and civilizations, from local and global perspectives.

How We Express Ourselves

An inquiry into the ways in which we discover and express ideas, feelings, nature, culture, beliefs and values; the ways in which we reflect on, extend and enjoy our creativity; our appreciation of the aesthetic.

How the World Works

An inquiry into the natural world and its laws; the interaction between the natural world (physical and biological) and human societies; how humans use their understanding of scientific principles; the impact of scientific and technological advances on society and on the environment.

How We Organize Ourselves

An inquiry into the interconnectedness of human-made systems and communities; the structure and function of organizations; societal decision-making; economic activities and their impact on humankind and the environment.

Sharing the Planet

An inquiry into rights and responsibilities in the struggle to share finite resources with other people and with other living things; communities and the relationships within and between them; access to equal opportunities; peace and conflict resolution.
An Inquiry: What disciplines do you see in each of the six themes?

Adapted from Making the PYP Happen, IBO, 2007

Program of Inquiry

Students inquire into, and learn about, globally significant issues in the units of inquiry ,each of which addresses a central idea relevant to a particular transdisciplinary theme.Lines of inquiry are identified in order to examine the scope of the central idea for each unit. These units collectively constitute the school’s Program of Inquiry and are aligned with the State of Washington’s Grade Level Expectations.

This defining of a central idea and the structuring of inquiry to support its understanding is an important characteristic of the PYP and focuses on facilitating inquiry in the classroom and beyond.

People sometimes ask “Is the PYP a curriculum or an approach?” The answer is both . The PYP curriculum is defined broadly to include an approach to teaching and learning, in recognition of the fact that, in practice, the two are inextricably linked. The taught curriculum is the written curriculum in action.

An Inquiry: How do you see teaching and learning as processes that are linked?

Making the PYP Happen, IBO, 2007

Approaches to Learning

Throughout the PYP, students acquire and apply a set of approaches to learning: thinking skills social skills, communication skills, self-management skills, and research skills. These skills are valuable, not only in the units of inquiry, but also for any teaching and learning that goes on within the classroom, and in life outside the school.

An Inquiry: Which approaches to learning are the easiest to teach? Which are the most difficult? 

Thinking skills Social skills


  Acquisition of knowledge: Gaining specific facts, ideas, vocabulary; remembering in a similar form.

•  Comprehension: Grasping meaning from material learned; communicating and interpreting learning.

•  Application: Making use of previously acquired knowledge in practical or new ways.

•  Analysis: Taking knowledge or ideas apart; separating into component parts; seeing relationships; finding unique characteristics.

•  Synthesis: Combining parts to create wholes; creating, designing, developing and innovating.

•  Evaluation: Making judgments or decisions based on chosen criteria; standards and conditions.

•  Dialectical thought: Thinking about two or more different points of view at the same time; understanding those points of view; being able to construct an argument for each point of view based on knowledge of the other(s); realizing that other people can also take one’s own point of view.

•  Metacognition: Analyzing one’s own and others’ thought processes; thinking about how one thinks and how one learns.


•  Accepting responsibility: Taking on and completing tasks in an appropriate manner; being willing to assume a share of the responsibility.

   Respecting others: Listening sensitively to others; making decisions based on fairness and equality; recognizing that others’ beliefs, viewpoints, religions and ideas may differ from one’s own; stating one’s opinion without hurting others.

•  Cooperating: Working cooperatively in a group; being courteous to others; sharing materials; taking turns.   

•  Resolving conflict: Listening carefully to others; compromising; reacting reasonably to the situation; accepting responsibility appropriately; being fair.  

•  Group decision making: Listening to others; discussing ideas; asking questions; working towards and obtaining consensus.

•  Adopting a variety of group roles:Understanding what behavior is appropriate in a given situation and acting accordingly; being a leader in some circumstances, a follower in others.  

Communication skills Self-management skills 
•  Listening: Listening to directions; listening to others; listening to information.  


•  Speaking: Speaking clearly; giving oral reports to small and large groups; expressing ideas clearly and logically; stating opinions.  


•  Reading: Reading a variety of sources for information and pleasure; comprehending what has been read; making inferences and drawing conclusions.  


•  Writing: Recording information and observations; taking notes and paraphrasing; writing summaries; writing reports; keeping a journal or record.  


•  Viewing: Interpreting and analyzing visuals and multimedia; understanding the ways in which images and language interact to convey ideas, values and beliefs; making informed choices about personal viewing experiences.  


•  Presenting: Constructing visuals and multimedia for a range of purposes and audiences; communicating information and ideas through a variety of visual media; using appropriate technology for effective presentation and representation  

 •  Non-verbal communication: Recognizing the meaning of visual and kinesthetic communication; recognizing and creating signs; interpreting and utilizing symbols.    


Gross motor skills: Exhibiting skills in which groups of large muscles are used and the factor of strength is primary.  

•  Fine motor skills: Exhibiting skills in which precision in delicate muscle systems is required.  

•  Spatial awareness: Displaying a sensitivity to the position of objects in relation to oneself or each other.  

•  Organization: Planning and carrying out activities effectively.    

•  Time management: Using time effectively and appropriately.    

•  Safety: Engaging in personal behavior that avoids placing oneself or others in danger or at risk.

  •  Healthy lifestyle: Making informed choices to achieve a balance in nutrition, rest, relaxation and exercise; practicing appropriate hygiene and self-care.  

  •  Codes of behavior: Knowing and applying appropriate rules or operating procedures of groups of people.    

•  Informed choices: Selecting an appropriate course of action or behavior based on fact or opinion.   


Research skills

•  Formulating questions: Identifying something one wants or needs to know and asking compelling and relevant questions that can be researched .


•  Observing: Using all the senses to notice relevant details.


•  Planning: Developing a course of action; writing an outline; devising ways of finding out necessary information.


•  Collecting data: Gathering information from a variety of first- and second-hand sources such as maps, surveys, direct observation, books, films, people, museums and ICT.

Research skills


•  Recording data: Describing and recording observations by drawing, note taking, making charts, tallying, writing statements .


•  Organizing data: Sorting and categorizing information; arranging into understandable forms such as narrative descriptions, tables, timelines, graphs and diagrams.


•  Interpreting data: Drawing conclusions from relationships and patterns that emerge from organized data .


•  Presenting research findings: Effectively communicating what has been learned; choosing appropriate media.

Making the PYP Happen, IBO, 2007