Assessing From the Heart

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Assessing From the Heart

The Core Ideas, Fundamental Practices, And True Intentions of Assessment


Relying on the Known   

A few years back, the new administration at Mélange High School urged teachers to “flip” their classrooms. In this way, the foundations of a topic were learned at home. In class, students would participate in meaningful discussions and develop critical thinking skills. At this same time, administration decided that there were no penalties for late assignments or incomplete homework. The results were dismal.

Imagine if Benjamin Bloom hadn’t considered Piaget’s stages of cognitive developmental when designing his learning taxonomy? What if Copernicus couldn’t rely on the work of Aristarchus of Samos to develop his heliocentric theory. Today, it makes no sense for schools to adopt every neoteric idea rather than relying on substantiated foundations.

What Really Matters  

A recent sketch on late-night TV asked the question: “What really matters anymore?” (SNL, 2018) It prompted me to ask “What really matters in assessment?”

  1. If there are no longer consequences for student’s not doing homework, should there no longer be consequences for teachers choosing not to spend their evenings grading papers and designing engaging lessons?
  2. If students can turn assignments in when they get around to it, should teachers also submit their “assignments” when they get around to it? Does that count for report cards, lesson plans, and communicating with parents?
  3. Should teachers have the freedom to teach fake news as facts? For example, “The War of the Worlds” was real, and the Civil War wasn’t about slavery?
  4. Despite their college degrees do we believe that teachers haven’t yet developed an understanding of their content area and pedagogy and that they all require prescriptive curriculum and instructional manuals?
  5. As budgets are cut, and teacher’s salaries are fixed or declining, does it matter that they are spending more money than ever buying supplies and instructional resources for their students and classroom?
  6. Does it matter that many teachers work second jobs to make ends meet? What about the increasing pay differential between teachers and other professions requiring college degrees?
  7. Are teachers the only ones accountable for identified failures of our educational system such as international test score comparisons, and overcoming poverty?
  8. Does it matter that many districts make annual changes to standards, testing, teacher evaluation, and student management systems, requiring teacher to spend a large portion of their time mastering these continuously changing addendums?

 (Hint- The answers are always “Of Course Not”)

A Teaching Quandary

When I was dividing my time between teaching and administrative duties, I chose to teach a class at the end of the day (usually my administrative time). Teachers who I respected were telling me that they were having difficulty sustaining instructional routines and managing behavior during that time of day. It didn’t take me long to realize this was true of my late day class as well. Digging a little deeper, I learned that the class had a larger than typical number of students with 504’s and IEPs. This was the result of budget cuts eliminating instructional aides after lunch and prioritizing their academic classes earlier in the day. Yet, the teachers were held accountable for the students’ low scores. Realizing that three sections of the class were being taught throughout the day, became an Aha! Moment and an opportunity for productive problem-solving.

The three teachers, including myself, shared a common curriculum and common assessments. At the start of the semester, on the pre-assessment (a mini version of the final exam) my class scored an average of 57%, the other two classes, 69%. At the end of the semester, my class scored 71%; the other two classes averaged 81%. I arrived at my yearly evaluation with this data and used it to explain that my student’s growth was higher than the other classes’, and also to defend the value of ongoing growth, not only final scores. Consider the failures of Oprah Winfrey, Walt Disney, J.K. Rowling, Michael Jordan, and Steve Jobs. Without teachers, and mentors, and their own powerful belief in learning from failure and trying one more time, we might have never benefitted from their achievements.

Most teachers choose their profession because they enjoy working with children, want to make a difference in their lives as well as in the world.  Inspired by their own teachers, they dream of paying it forward for the next generation.

Assessing from the heart means relying on these fundamentals assessment practices:

 Students set their own specific and measurable personal goals in relation to the learning intentions

Jamal explains, “I don’t like math, but if I need it to design video games, I’ll do all my algebra homework.”

Rosarial says “If I understand why wars begin, maybe I can help our leaders prevent future ones.”

Markers of achievement are evident, attainable, and measurable

Chan states, “I will list and define 10 new vocabulary words by the end of the chapter.”

Stella says, “I will use my new vocabulary by explaining its meaning using words and illustrations.”

 Students are the users of assessment. They track progress in relation to goals using graphs and narratives

Milan shows this path of his learning:milans-chartEsmeralda announces:

I thought I knew a lot about birds when we started this unit, but now realize that I understood mostly about their bones and feathers, but not about adaptation so let me tell you about that. And also how dinosaurs evolved into birds and why there are so many different species of birds. My favorite new word is phylogeny.

 Multiple measures are used to assess student learning

For example, selected choice for content knowledge, narratives and images for analysis and evaluation, and metacognitive prompts and graphic organizers for predicting and defending.

 Technology is selected and used for a purpose

Choose and use those that align with learning intentions, provide feedback for improvement, and support increasingly complex learning combined with reasonable flexibility and personalization.

Seek what really matters in assessment: Getting to the heart, the true intent of assessment, which has always been for improvement rather than ranking teachers and students.

You can learn more about these best practices at and also from these advocates for quality assessment:

The Gordon Commission, Lorrie Shepard, James Pellegrino, Linda Darling-Hammond, John Hattie, Dylan Wiliam, Heidi Andrade, David T. Conley, and initiatives such as Students at the Center, Assessment Reform Group, Brookings Institution, Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation.


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