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Hare, Hat, Cylinder, Conjure, Spotlight, Easter
Specious Assessment: Misleading, Deceptive, Ambiguous
Dependable Assessment: Coherent, Balanced, Reasoned

Webster’s dictionary defines specious as having a false look of truth or genuineness or being deceptively attractive. Synonyms include misleading and deceitful. The opposite of specious is aboveboard, forthright, and straightforward.  

Down the Rabbit Hole
The idea of assessment being specious began with a reference in a research report on the importance of questioning specious, high stakes, standardized tests. The citation led me to another reading which led me to a report from Dan Hamlin explaining that high standards don’t necessarily mean higher test scores.

And that’s where, as so often happens, I jumped into the rabbit hole and kept digging for more information. This article, from Education Next, explains that state’s proficiency standards have had no effect on test scores.

All of this was brought to the local level in a USA Today story that compared states using data from graduation rates, 8th-grade NAEP scores, and average adult incomes. Honestly, there were few surprises on the list, with states in the northeast scoring the highest, and southern states in general, scoring lower.

Interestingly, some of the lower performing states, also claim higher graduation rates and greater enrollment in higher education. What they don’t explain is the rest of the story, for example, states reliance on scripted lesson plans, adjustments to graduation requirements, and preparation for college.

Assessment can be imbalanced and unreliable OR coherent and dependable
“In education, the term assessment refers to the wide variety of methods or tools that educators use to evaluate, measure, and document the academic readiness, learning progress, skill acquisition, or educational needs of students.” (EdGlossary)

Experts in assessment such as the National Academy Press’ publication, Knowing What Students Know, edited by James Pellegrino, Naomi Chudowsky and Robert Glaser, and other authorities including James H. McMillan, Dylan Wiliam, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Dan Koretz, and organization such as NCIEA, NCME, CRESST  have reliably and consistently described the essential elements of effective assessment.

On the other hand, there are blaring headlines trying to persuade us to purchase the perfect program, package, or platform. Or headlines that are just plain scary (I collected these during the past few weeks from educational resources) “Cause for concern,” “Teacher’s grapple with,” and “Future is unclear,”

balance-world-2030099_960_720-copy-2Straightforward Realities of Best Practice

Digging deeper into the real world of assessment, rather than idealistic prototypes and commercial persuasion, means looking at assessment from multiple perspectives and considering best practices through multiple lenses: students, teachers, classrooms and school as well as realistic policy and feasible financial considerations.

Here are a few essentials. You can learn more about best practice at the Assessment Network and the resources listed below

ALIGNED With effective and coherent curriculum, learning intentions, and instruction

PURPOSEFUL: Supports learning and encourages improvement in performance

EMBEDDED Throughout teaching and learning, assessment tracks progress and informs the next steps.

COMPREHENSIVE: From large-scale to local, varied, heterogeneous, and multidimensional methods are evident.

RESPONSIVE: Applied Use of information: from immediate responses to long term planning

At the end of the rabbit hole, you’ll find a world where assessment is part of a comprehensive and student-centered, culture of learning.

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Assessment Briefs: Guidelines for Keeping It Short and Stylish


Brief “tests” embedded throughout learning are the only way to use traditional selected choice measures such as true/false, multiple choice, and matching. The average attention span is 10 minutes, meaning that about 10 questions into a multiple choice test students’ brains begin to wander or are distracted by their surroundings.

Your brain is already deciding whether to continue reading this. A 2015 study by Microsoft reported that since 2001, the average attention span dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds. (Additional research is at the end of this article.)

In the classroom, you can activate and engage brains with movement.

Before a test, awaken student’s attention with a version of Simon Says: Pick up your pencil, wave it like Bernoulli’s Lemniscate, look down at your feet, up towards el techo, think of a vocabulary word, shout it out, turn to a neighbor and say “Good Job” or “I love tests.”

Teach and assess in ten-minute chunks, especially when learning is primarily auditory and visual. Incorporate breaks during learning, for example, pause for a two-question quiz or a hands-on task such as illustrate what you saw or heard.

Options and Opportunities for 10-minute measures

  • Routine Summaries: Use Exit slips after each part of learning to summarize, paraphrase, or explain new learning. Alternatively, diagram/illustrate the concept or create a Haiku or Cinquain.
  • Make it relevant: Design a strategy for selling the concept to others or explaining how it works in the real world.
  • Thinking Beyond: Explain an alternative answer, perspective, or outcome
  • Keep it Engaging:
    • Explicitly incorporate 3 to 5 vocabulary words in a brief paragraph. Seek peer feedback
    • Incorporate check-ins such as a quickie quiz or signaling to show understanding.
    • Have students write review questions and the answers
  • Rely on response technologies such as Socrative, Quizziz, or Kahoot and/or individual whiteboards
  • Brainstorm descriptive words and similar concepts to put into a word cloud or Tagxedo
  • Give students a choice in the modality for showing learning perhaps by comparing two diverse viewpoints, or collaborating with partners on a visual summary. (May take more than 10 minutes)
  • Appropriately include humor or the unexpected.

It’s easy as 1,2,3: Whatever methods are best in your setting, always be sure that the assessments are:
1. Aligned with the instructional intentions and learning actions.
2. Students understand and are involved in the process and outcomes of assessment.
3. Assessment and feedback are fair for all learners in support of further learning.

Three Research Studies on Children’s Attention Span

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Nudging Towards Success



NUDGE: Touch or push lightly; gently prod or urge into action; get someone’s attention. As in: She nudged him towards the teacher’s desk; He nudged his teammates to run a little faster; It took a little nudge from my mother to finish my homework.

1600s (Verb) Scandinavian: nugge, nyggje to jostle. Icelandic: nugga to rub
1800s Yiddish: stem of nudyen to bore or weary.  Polish: nudzić, nudnik, a pest
Verb: To pester, nag, or give a push.  She gave my leg a nudge under the table.
Noun: Someone who hounds or grouses. What a nudge they are!
Nudge Theory: In behavioral science and economics it means using suggestion and positive feedback to achieve non-forced compliance that changes short-term behavior in support of long-term goals.


Effective assessment means that students understand the learning intentions as well as how learning will be appraised. They have multiple ways to show what they have learned and take increasing responsibility for their learning outcomes. In these settings, assessments are supportive of students, focus on visible and achievable expectations, engage learners, are consistent, and emphasize improvement over final scores. Rather than a jackhammer, consider a velvet mallet, a tap on the shoulder, or words that encourage.

Nudging assessment involves expanding opportunities for student ownership and success.  It is an essential element of restorative assessment. As Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (2008) explain “Putting fruit at eye level counts as a nudge, banning junk food does not.”


  1. Encourage students to annotate selected choice questions: Misunderstandings become more visible when they elaborate on their thinking. Honoré says, “I know the meaning of the word in the first part of the question, but not sure about the second. If lack of exercise means the same as sedentary, then the statement is true.”
  1. Incorporate choice in extended response questions: In social studies, students choose which president’s actions to summarize, critique, or compare during a specific era. In health, they decide the nutrients they want to encourage others to be sure to include in their diet. In science, they select, analyze, and contrast properties of gases using a table or graphic organizer.
  1. Give students a role in constructing test and assessments. They can write questions and use them in a game-format class review. Include some of their questions in the test and watch for their delight when they see ones they wrote or know the answers to others. Confidence is a morale booster that encourages students to push the boundaries of their learning.
  1. Review using material that will be included in the assessment, just in a different format. For example, in the review ask students to match cloud formations with weather predictions. Then, on the test, label three cloud formations and explain which one is most likely to result in rain before long. Repetition and reinforcement is another essential element in remembering and recalling learning.
  1. Rely on respectful nudging, meaning offering guidance and supportive interventions. If students are providing peer feedback, suggest sentence starters that are respectful and empathetic. For example, “Your work made me understand…, but I’m still wondering….” Help them motivate others through constructive feedback such as “Your opening sentence really grabbed me; can you also explain how the character’s actions led to the outcome.” Model ways to use words of encouragement to strengthen learning as in: “You have so many creative ideas: Which one do you want to dig into more deeply?”

Keep in mind that parents can also nudge, gently. My parents would tell stories about how someone in our extended family got accepted to college because they were hard-working. Rather than a jackhammer, they relied on stories, examples, and parables, for life’s lessons.

To summarize, nudges are most effective when they have a track record in bulding confidence or strenthtening ownership.

  • Aligned with and responsive to the learning intentions
  • Feasible in the moment
  • No or low cost
  • Designed with options and choices
  • Presented, developed, and displayed in multiple ways: words, voice, images, and examples

Learn more at:
Small Nudges Can Push Students in the Right Direction, Sarah Sparks, EdWeek
Thaler, R, and Sunstein, C. (2008) Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. Penguin Booksadventure-1807524_960_720

Previously Published in EdCircuit, 2018

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Overcoming Assessment Bias: Making Assessment Fair for All Learners


It is not possible to be entirely equitable, non-biased, and objective in assessing and reporting learning; or for that matter, in life.  It is normal to cultivate personal preferences and have preconceived perspectives. As I was drawn to lists of cognitive biases at Raconteur, and Cognitive Bias Codex, I recognized that we are all prone to selective perception, bandwagon effect, projection, and anecdotal fallacy. In a world where there is more information than our brains can process, relying on cognitive shortcuts can lead to mistaken beliefs and errors of judgment, leading to inequity and bias in assessment.

Until it becomes possible to measure a brain’s dendrite growth and neuronal connectivity throughout learning, assessment in the classroom is at best a measure of the assessment’s validity and the learner’s selective recall and comprehension. Assessment can be prone to unfairness in content, language, format, and scoring. Interpretation of results may be influenced by students’ personal traits, gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic status.

*Confirmation Bias: Giving more credence to data that supports our current beliefs.
*Optimism Bias: Overlooking students’ weaknesses while emphasizing agreeable outcomes.
*Pessimism Bias: Over-emphasis and over-confidence in negative outcomes and events.
*Reliance on Partial Information: Rarely do we have everything needed to understand the entire narrative, explanation, or process, so our brains
tend to use prior learning and experiences to fill in gaps.
*Illusion of Knowledge: Considering people and things we know, do, and understand, as more important and dependable than those that are less
familiar and personally relevant
*Status Quo Bias: Preference to do things the way we’ve always done it.

Information and emotional overload put our brains into survival mode where we must quickly decide what is most essential and respond to what is most distressing.
It is at these times that preconceived biases inform our decisions about, and analysis of, many things, including assessment.

It is possible to be balanced, inclusive and fair in assessment. Here are some ideas:

Pre-assess students’ incoming knowledge and skills in support of teaching and learning.
Provide clear, specific, and achievable learning objectives that all learners can undertake.
Give students ownership of their grades through well-defined grading criteria and rubrics.
→Ensure transparency in how and what will be assessed, along with the scoring and weighting.
Incorporate multiple levels of taxonomies: i.e. knowing, applying, predicting, and producing.
→Minimize consequences of prerequisite skills such as ELA vocabulary for math word problems and writing skills for social studies.
Make available varied yet sequential pathways for students to achieve and succeed. For example, students can write a traditional essay, use new  vocabulary in a call to action, or illustrate it.
→Offer opportunities for students to annotate their responses. Pierre says, “I wasn’t sure whether to choose 8 or 9 planets because even the scientists disagree.”

Restorative Assessment: Strength-Based Practices that Support All Learners
Sticky Assessment: Classroom Strategies to Amplify Student Learn

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Raising the Return on Assessment

   The Cost of Assessment   hand-1527790_960_720

In the corporate world, a return on investment is a calculation of financial gain in relation to expenditures. In education, the return on assessment is the cost of assessment in relation to learning outcomes. When spending on standardized testing is nearly 2 billion dollars each year (, what is the return on that that investment?

Embracing the real intent of assessment requires minimal expenditure while increasing the potential for significant gains. (Darling-Hammond, 2013) Garnering insight into what students know and can do and using that information to guide the next steps in teaching and learning is the underlying principle of assessment. The cost of local assessment is minimal when it is incorporated in daily instructional routines.

Increasing Assessment Efficacy Reduces Costs
Efficacy in Education
Efficacy in teaching refers to the effectiveness of instruction in achieving learning objectives. It also represents improvement in student’s knowledge and skills and their progress towards mastery. Efficacy depends on the clarity and relevance of goals as well as the soundness and accuracy of the assessment.

Student Efficacy
Student’s efficacy begins with their understanding of the intents and purposes of learning. It starts with student’s incoming knowledge and skills that deepens as they move through the taxonomies. Over time and with support, students develop the ability to apply their learning, analyze choices, make informed decisions, appreciate diverse viewpoints, and generate original ideas about a topic or subject. All in support of self-reliance.

Assessment Efficacy
Assessment isn’t something meted out to students and measured with complex formulas. Rather the benefits of assessment come from considering the purpose and process of the students’ actions. Are they passive bubble sheet completers, expected to generate the right answer, or construct a defensible response? Do they have a choice in displaying their learning: in writing, orally, using images, diagrams, and relevant technologies?

Consider ways you can use this checklist to validate and affirm your assessment efficacy. Alternatively use it as a rating scale to indicate your current and desired level of expertise.
____Shared understanding of what is being assessed.
____Acknowledgement of the importance of assessing it.
____Extends learning beyond “knowing” to student’s conceptual understanding,
analysis of information, synthesis of learning, and production of original ideas.
____Content of the assessment aligns with and supports the learning intentions.

____Big-picture standards are deconstructed into teachable and learnable portions.
____Assessments are used primarily to monitor progress: Rarely used to
rate teachers or rank schools.
____Assessment is locally planned rather than externally mandated.
____Evidence of gaps in understanding are used to guide instructional responses.

Engagement: Students are partners in assessment
____Students can explain the performance standards in their own words.
____They rely on indicators of improvement to inform their next steps
towards mastery.
____Students track and provide evidence of their progress towards learning goals
____They can explain the learning outcomes in their own words.  As Janessa says
“When I can calculate the area of a rectangle; then I will be able to order new
carpeting for my bedroom.”

Multiple measures
____Appraises what students know, understand, and can do with their learning.
____Students have a choice in showing what they know and can do from
annotating test questions, to raising questions, and presenting original ideas.
____Relies on a spectrum of strategies from standardized measures to
authentic applications of learning.
____Data and information produced by multiple measures are used to diagnose
and strengthen learning.


Raising the Return on Assessment
Consequently, it is important to think beyond numerical data and consider the quality of an assessment. A student may be able to select the correct example of iambic pentameter but not be able to use it in an original poem. On a selected choice test they may be able to narrow it down to two choices and then successfully guess the right answer, but can they explain why their answer is correct?

The return on assessment is elevated when students can describe what they learned, gauge their progress, apply their learning in similar as well unique situations, and work collaboratively with others to solve real-world problems. Return on assessment is reduced by selected choice and fill-in-the-blank tests as their thinking is not visible.

Assessment that supports learning is not tacked on at the end but rather embedded throughout teaching and learning. This may include a pre-assessment that reveals incoming knowledge and skills, a “find and fix” check-in, or a review using student-designed Jeopardy games.

  • Nika reflects: “When I compare my work to the success criteria I still need to work on_____
  • Jaylen shows understanding: “Listening to the speaker’s experience helps me understand how important solving this problem really is.
  • Moyen says: “Whoops, I forgot the formula, but can explain that Ohms law says that when you increase voltage through a circuit whose resistance is fixed, the current goes up.

Rather than relying on the most persistent and persuasive marketers of assessment, it’s more important to depend on substantiated best practices for increasing the value and return on assessment. For more information on these ideas refer to the work of:
Heidi Andrade and Students at the Center
Linda Darling-Hammond
Linking Classroom Assessment with Student Learning

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Ideas for making annual testing more meaningful



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Overcoming Assessment Illiteracy

There are some who equate illiteracy with ignorance. But, there is a difference. Ignorance is a general lack of knowledge. Each of us is ignorant in our own way. One person may be unfamiliar with the rules of a game, another unclear about the difference between ultraviolet and infrared radiation, or unable to distinguish valid from reliable research.

In general, illiteracy is the inability to read. People may also be functionally illiterate meaning that their reading and writing skills are inadequate for completing the daily routines of life and work; just as some can be color blind and others have color deficiency where they see colors differently. When someone has a red-green vision deficiency, they can learn the sequence of traffic lights and then determine whether the top or bottom light is shining brighter. There are also some people who are color sufficient yet are unable to correctly identify which of these traffic light patterns is right side up.1EACH OF US AS IS, MAL-, MIS-, DYS/DIS- OR ILL-, SOMETHING OR OTHER.

What’s your mal-? Are you mal-content when things do go as expected? Do you mal-function when overwhelmed with educational mandates or are mal-adaptive when too many changes take place at once.

What’s your mis-? Are you easy to mid-lead, do you have students who seem to be mis-guided in conforming to norms? Who hasn’t been mis-taken or taken mis-steps either physically or socially?

What’s your dis-? Are you dis-tracted when there are too many demands on your time and energy? Do you feel dis-comfort when things don’t seem to be as expected, or dis-quiet when you head in for your annual review?

These situations require responsive guidance that is appropriate and practical. Overcoming any types of ill-, mal-, dis, or dys- requires insight into the situation as well as the recognition that it may take longer to restore or repair than it took to develop the problem.


Whether it is called ignorance or illiteracy, the lack of knowledge about assessment can be challenging for teachers, harmful to students, and result in inaccurate inferences about learning.  Consider Kai, who plays music by ear, but can’t make sense of mathematical ratios and intervals. Or Izzy who speaks clearly and eloquently when explaining a concept to a peer but struggles to put the same words on paper.

Assessment Illiteracy refers to a broad range of skills and knowledge that can be confusing or elusive. In addition, external decision makers demand accountability in the form of standardized test scores. There’s no denying that the vocabulary of measurement and statistics can be confusing such as norm vs. criterion or correlation and causation. In practice, illiteracy is evident when students are given only requisite and authorized tests, when the majority of classroom measures are based on selected choice questions, or when reporting is summative, relying primarily on final scores.

It is possible to flip these practices by embedding assessment throughout teaching and learning, engaging students as assessors, facilitating student accountability for learning outcomes, emphasizing growth measures, and accentuating progress.

Assessment Literate teachers and leaders understand the role of assessment in a learning culture, can design and utilize multiple types of assessment, and effectively make use of assessment results. Assessment literate educators have the skills to:

  1. Design and select valid assessment instruments.
  2. Align assessment with standards and learning intentions.
  3. Utilize multiple methods to assess diverse levels of complexity for multiple purposes.
  4. Monitor student progress toward learning targets.
  5. Interpret assessment data in relation to strengths, gaps, growth, and outcomes.
  6. Use reliable and consistent assessment results to inform decisions about individual students, teaching routines, instructional planning, and curriculum design.
  7. Communicate assessment outcomes to students, parents, and other constituents.
  8. Recognize and minimize detrimental assessment practices and inappropriate uses of assessment information.

Assessment illiteracy is no longer acceptable anywhere in our education system: From legislators who mandate frequent testing of students to teachers and students who are overwhelmed by it. Assessment literacy requires a collective voice in assessment practices that comes from a widespread understanding of comprehensive assessment as a multidimensional process that is routinely integrated throughout teaching and learning. When literacy is evident, assessments increase opportunities for students and support meaningful accountability.

In brief, best practice in assessment is:

  1. Purposeful, informative, and coherent.
  2. Intentional, balanced, and practical.
  3. Focused yet flexible.
  4. Rigorous and responsive.
  5. Cogent, credible, and technically sound.
  6. Inclusive and accessible for all learners.

For students to be successful the assessment content and process meet these criteria:
     A. Wording is clear and understandable for all learners.
     B. esponses align with and display evidence of progress towards mastery.
     C. There may be more than one single right answer.
     D. Students have opportunities to elaborate and explain their answers.
     E. Alternative responses are considered in relation to learning intentions.
     F. Helps students to apply and transfer learning.
     G. Assessment results are visible, explicit and useful in improving learning.


Scenarios: Questions 1 to 4 are given to students in a college class on assessing student learning. Analyze each question in relation to the criteria for constructing assessment questions. (You may rely on the indicators of best practice in 1 to 6 or the student success indicators in A to G.) Explain your analysis in your own words. Make recommendations for improvement.

  1. Describe the relative merits of selected choice questions and essay questions for measuring learning outcomes at the understanding level of the taxonomy.

Sample Response to question 1:
“I can see how B is evident in that the student’s depth and clarity of their response can provide insight into their learning.  C and D, are also incorporated in the task by asking students to “describe” rather than simply select a response.  A is questionable because “relative” can have relatively different meanings.
I do not see F because the questions and response are constrained by the word “Describe,” which is typically at the understanding level of the taxonomy. I think the question could be clearer, (per best practice #5 and A) but I’m not sure how to do that.”

  1. T F  The true-false item, which is favored by test experts, may also be called an alternative-response item.
  1. _________What is a six-sided polygon known as? (The student says it is a stop sign)
  1. Which 2 people discovered the structure of DNA. Write the correct answers here: ________
     A. James Watson        B. Rosalind Franklin        C. Sheldon Cooper         D. Francis Crick             E. A & B       F. A & C

For questions 5 and 6 below, discuss your responses and analysis with your team.

  1. Choose and explain which is a more valid assessment strategy.
    A. Ms. Tau chooses test questions from the teacher’s version of the classroom text
    B. Ms. See uses a test blueprint to be sure that questions align with each of the learning intentions: Learn more about blueprints and table of specifications at ODE and PARE.
  1. Which strategy helps students stretch learning beyond recall?
    A. Students write selected choice questions for an upcoming test. These may include true/false, matching, or multiple choice.
    B. Student uses their new learning to write a letter to someone in a position of power, for example, a school leader, expert on the topic, or representative in public office. The letter is scored for connections to learning intentions such as accuracy, clarity, use of facts, organization, and persuasiveness.

Questions: Contact me at

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5 Expert Views on Assessment

Based on the Book
World Class: Tackling the Biggest Challenges Facing Schools Today
Edited by David James and Ian Warwick

Note: These summaries rely on the author’s words; some have been abridged for readability. They are based on a synopsis at

Carolyn Adams and Matt Glanville
“Assessments which require students to think and which demand higher-order cognitive skills are not only for high-achieving students. Today’s young people need to make connections between and across subjects. They need to understand the nature of knowledge and how to apply it rather than simply learn facts, which are readily available through their smartphones. Assessments should address those needs to be relevant and educationally worthwhile.”

Tim Oates
“The social and economic uses of assessment exert pressure on the technical characteristics of precision, fairness, and dependability. Naturally, the ‘high-stakes’ or ‘low-stakes’ nature of assessment is not a feature of the test itself; it derives principally from the uses to which an assessment is put. But one thing does, in fact, unite these two apparently phobic realities. And it’s this. For all the discussion of ‘mired and oppressive’ forms of formal assessment, and the ‘liberating, learner-centered’ character of low-stakes assessment, all assessment is measurement. Whether low stakes or high stakes, technology-supported or not, there is a common interest and common good in assessment being accurate and dependable. Forgetting this fundamental would be a huge error.”
Andreas Schleicher
“The world no longer rewards people just for what they know but for what they can do with what they know. Tests can provide a window into students’ understandings and the conceptual strategies a student uses to solve a problem. They can add value for teaching and learning when tasks incorporate transfer and authentic applications and provide opportunities for students to organize and deepen their understanding through explanation and use of multiple representations. There has never been a greater opportunity to move the assessment agenda forward from providing signals of what students can do, to actually improving what students can do.”
Bob Sornson
“Most education systems now have an over-abundance of data to tell us which students, teachers, schools, and communities are winners and losers. But the limits of a CTS (Cover-Test-Sort mindset) educational system are in its basic architecture. It was never built to help all children succeed. It was designed to cover a standard curriculum in approximately the same way for all students in an age group, give them some tests, identify winners and losers, and move along to the next lesson. Essential skills and knowledge are not represented by a score on a one-time assessment. Proficiency must be observed or measured on several occasions, over a period of time, using several different learning contexts or materials before a teacher can certify that a student is truly able to understand and use the knowledge or skill. In a competency-based learning system the most important assessment is formative.”
Dylan Wiliam
“A standardized test – or any other kind of assessment for that matter – is, at its heart, simply a procedure for making inferences. Students learn, evidence is collected about what they can do, and on the basis of that evidence, assumptions are made. The learning and inferences made are shallow because the kinds of things that can be tested in standardized conditions are limited. The temptation to use these models to produce summary judgements of students, teachers, and schools must be resisted. If schools are to be places where students experiment, take risks, and learn from mistakes, then we should not, nor can we, capture all the evidence. Assessment for summative purposes should be periodic, at the end of sequences of learning and designed to provide snapshots of a student’s capabilities. At all other times, the focus must be on collecting evidence that will help students and teachers guide learning more effectively.”

Summarized by Laura Greenstein

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ASSESSMENT: Personalized, Practical, and Purposeful


“I am still learning.” Michelangelo, age 87

Conversations about personalized learning are increasing throughout the education community. The language, frequently a matter of semantics*, includes adaptive, rigorous, customized, and paced. Many of these assertions come from the technology sector that continues to leverage research in support of their personalized learning tools. Yet, the evidence of positive effects varies by program design, content area, local implementation, and more. (Herold, 2016, Pane, 2017)

Learning by its very nature is active and inclusive. Assessment too is intended to be a reciprocal and dynamic process (see assidere) rather than solitary periods of time with an electronic tutor.

Everything is Personal

Every experience, event, and interaction with others passes through our limbic system, the emotional center of our brain, that immediately decides whether something, including learning and assessment, is beneficial and enjoyable, or too difficult, dangerous, or boring. Stress and fear can activate a student’s primal flight or fight response, adversely affecting learning outcomes.

Each person sees the world through their individual lens that is formed from experiences, beliefs, and feelings. Assessment, when considered through the lens of personalization, may be feasible or daunting. For a teacher, designing and scoring 22 different versions of an assessment is unimaginable. On the other hand, there are practical ways to personalize assessment without activating students’ or teachers’ fight or flight response.

 Not Everything is Within Our Control

Think about the things educators can control: Lesson sequences, instructional strategies, seating configurations, and classroom routines. Students too, can recognize what is within their skill set and sphere of influence. These insights lead to self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-confidence. However, teachers cannot control a student’s home life, their mental health, abuse, fear, trauma, or poverty: Students can’t either. Nor can artificial intelligence respond to emotions in real time.

Personalizing Assessment

Personalized assessment engages learners by linking standards to local learning intentions, relying on meaningful learning routines, monitoring progress, and modifying learning based on informative feedback from peers, teachers, and specialists. Personalized processes include:

Scaffolding begins with what students know and supports them as they move towards deeper understanding and greater independence. Scaffolding includes chunking learning, activating prior knowledge, and using multimodal exemplars.  For example, if students are expected to calculate the area of a rectangle but haven’t quite grasped the concept yet, they can begin by drawing a grid of one-inch squares and counting the boxes. “The Boy Who Loved Words” is an ELA example of embedding new vocabulary throughout teaching and learning.

Student Choice in displaying learning as it relates to and supports explicit outcomes and objectives. For one student 10 multiple choice questions and a brief paragraph may be feasible. A more independent student may choose 10 fill in the blank and a graphic organizer to show their comprehension. Students can also show their expertise through press releases, illustrated guides, or multimedia presentations. Scoring is based on benchmarks such as content, organization, and conventions of writing.

Sequencing of assessment means arranging assessments that start with basic foundations and then proceed to higher levels of learning. In doing so, students can decide (or in some cases, teacher indicates) where to stop when they have responded to the required number of questions at each level of complexity. This allows students to safely stretch beyond their comfort level without serious consequences.

Autonomy increases when students define personal learning intentions, develop actionable and timely learning plans, and have options for displaying learning. When showing their understanding of text complexity, younger children can decide how they would like to explain or demonstrate the who, what, or where of their reading. Older students can use words or visuals to analyze and unpack how a character changes and ideas unfold over time.  A checklist or rubric supports consistent self, peer, and teacher appraisal. (Note: Autonomy requires structure, sequence, expectations, and opportunities in support of choice.)

In Summary: Assessment that is Personalized, Purposeful, and Practical
 *Is consistent and aligned with standards, learning intentions, and outcomes.
*Involves modeling and teaching the skills of self-assessment.
*Engages and empowers learners in assessment
*Incorporates variable process and expression of learning.
*Provides realistic yet achievable levels of challenge.
*Relies on formative guidance that informs the next steps for both students and teachers.

Quality assessment supports and guides flexible groupings, identifies and intervenes in lingering gaps, and records progress towards goals. Technology can have a role in quality assessment, but it is not the primary resource.

Proceed with the 3 Cs: Caution, Care, and Common Sense    

There are already many educational initiatives and reforms demanding our attention: Mastering new learning management systems, frequent reauthorizations of ESEA, project-based and experiential learning, and a myriad of life skills such as collaboration, metacognition, and technological fluency. Each new initiative (1) contributes to initiative fatigue. Instead, slow down and consider ways to blend personalized assessment into existing routines. Be sure to encourage and support students as partners in learning.

(1) The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has spent billions on teacher preparation, educational inequality, and coherent standards; other initiatives include teacher retention, increased technology in school, charter schools, redesign of learning spaces but admit these initiatives haven’t resulted in the expected improvements.

golf-1802020_960_720-1Applying your learning to this image (or select a video in your content area):
The learning intention: Utilize proper form to hit a golf ball a specified distance
Analyze the student’s strategy based on the learning intentions and criteria
What modifications to performance would you recommend?
How would you quantify and qualify the learners progress?
How can your transfer this learning to your setting?


Herold, B. (2016)

Pane, J. F. (2017)

(1) Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation:

* Semantics The language used (as in advertising or politics) to achieve a desired effect on an audience especially through the use of words with novel or dual meanings

Extend your thinking:

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Assessment-Literate Educators

7 Things Assessment-Literate Educators Need to Do. (including: Balanced, Intentional, & Aligned) from NWEA/Advancing Assessment Education


Overused Buzz Words

In this edweek article, from Larry Ferlazzo’s Classroom Q and A, the most overused words in educatioin include: at-risk, data-driven, rigor, 21st century skills, flipped and more. Read about it at

SCAN “The Journal for Educators”

Showcasing innovation in education


Assessment EdTech Update

From assessment foundations to tech-tools, you’ll find information and resources here:


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