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Assessment with Benefits

ASSESSMENT DEFINITIONS typically include these key ideas: 
  *Gauges the outcomes of teaching and learning.
*Gathers and utilizes information about students’ knowledge and skills.
*Depends on reliable data.    

A more comprehensive definition of assessment: It relies on gathering, analyzing, and using evidence and information from multiple sources about student outcomes in ways that best support students, inform instruction, make educational decisions, and improve learning outcomes.

Assessment is most effective when it benefits both the giver and receiver. What if there were ways to document the “return on assessment?”  This chart describes the practice, evidence, and outcomes when students are engaged IN the process of assessment as well as the benefits when they are empowered AS assessors.

AS ASSESSORS                    
TEACHERS ROLE Reconsider traditional “measures” of learning: Rely on practices that involve students in the process and methods of assessment. i.e., They write the questions.STUDENT RESPONSIBILITIES Depend on validated research and best practices of student-engaged assessments to develop learners’ confidence, readiness to be assessed, and outcomes.
Share explicit learning intentions that students deconstruct into actionable and attainable learning processes and outcomes.Explain their goals, their learning intentions, and how they developed a personalized plan and process.
Offer a practical and predictable path for learning. Anticipate the need for flexibility and support. i.e., incorporate a “Learning Tracker.”Describe the path they planned and followed, what went as expected, and times that they needed to be flexible, backtrack, or take detours.
Incorporate progress and growth indicators such as checklists and rubrics for students to add to as they monitor progress throughout learning.Routinely display descriptions and documentation of their progress as well as areas for improvement.
Display exemplars of varying levels of achievement of goals: Have students compare and evaluate the exemplars.Present explicit evidence of learning and describe how their outcomes aligned or deviated from the learning intentions and plan.
Provide goal-based and actionable feedback that describes ways to resolve misunderstandings as well as close lingering learning gaps.For continuous improvement, students rely on and evaluate their use of feedback that is timely, relevant actionable, and user-friendly.  
Involve students in assessing their incoming skills and knowledge, how they will monitor progress, and feasibly evaluate the outcomes. i.e., assess pre & postPresent and explain where their learning started, the steps they took, and the quality of their final outcomes.

Based on the book: Student-Engaged Assessment:  Strategies to Empower All Learners by Laura Greenstein and Mary Ann Burke
Learn more at Assessment Network

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The Ups and Downs of Using Technology for Long-Distance Assessment

Life is often about considering choices, weighing options, and making decisions. From your favorite coffee to style of exercise, it is practical to think about your goals: Do you need a caffeine boost or a moment of relaxation or are aiming for endurance or strength?

Technology is not the learning, rather it is a resource for learning. Good intentions are not a substitute for being purposeful in achieving your goals. Nor is persuasive marketing the best guide to technologies for assessment. There’s a spectrum of substantiated advice and opinions on using emerging technologies for assessing learning.
Here’s a brief summary:

The Upside of Technology for Assessment       

  • Differentiates content and pacing for individual students.
  • Offers students enrichment and/or tutoring on specific subjects and topics.
  • Provides data that can be quantified, such as achievement of explicit benchmarks.
  • Facilitates creativity and production of original ideas and artifacts.
  • Reinforces reward centers of the brain encouraging continuous engagement.

The Downside of Technology for Assessment   

  • Modes of learning (i.e., visual, auditory, kinesthetic, social) are abridged.
  • Physical activity and the development of interpersonal skills may be hindered.
  • Real-time interaction, reflection, feedback, and questioning during learning are limited.
  • A narrowing of learning modalities may result in lower retention rates.
  • Reinforces reward centers of the brain, encouraging yearning for more screen time.

Deciding Who, When, Where, and How to Use Assessment Technologies

Decisions should be based on the learners’ requirements and the learning intentions. The lower end of the taxonomy; recall, understanding, and sequencing of steps is well-supported by technology.  Assessment of upper levels, such as analysis, evaluation, and generation of original ideas and products, requires more precision.

Technology itself may help a child build knowledge, but it cannot make children more logical. It does have the potential to be transformative when teachers and students are prepared to constructively choose, use, and evaluate the technology and learning outcomes. Technology is not a panacea for learning, nor a cure-all for raising test scores, but rather is most effective when it blends the best of teachers and machines. The emphasis must be on thoughtful adoption and valid implementation of appropriate and substantiated technologies in support of instructional aims.

Also see the May 2018 blog:

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Returning to School 5: Knowing What Students Know

You will also find these “RETURNING TO SCHOOL” blogs in the Toolbox

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Returning to School 4: Developing Students As Assessors

In their upcoming book (Rowman and Littlefield, June 2020), Mary Ann Burke and Laura Greenstein explain the importance of developing students as self-assessors. Key ideas include:

  1. Confirm that students understand the purpose and intentions of learning.
  2. Guide and support students as they develop plans for monitoring their learning.
  3. Incorporate practical processes for tracking their own progress as well as responding to oversights and misunderstandings.
  4. Encourage the use of feedback from multiple sources, including self-reflection, teachers, peers, and source material.

Heidi Andrade (2012) encapsulates the importance of developing students as self-assessors this way: “When assessment is student-focused, it centers on students’ strengths, needs, and interests; involves students in setting goals; promotes learning through growth; monitors progress; and determines how to address any gaps” (p. 2).

With practice and support, learners take on increasing responsibility for their learning as well as the appraisal of learning. In turn, this leads to the development of life-long skills such as responding and resolving learning challenges, recognizing that mistakes can be learning opportunities, enhancing problem-solving skills, and increasing independence and resourcefulness.


_____ 1. Ask students to explain learning targets in their own words.  
_____ 2. Incorporate checks for understanding throughout learning.
_____ 3. Acknowledge and encourage each student’s strengths and skills.  
_____ 4. Help learners appreciate mistakes as opportunities for improving. 
_____ 5. Have students recognize the connections between learning
intentions and outcomes.
 _____ 6. Provide feedback that is focused and actionable.
 _____ 7. Incorporate opportunities for self-scoring and self-correcting

Determining whether students are prepared to learn begins with cognitive and emotional readiness to learn, mastery of academic foundations, understanding of expected processes and outcomes of learning, awareness of personal strengths and struggles, and access to a playbook of strategies and resources for reviewing and fine-tuning learning. Below is an example of a rubric for student self-scoring and self-reflection.


  • Assessment is a strategy for furthering learning.
  • Comprehensive assessment requires the use of varied methods for multiple purposes.
  • Engaging students IN assessment and AS assessors is imperative.
  • When you must rely on summative scores, there should be no surprises for teachers or students.
  • Refocus Assessment AS a form of learning rather than solely a measure OF final outcomes.
  • Rely on multiple viewpoints of assessment, from a close-up lens to far-reaching implications.
  • Remember that assessment is not only an ending. It can also be a beginning.

Andrade, H. 2012

Assessment-ready learners understand assessment routines, engage IN assessment, and serve AS assessors throughout learning.

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Returning to School 3. Identifying & Responding to Lingering Learning Gaps

The word pandemic brings frightful images and evokes strong feelings including fear and loss as well as hope and even guffaws . Hollywood has done its part with “Outbreak” and “Contagion,” as well as “Idiocracy” and “Sharknado.”

In addition to interruptions in learning, there are social and emotional ramifications of school closings including isolation, stress, economic challenges, limited access to technology, and inconsistencies in home-schooling. Even when students don’t face these dilemmas, it can be perplexing to figure out what each child knows and complicated to accurately measure progress, identify lingering gaps, and determine appropriate interventions. 

Many learners become frustrated when they find themselves in a “learning pit,” as James Nottingham describes it. ( Like teeth that weaken from too many sweets, brain synapses can be altered from too little cognitive stimulation or too much emotional overload.
One of the resources I frequently turn to is “Knowing What Students Know” from the National Research Council. It informs and advises on numerous assessment topics from the neuroscience of learning to effective use of data. A fundamental take-away is that there is no single “best” practice in assessment. Instead, it is necessary to rely on a spectrum of assessments from factual recall, to analysis of evidence, and demonstrations of learning.

Accurate assessment is grounded in these ABCs:
   A. Alignment of assessment with standards, teaching, learning, and local assessments.
   B. Balanced, practical, and purposeful, assessment strategies for substantiating student learning.
   C. Coherent, meaningful, and useable responses to students’ evidence of learning.

Closing lingering learning gaps relies on these four practices for deciphering and diminishing them:
1. Determine the size of the gap. Lagging by one lesson requires different remediation than missing months of learning. Focus on the diagnostic aspects rather than solely summative outcomes.

2. Rely on multimodal summaries and reviews (i.e., reading, doing, observing, listening) that incorporate opportunities for all students to catch-up. Another option is to give students a choice of the best ways for them to learn and display their learning.

3. Transfer ownership for closing gaps to students, perhaps using a standards-based annotated checklist where students can rate their current level of achievement, describe what they do not understand, and choose strategies and resources to help them move forward.

4. Understand the cause of the gap. Content knowledge can be strengthened with a whole class review or individualized resources, reflection, and analysis. Encourage those who have higher levels of mastery to help peers. When learners face overwhelming social and emotional challenges, do not hesitate to seek professional support for them and you.

1. What elements of assessment have you mastered?
     How can you share (i.e. explain, demonstrate) your experience and expertise with others?
2. What skills and knowledge are most valuable to you?
       Which ones do you want to develop further and how will you do that?
3. What questions do you still have and skills you would like to develop?
     Where can you find the resources and guidance you need to move forward?

“I am still learning.” Attributed to Michelangelo, age 87

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Returning to School 2. Adjusting to the New Normal

After Disruption…..

As the kerfuffle abates, confusion subsides, and the dust begins to settle in classrooms across the globe, educators are setting their sights on helping students get back on course with their learning.

If everyone were restarting on a level playing field, it would be easy to assess mastery of expected learning outcomes during the months of being away from the classroom. Unfortunately, schools are not reopening under these ideal conditions: Some students have stayed on track towards meeting end of the year requirements. Others have lagged due to no fault of their own.

Blaming others is not a feasible solution, nor is telling learners and their families to pull themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps. Most boots no longer have those provisions and some students may not be as resourceful and self-starting as anticipated. Some schools and learners never had boots, others have outgrown them, and some have faced obstacles in using them on uneven learning paths.

The magnitude of the effects of school closings combined with varied student experiences at home, is yet to be known. Without a consistent road map, schools, teachers, and learners will be forging new and alternative pathways to success in meeting grade level and subject area requirements.

Here are four guideposts to keep learning and assessment on track when returning to schools and classrooms.

Time-tested, predictable routines are a good starting point. Fine-tune previously successful practices for getting students’ attention, engaging them in learning, and monitoring progress. Perhaps ask students to recall prior classroom expectations as well as suggest feasible modifications. It is best to avoid substantial changes such as regrouping or shuffling classes, introducing new curriculum, or restructuring schedules.

While keeping an eye on long-term goals and measures, use this time to integrate low-risk formative strategies in the classroom. Instead of a whole class review of vocabulary, have small teams of students select vocabulary words from a bowl and decide together the best way to review the definition and usage. They could choose to illustrate or acting it out or develop a mixed list of synonyms and antonyms for their classmates to sort into the correct category.

In addition to traditional teacher-guided routines and measures, consider asking students to demonstrate what they learned. They can prepare an empty outline for the class. As they explain their topic, others insert the correct word into their own outline. For example, when the outline says: The last major battle of the Civil War was at _________ Courthouse where General ______surrendered to General ___________. To incorporate higher levels of thinking, ask students to explain the significance or two aftereffects of this battle. Rather than having students provide one correct answer, ask them to elaborate on their thinking or explain a concept to a Martian.

It is possible to study for a test, select the right answer, and yet not be able to explain or demonstrate understanding. Instead, consider open-ended questions that require higher levels of thinking or evidence of learning. Students could write questions for others to answer, use the content vocabulary to write a poem or rap, or create media and visual images such as infographics. Note: it is best to accompany these less conventional methods with rubrics and other types of rating scales.   

UP NEXT: Identifying and Responding to Lingering Gaps

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Returning to School: 1

Knowing What Student’s Know
Understanding Student’s Experiences and Emotions
Restoring Relationships and Routines

When the turning point comes and life begins to return to a new normal, how will you know what your students learned during their home-schooling experiences? Many parents tried to juggle home teaching expectations while working remotely. Teachers, with children of their own, struggled under the dual expectations of developing learning plans for their own classes as well as fulfilling the learning plans that their children’s teachers sent home.

Easing back to normalcy will take time: To identify student’s variations in learning and prepare them for a return to the routines of school, while catching-up on lingering gaps. Politicians may promise a return to normal, but most health and human service professionals see a new asymmetry.

Throughout schools, classrooms, and homes, it will take time to adjust. Educationally, the possibility of skipping a year of standardized testing will be bewildering in terms of where and how to begin the next school term. Picking up where you left off is impractical because some children have been moving ahead while others have remained stagnant. Additionally, there is the question of which standards are most vital to achieve, while new grade-level ones await?


Be realistic about all aspects of teaching and learning: Cognitive development as well as social-emotional. It’s been a stressful time for everyone. Each student has had a different experience ranging from parents who have the skills and time to teach at home, to others who experienced abundant screen time or inconsistent caregiving.  

Start with a clean slate: It may not be feasible to pick up where you left off last term, but it is possible to construct a foundation for moving ahead with learning. Recognize student’s collective, communal, and shared learning experiences as well as what was unique and personal for each. Rahel may have conscientiously followed the online lessons while Reagan’s family spent weekends learning together, perhaps building a greenhouse or taking virtual tours to other planets.

Take it step by step: Rather than rushing forward, take time to rebuild relationships with your students, listen to their experiences, learn from each other, and reassure them that all types of learning can be valuable. Then, begin a step by step process to recognize what was learned and what gaps still linger. Ask them about the best ways for them to show what they learned. Let them fill their own virtual or paper “slate” to display, diagram, and illustrate emotional and mental states

Establish shared routines: Ask students what they remember of classroom expectations and practices, ways to keep their workspace organized, how to handle disagreements, or how to respond when someone is sad. Add some fun: Develop a shared dance move when changing learning activities and stations, or at the end of group work, have students exchange “virtual gifts with each other such as expressing appreciation for ___.  Develop unique, non-contact, morning greetings.

Build a sense of connectedness and belonging: Create a chart where each student can identify something they like to do, are good at, or learned at home: i.e., cleaning their room, solving problems, art, karate, and more.

Talk about feelings: Acknowledge that some people experienced powerful feelings during this time, while others lapsed into a lackadaisical or discouraged mindset. Make a chart by asking students to list people’s feelings, then collectively generate words with an opposite meaning. For example, bored becomes interested, stress and worry becomes relaxed and calm, distracted becomes focused, and problems become solutions. Emphasize the importance of acknowledging understanding and responding to our feelings.

Incorporate a dash of fun to ease normal and expected nervousness. Also, consider the needs of students who may be more anxious. Warm-up everyone with get-acquainted activities such as: “If I could have been anywhere else during this time, it would have been…….” Or roses (enjoyable things that happened) and thorns (prickly things I experienced). 

Consider ways to check recall of previous learning such as word association using prior vocabulary, concept maps, small group brainstorming, draw-it, three-corners where students post “I remember, I forgot, I need help with…” Be prepared to introduce new learning in ways that make connections to prior learning, such as an ABC vocabulary or a KWL.

Keep parents in the loop: Even before students return to school, make sure everyone is reducing their screen-time and re-engaging in active and dynamic learning. Keep everyone connected with classroom news updates, postings of classroom activities, student-written notes home.

         Alone we can do so little; Together we can accomplish so much.”
Helen Keller

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The Untapped Potential of Engaging Students in Assessment

While the concept of student-owned assessment is becoming more widespread, ways to engage and activate students as assessors are less familiar.            

John Hattie (2012) describes assessment capable learners as those who ask where they are going, how they are going, and where to go next. Taking that a step further, assessment-engaged learners as those who know the learning intentions and success criteria, track their own progress, and show their learning in a variety of ways.

In the classroom, Gio understands that goals can span a spectrum from knowing facts to generating new solutions. He is somewhat impulsive and jumps right into an assignment, sometimes not realizing that his ideas are divergent from the process, or misaligned with the purpose. With support and a reminder to start in first gear, he can understand the big picture goals and translate them into personal learning intentions, clear success criteria, and action plans. As he recognizes connections to prior learning and begins to comprehend more complex ideas, he relies on self-assessment, peer review, and teacher feedback on both goals and process. He hears that while his ideas are correct, but there may be other ways to solve the problem. In response, he reflects on his progress, confers with a teammate, and makes a few necessary adjustments. As he becomes increasingly engaged in assessment, he takes ownership of his learning, monitors growth, and becomes more motivated. For students like him, there are no surprises on their outcomes of learning, whether it be test grades, rubrics, or report card scores.

Essential Practices and Strategies for Engaging Students in Assessment

1, 2, 3: Students Know What They Will Be Learning

  1. Show students how to set personal goals by working together to deconstruct each big picture goal into three to four assessable learning intentions.
  2. Students use their own words to explain each of the learning intentions. In small groups, they share their ideas and collaboratively clarify and define each of their learning intentions.
  3. Learning intentions are elaborated through descriptions of success criteria along with exemplars. You may want to display both higher and lesser quality samples for students to evaluate.

Example: Students in 3rd grade will understand the design of maps and conventions such as symbols, keys, and direction. After developing an understanding of what maps can tell us, students begin to ask questions: Sashi wants to know who makes the maps and why they all look different, Michel wonders why roads are shown in varied colors and sizes, Hugo asks, “why do I need to know math to read a map?” and Darla begins to draw a map.

Reference: Austin’s Butterfly

4, 5, 6:  Students Track Learning

  • 4. Instruction incorporates anticipated progressions of learning that are visible, understandable, and reasonable for all students.
  • 5. Students develop individualized learning plans that includes realistic expectations and pathways for success monitoring of progress and recognizing misconceptions along the route towards expertise.
  • 6. Students use these expectations to track their growth, record successes, and note lingering gaps.

Reference: Karen Hess/Learning Progressions

Example: Together students create a KWL chart of what they know about non-fiction books. Later, the teacher sequences these learning intentions to align with the curriculum, then helps students decide where they are on the progression. Students choose their book and then promote it to their audience in a way that aligns with the learning intentions and success criteria. Marta dresses up and portrays what life was like during the period of history she read about; Herbert designs an infographic on Pluto, includes definition of planets, and ask students to decide if Pluto is a planet and why or why not they would want to go there.

7, 8, 9: Students Take Ownership

  • 7. Multiple pathways and modalities are available for students to show learning; each emphasizes consistent learning outcomes.
  • 8. Reliance on rubrics, checklists, and other assessments provide feedback that aligns with intentional and visible learning process and outcomes.
  • 9. Students know when and where to seek help as needed to resolve lingering misunderstandings.

Example: During their learning about reading, writing, and comparing decimals, students follow a common learning progression. They record progress and note their highest level of learning. Shirl understands the basics of place value and recognizes she needs to spend time on a tutorial on multiples of ten. Duarte has been successful on all the success criteria except for the meaning of powers and how the decimal point moves with them.

Reference: Encouraging Independence

In engaging classrooms, the emphasis is on progress towards mastery, not just final scores. Learners are encouraged to stretch beyond their comfort zone, learn from mistakes, and seek help as needed.

Why This Works

The better prepared a group or individual is for the task ahead, the greater likelihood that the goals will be reached. Think about things that you have tried to learn in a fixed time period. Perhaps it was a new language before visiting another country. Maybe you wanted to build a house and needed a cost analysis of the plans. Or, just standing upright on the ice skates before getting on the ice. In any of these endeavors, when the purpose is relevant, the process feasible and transparent, and outcomes achievable, then success is possible. 

Children make their own paths into the unknown, ones we would never think of making for them.” John Holt

Greenstein, Laura and Burke, Mary Ann (Coming in mid 2020) Student Engaged Assessment: Strategies to Empower All Learners. Rowman and Littlefield

Greenstein, Laura (2018) Restorative Assessment: Strength-Based Practices That Support All Learners. Corwin/Sage

Greenstein, Laura (2016) Sticky Assessment: Classroom Strategies to Amplify Student Learning Routledge/Taylor and Francis

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. New York: Routledge.

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