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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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Not too many learners look forward to a test, but this assessment is designed to reflect time-honored best-practices in assessment. It may confirm what you already know and/or challenge your thinking. Either way, it is an opportunity to validate your understanding, gauge your expertise, and identify lingering gaps.

Select one correct answer for questions but note that question 5 calls for two answers. Also note the ascending levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. To help you out, each question has a hint or a quote from an assessment specialist or respected authority. 

_____1. Large-scale strategies and methods primarily intended to quantify and judge learning are called (Recall)

A. Assessments                                                          
B. Tests.
C. Verdicts.
D. Evaluations.

“Testing has always been 20-20 hindsight. It’s good for seeing where you’ve been but can’t tell you what to do next or guide next steps.” Robert M. Pirsig Correct answer is B

_____2. In comparison to benchmark assessments, formative assessments help educators:                 (Understand)

A. Track students’ academic trajectory toward long-term goals.
B. Diagnose gaps in students’ understanding  or skills and guide next steps in instruction.
C. Evaluate the effectiveness of the overall educational environment.
D. Decide which summative test to use.        

“One of the most important roles of formative assessment is the provision of timely and informative feedback during teaching and learning.” National Resource Council Correct answer is B

_____3. Formative assessment includes all the following EXCEPT                                                          (Understand)
A. Questions and answers incorporated throughout teaching and learning.
B. Assessments used to determine a final score.
C. Feedback to and from students.
D. Information about student progress that informs instruction.

“Formative assessment helps student continue to learn as well as see evidence of progress” Rick Stiggins Correct Answer is B

_____4. What type of assessment is a teacher using when she asks, “Does everyone understand the vocabulary?” (Understand/Apply                                                             
A. Summative Assessment  
B. Formative Assessment
C. Performance Assessment
D. Authentic Assessment

Checking for understanding requires confirmation and evidence. Consider including a “quick quiz” with Quizlet or Plickers” Correct answer is A

_____ _____5. How should Mr. M respond to the outcomes of pre-assessments?  Select two answers to this question. Apply/ Analyze                                                      
A. Give a second pre-test
B. Teach his unit as planned
C. Modify the unit objectives to align with student’s abilities   
D. Begin class with a review of gaps in prior learning as
required for upcoming learning

“Providing a framework for improvement instead of simply labeling it at periodic intervals, has the greatest capacity to impact student achievement.” Robert Marzano  Correct answers are C and D

_____6. When compared to summative assessment, formative typically:                                                       (Analyze)
A. Judges the outcomes of learning.
B. Is used during teaching in support of learning.
C. Is given at the end of a unit of instruction.
D. Generates numerical data.

“Feedback functions formatively only if the response to the learner is intended to deepen understanding and improve performance.” Dylan Wiliam Correct Answer is B

_____7. How is assessment related to a class’s learning objectives?                 (Analyze)
A. Assessment and learning objectives mean the same thing.    
B. Assessments certify that a class’s learning objectives have been met.     
C. The instructional objectives and learning intentions should align with purposeful assessment.    
D. There is no relationship between assessment and learning objectives.

“Assessment and instruction are often conceived as curiously separate in both time and purpose.” Lorrie Shepard Correct answer is C

ENRICHMENT: Design a chart for teachers that shows the significant differences between measurement and assessment.                                                                                                                                                      (Create/Analyze)     

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Quiz on Testing, Assessment, and Measurement

Not everyone looks forward to a test, but this assessment is designed to reflect time-honored best-practices in assessment. It may confirm what you already know and/or challenge your thinking. Either way, it is an opportunity to validate your understanding, gauge your expertise, and identify lingering gaps.
P.S. answers are included with each question.

Select one correct answer for each question but note that question 5 calls for two answers. Also note the ascending levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. To help you out, each question also has a hint or a quote from an assessment specialist or respected authority.

_____1. The landmark meta-analysis of formative assessment “Inside the Black Box” was written by:        (Recall)

  1. John Hattie and Robert Marzano.
  2. Charlotte Danielson.
  3. Linda Darling-Hammond.
  4. Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam.

Although each of these authors advocates for informative, effective, and practical, assessment. In relation to the “Black Box” study. The correct answer is 4.

_____2. A primary purpose of formative assessment is to:  (Understand)

  1. Identify misunderstandings and close lingering gaps in learning.
  2. Prepare teacher to give standardized tests.
  3. Rank and assign grades to students.
  4. Gather data for report cards.

“One of the most important roles of formative assessment is the provision of timely and informative feedback during teaching and learning.” National Resource Council  The correct answer is 1

_____3. Mr. Em wants to pre-assess his students individually. Which strategy should he use?                         (Apply)

  1. Peer review, by other students, that relies on quality indictors
  2. Sticky notes for collaboratively sorting information
  3. Vocabulary matching task for homework
  4. Exit slip where each student responds to the same prompt

All can disclose student learning, but exit slips are better suited for revealing each student’s explicit learning. The correct answer is 4

_____4. If a teacher gives an exam and everyone fails, what should he or she do?                                           (Apply)

  1. Give the exam again.
  2. Determine why students gave incorrect answers.
  3. Make the exam easier.
  4. Adjust his/her teaching style.

Understandingthe reasons behind student errors and misunderstandings is an essential first step before deciding whether to change instruction, resources, or measures of learning. The correct answer is 2

_____ _____5. When comparing assessment to measurement: Select two answers to this question. (Analyze)

  1. Assessment is defined by a single numerical score
  2. Assessment provides information that guides instructional decisions.
  3.  Assessment generally relies on multiple strategies that provide insights into student learning.
  4. Assessment results in a numerical grid showing student’s rankings.

Assessments that rely on multiple strategies to inform teaching and learning result in more accuracy, whereas Measurement is generally associated with numbers and rankings. The correct answers are 2 & 3  

_____ 6. The development of student self-assessment skills is beneficial because,                        (Analyze/Evaluate)

  1. For the most part, students need letter grades to effectively monitor their learning.
  2. Assessment is most meaningful when teachers give students grades.
  3. Teachers know best about the indicators of quality learning.
  4. Self-regulation develops from the ability to self-assess objectively, accurately, and fairly.

“Students have to be able to judge the quality of what they are producing as well as regulate processes throughout learning.” Robert Sadler. The correct answer is 4

_____7.  Which assessment requires students to demonstrate their learning through actions and tasks? (Understand)  

1 Performance Assessment    
2. Formative Assessment
3. Summative Measures
4. Standardized Tests                                                                                

“The content of selected choice tests is less important than how and whether students can use their competencies to further learning, overcome obstacles, and resolve complex problems.” Dietel, Herman, and Knuth. The correct answer is 1

_____8. Informative and instructive feedback is important because,                                                           (Understand)   

  1. Quality feedback helps students to learn from their misunderstandings.
  2. It makes the student feel good about themselves.
  3. It explains the grade that was assigned.
  4. Teachers are supposed to give their students feedback.

“Positive learning outcomes were more likely when feedback focused on learning intentions and features of the task.” Kluger and DeNisi.  The correct answer is 1

ENRICHMENT:  Write a selected-choice or short-answer question about assessment. Evaluate the question for quality indicators of assessment. Ask another educator for feedback.                                              (Create/Analyze)      


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ASSESSING Deliberately and Thoughtfully; with Purpose and Persistence

Most of us have heard the story of the race between the tortoise who slowly and steadily ambled down the path and the hare who ran as fast as he could until he was exhausted, and stopped for a nap.

No doubt, we live in a fast-paced world where keeping up with styles and trends can be challenging as well as exhausting. Gas prices and global markets change minute by minute. Diet and fashions fads come and go as do sources of high-tech entertainment. Access to information has expanded and sped up, leading to rapid adoptions and just as swift dismissal of products and ideas. But, when things change too quickly, it becomes difficult for our brains to manage the overabundance of novelty and choices, making us feel more like the racing bunny. (Read more about How information overload affects the brain)

The word “hack” traditionally meant to cut down things such as dense woods.  Subsequently, it was used to describe illegally breaking into another’s computer. Now, a life-hack refers to innovations and shortcuts that increase efficiency and productivity. Assessments, too, have been hacked and are now programmed, adaptive, diagnostic, and personalized in ways that allow test takers to record their answer and receive quick feedback.

Rather than trying to determine what a student knows as speedily as possible, it is more productive to decelerate assessment and delve into student thinking more deeply. Slowing down means taking time to use insights for a purpose: to scrutinize emerging learning, gain an understanding of thinking, and consider how it connects to current knowledge and skills.

Testing is more about measuring what students know, while assessment means gaining insight into how students are thinking and reasoning. Assessment also delves more deeply into a student’s ability to compare, appraise, analyze, and evaluate authenticity, comprehensiveness, and usefulness in relation to explicit learning intentions. Rather than asking a student to define mammal or fish, ask them to compare mammals to fish in terms of each ones living environment, skin covering, breathing, locomotion, and diet.

Assessment Practices that encourage, raise, and sustain student achievement are deliberate and unhurried.

Preparing students for an assessment is like priming the well. Assessment results improve when students know the norms (i.e., supply words or full sentences), expectations (display thinking in words or images), and the ramifications of the assessment (will the learner be expected to repair, revamp, redo, or restart).

Slowing assessment has numerous advantages in relation to the process, purpose, and outcomes of learning. It begins when students understand that assessment is important and worthy of the required and expected time and effort. It helps when students receive assurance that they will have adequate time to complete the assessment and that fast and sloppy work may be returned to them for deeper and more detailed evidence of learning.

Mr. Walsk expects his students to provide more than a one-word response and provides examples. Ms. Wagner incorporates a self-monitoring assessment checklist so that students can check-off each step as they complete it. For example, “I used our unit vocabulary in my answers”, or “My opening sentence is top quality because_____”, or “I showed two ways to calculate the area”, or “I fully explained the character’s motivation and gave three reasons for his actions.” 

Mr. Walsk expects his students to provide more than a one-word response and provides examples. Ms. Wagner incorporates a self-monitoring assessment checklist so that students can check-off each step as they complete it. For example, “I used our unit vocabulary in my answers”, “My opening sentence is top quality because_____”, or “I showed two ways to calculate the area”, or “I fully explained the character’s motivation and gave three reasons for his actions.”

For early finishers or more hurried learners include a brief follow-up or supplement to their assessment, for example, writing a short rhyme or cinquain, preparing an acrostic, advertisement, or designing a bumper sticker about their learning.

Slowing assessment leads to higher quality outcomes. Elevating assessment (the quality and also the importance of it) may mean asking students to check the length and complexity of their answers, or elaborate how they rechecked their work, for example, by using an alternative math calculation, or made their thinking visible by explaining why they used a specific word or phrase. Relying on slow assessment strategies puts an emphasis on the journey, not just the outcomes and scores. Here are 10 ideas for putting this into practice:

  1. Provide examples of different levels or quality of work. Ask students to discuss and pre-assess what they observe.
  2. Be sure that learners understand the standards and expectations. Discreetly guide and reassure them as they complete their own assessments.
  3. Confirm that instructions are clear, both orally and in writing. When possible, include samples and models of expected outcomes.
  4. Pause for a brief tete-a-tete or quietly place an informative and instructive sticky note on their work.  Alternatively, that sticky note can be a “speeding ticket” with a reminder to rethink and/or redo part of the assessment.
  5. Give early finishers puzzles or other supplemental materials for reviewing or extending learning.  
  6. Encourage students to do their best work by making every effort and/or seeking guidance to reach the top of the scoring rubric.
  7. If there is a fun conclusion to learning, explain that all will participate when everyone has, productively and to their best ability, completed the assessment.
  8. Collaborate with parents on recognitions and incentives for acceptable, careful, thorough, or other previously determined outcomes, demonstrations of competencies, and evidence of progress on assessments.
  9. As students complete their assessment, have them review the rubric and note with different colored pencils where their work matches or doesn’t yet reach the requirements and expectations.
  10. Before turning in their work, students remain in their seats until everyone has given the signal that they have finished. While they wait for the whole class to complete the assessment, they can review their work, continue their learning with an activity or reading that goes more deeply into the topic, or prepare for the next topic unit with a preview of learning. In this way, they own the learning and can decide whether to improve their work or to move forward with next steps.

For additional insights and recommendations try these resources:

You will find deeper and more technical readings at the references below:

You can learn more about the book at:
Sticky Assessment: Classroom Strategies to Amplify Student Learning

You can find a free summary of the book at:  
The Science of Sticky Assessment

Eggen, Theo J.H.M. (2018) Multi-segment computerized adaptive testing for educational purposes.

Kimura, T. (2019) The impact of computer adaptive testing from a variety of perspectives.

Ling, G. Attali, Y et al. (2017) Is a computerized adaptive test more motivating than a fixed-item test.

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Optimizing Assessment


The word optimization means making the most effective use of resources, ideas, or conditions in order to make something as functional and effective as possible. Examples include optimizing your computer’s speed or maximizing your car’s fuel efficiency.  Optimization infers making the best use of programs and practices in ways that benefit all parts of a system.

In relation to educational assessment, optimization has become a technology catchphrase. Specialists are developing computer programs that are intended to improve learning and assessment through adaptive technologies, alternative pathways for learning, and customization for each student’s needs and capabilities.

In schools, optimization has come to mean expediting short term goals, for example, student’s test scores and evaluations of teachers, through (in my opinion) transitory measures. But here’s the problem with that approach: Students and teachers are not simply data points, nor are they programmable plug-ins to be continuously recalibrated.  It takes time and resources to acclimate to this rapid pace of change.

Optimization of student learning is more inherently and appropriately associated with engagement, personalization, and differentiation. For example, combining consistent instructional standards with coherent student learning intentions results in assessments are consistent yet also more flexible. One student may explain the outcomes of the American Revolution by graphically illustrating the significance of events and battles of the war while another student opts for a more traditional selected choice test.

If technology optimization is consumer-driven, then educational optimization is compelled to be student-driven. This does not diminish the value of teachers, curriculum coordinators, and school leaders. But, it does necessitate reliance on established best practices in teaching, learning, and assessing. If the goal is assessments that meet or exceed purposes and expectations while providing opportunities for students to succeed, then optimizing, (as in enhancing and fortifying instruction and assessment in support of student learning) may be the term to use.

Optimizing assessment means refocusing on learning, learners, and progress. Test scores are only one small part of this. Rather, restoring assessment to its intended purpose of supporting and facilitating learning can better optimize learning outcomes. 

Unlike computers, humans are multisensory and have expansive emotional and social underpinnings for learning. From learning math to mastering a new language, learning is rarely linear or fully logical. Thus, optimizing assessment is different and more complex for humans than for machines. However, it is feasible to optimize the assessment of student learning.

From in-the-moment reviews and check-ins on progress to self-assessments and large-scale measures, the foundations of assessment must rely on a substantiated core of best practice. From national to district policy and from student report cards to classroom routines, educators must be consistent in relying on fundamental practices that reveal student learning, thinking, and reasoning, and then responding in timely and relevant ways.

Optimization for Students
Confirm that learning outcomes are clear, reasonable, realistic, and practical to students and are conveyed through multiple channels; orally, visually, in writing, and demonstrated. For example:
Big Picture Standard: Solve problems involving scale drawings of geometric figures and reproducing a drawing at a different scale.
Local Practice: Standard Deconstructed: Students will compute the area of the classroom and present a blueprint that indicates the scale used. Other students then explain why they would or would not rely on that blueprint to purchase carpeting.

Optimization for Teachers
Verify that big-picture standards have been deconstructed into teachable and actionable elements. For example:
Big picture standard: Cite strong textual evidence to support an accurate analysis of what was stated.
Local Practice: Standard Deconstructed: Use words, phrases, and facts from the reading to explain and support your interpretation and evaluation of the author’s position on _______.

Optimization for Learning
Determine that there is alignment from the standard through the curriculum, instructional strategy, learning processes, forms of evidence, and the final assessments or measures of learning.
Confirm that standards are in fact assessable.
*For individual or group reflection: Which of these similar learning are optimized? Select a or b.
a. Students will develop persuasive writing skills based on rules of writing.  
b. Students will write or present a well-constructed, purposeful, cohesive, and persuasive essay or product that aligns with specified quality indicators.

Optimizing the process
Ensure that the purpose and methods of assessment align with what students are expected to know and do. Use words and expressions that are understood by all stakeholders.
*For individual or group discussion: Which of these leads to optimized assessment? Select a or b
a. What does it mean to be competent?
b. Consider and compare how demonstrations of competency can be shown through test scores, authentic performances, or student self-assessment.         
(hint: answer to both of the above question are b, but why?)

The best learning occurs when the challenge is real-world, the process is multi-faceted, and students understand the expected outcomes. The result is a willingness to overcome challenges with the guidance and support of others who are more skilled and knowledgeable.

Resources for Deeper Understanding
Sticky Assessment: Classroom Strategies to Amplify Student Learning
Optimize Student Learning
Seven Practices For Effective Learning:

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Assessment That Makes Learning Unforgettable

Two distinct ideas converged on my desk recently: Cognitive Load and Forgetting Curve. Individually, they are important, but together they are unforgettable. When combined, they explain a lot about learning and what is remembered for a test or assessment.

Forgetting is natural. How many times have teachers said, “I know I taught it, but why don’t they remember it?” Recall for everyone is hard if you consider this forgetting curve.ebbinghaus-forgetting-curve

Then there’s John Sweller’s cognitive load theory that explains that there are limits to new learning and that “instructional techniques are most effective when they are in accord with how human brains learn.” (Center for Education Statistics and Evaluation, p.2) Working memory is what an individual can hold in their brain at any one time. These short-term thoughts get transferred to long-term memory where they are sorted, organized, and utilized. Here are some assessment strategies to strengthen students’ memory.

Assess in the short term rather than relying on infrequent summative tests. Use entrance slips to see what students remember from a previous lesson: Consider un-graded exit slips before moving on to the next segment of learning or as a guide to the start of tomorrow’s lesson. Ask students to explain gravity to an extra-terrestrial or compassion to a novice superhero. As feasible, have them assess each other’s accuracy and depth of information.

Multimodal: Each student is a unique learner, but it is not realistic to prepare lessons for each one. Instead, include a sensory experience with each learning intention. Consider these options: Individually or in small groups, summarize learning by writing a brief rap, interpret song lyrics such as “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” clap to the beat of Shakespeare, or transform a traditional nursery rhyme into a current news report.

Assess Chunked Learning: Engage students in organizing key ideas, asking questions about quote or event, proposing alternative perspectives or solutions, or labeling related ideas or processes with color-colored sticky notes.

Peer to Peer: A simple “turn and talk” is enhanced with a talk-back, where a listener not only listens but explains what they heard the speaker say. The speaker then explains why they concur with the other’s summary or may alternatively clarify or amend their own comments.

Revisit and Recycle: Practice, review, and include prior learning in new material. This is especially important for building essential foundations of learning. For example, ask students to explain ways they are using the scientific process during each lab. Build student confidence by starting a new test with some review questions. Rely a different modality for reviewing than was used for learning, i.e. a viewing rather than a reading.

With Feeling: Emotions serve to embed learning. Laughter, stomping, sounds, and movement help students connect what they just learned to an emotion. For example, express a character’s anger by stomping, make a face to express your feelings about current events, demonstrate astonishment at an awesome science demonstration. Then ask students to explain or elaborate those feelings using electronic post-its or annotations on their tests.

These momentary pauses that solidify learning can enhance student memory and ease everyone’s cognitive load. Think about ways you can apply these ideas. For me, having translated the essential ideas of forgetfulness and cognitive load theory perhaps I’ll have better recall next time I try to persuade policy writers to:                                                                     TEST LESS………………ASSESS MORE


First published in Corwin Connect Dec. 2017

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Assessment of Standards vs. Learning Intentions: What’s the big idea?

cactus-1063094__180This provocative question came from Dr. Paul Yovanoff and students in his Department of Teaching & Learning teacher preparation program at SMU: In light of controversies with the adoption of Common Core Standards, what are the critical issues for teachers to understand about aligning standards, learning intentions, and assessment? Here’s my response:

The two primary reasons for the pushback on the CCSS are one: they were designed by a group of professors, thought leaders, and corporate interests, many with insufficient classroom experience to understand the nuances of teaching and learning. Secondly, education has traditionally been a state and local responsibility. While a few states are declining to use them, many others are modifying them for clarity, alignment with curriculum, and local contexts. Balancing these multiple mandates with available resources can be challenging.

Below are two basic concepts followed by five fundamental actions for aligning assessment with any and all standards from in-the-moment appraisals of progress to international benchmarks.

  1. Most important is for teachers to be familiar with the expected outcomes and their relevance and feasibility in grade levels and content areas. Consider not only alignment with standards but also developmental appropriateness. The standard, “determine the main idea of a text” makes sense for 9-year-olds, but asking 14-year-olds to “draw on a wide range of world literature to understand author’s point of view,” (RL.9-10.7) may not be as reasonable or realistic.
  2. Be mindful of students’ foundations, needs, inclinations, and competencies. The first few years of teaching will be memorably challenging but, as with any new endeavor, knowledge and skills develop with time, practice, and support. When in doubt, return to these five foundations of quality assessment:

PURPOSEFUL in relation to big-picture standards as well as each day’s local learning intentions: Is there alignment between assessments and the goals of learning? Is there coherence right through from the big- picture standards to the strategies students rely on to show what they have learned?

ENGAGING: Do students have choice in displaying their learning outcomes? For example, in one class, José chooses to create a crossword puzzle of the vocabulary, Amara writes a poem that incorporates and defines the vocabulary, and Izzy creates a mnemonic device.

INFORMATIVE for both teachers and students in gaining insights into learning. Do assessments identify lingering gaps and guide responses for reducing and closing them?

BALANCED in using a range of assessment practices to gauge learning throughout the taxonomies, including preassessment, formative assessment, self-assessment, and standardized measures.

STUDENT CENTERED meaning fair, equitable, and realistic for all learners. For example, are students allowed to annotate their responses, explain points of confusion, or ask clarifying questions on the assessments?

Relying on these foundations provides all students with the opportunities they need to make progress towards the achievement of the big-picture standards, regardless of their source. More information on these topics is available throughout the assessmentnetwork.

Let me know if you have any questions, keep up the good work, and best regards,
Laura Greenstein, Ed.D. classroom4

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