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What’s a Goat Got To Do With Assessment?


Part 3 in a series about the Big Truths in Assessment

Emotionally charged headlines and social media messages may get our attention by being uplifting and encouraging, or alternatively, abhorrent and shocking. But, the stories behind headlines are generally more complex compelling and far-reaching. And, so it was with Beatrice and her goat.

A small action, such as tossing a pebble into a pond, may appear inconsequential, but now and again, an unpretentious act has unforeseeable effects. More than 30 years ago, rather than a tossed pebble, a baby goat was transported to in a remote village in Uganda. A girl named Beatrice lived in this community where every day was a struggle to survive. She dreamed of going to school, but that was not possible as her family depended for their survival on the jugs of water she hauled each day from distant streams and wells.

At first, a donated goat made no sense to Beatrice. But after learning how to sell the goat’s milk and breed the goat, she and her family realized that goats could indeed be life-sustaining. Beatrice was overjoyed when she earned enough money ($20.00 per week) to attend a local school where she worked hard and excelled. In 2003 she was invited to attend secondary school in the U.S. Then, due to her hard work and determination, she earned a full scholarship to college. She tells her story here:

In the course of delivering her speech, she explains that her education was the result of a goal set by a youth group at Niantic Community Church. Over time, the group worked hard to raise enough money to donate one goat. On this particular year, Andrew and his friend Steve set out to raise the most money. Although competition was not encouraged, their fellowship team raised enough money collectively to send a goat to Africa. At the time, they didn’t know it was Beatrice and her family who received this gift.

You may be wondering what this has to do with pebbles, ripples, and connections. Here are a few insights:

  • Today, Beatrice is a community engagement coordinator with Heifer International, helping families like hers to become self-sufficient.
  • Today, Andrew and Steven, who met in preschool in 1983, are still best friends, who continue to challenge each other to achieve their goals.
  • Today, the Youth Fellowship at Niantic Community Church continues their Heifer outreach.

In relation to teachers, students, and assessment, we can never know how far a droplet of kindness, encouragement, insight, or assistance will spread. In the classroom, it may mean taking a moment to clarify learning intentions, providing an alternative resource, offering purposeful feedback, or encouraging diverse ways for students to demonstrate their learning. How will you start the ripples?


ADDITIONAL RESOURCES Watch Beatrice’s speech after graduating from Connecticut College in 2008 and beginning her graduate studies at the Clinton School of Public Service.

And here’s a 60 Minute’s story about the girl who was lifted out of poverty, all because of a goat.

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ASSESSMENT BASICS: Timeless Fundamentals and Essential Mindsets

Part 2 in a series on Big Ideas and Honest Truths about Assessment

It is the enduring ideas in assessment rather than the latest trends that are most worthy of our attention. Relying on taxonomies, such as Bloom’s, Webb’s, and SOLO, is useful in understanding the organization and sequence of learning. Whether you and your school/district emphasize selected choice questions or Socratic questioning and dialogue, all types of learning can be developed and assessed. From cognitive to behavioral theories of learning and from Gestalt to Skinner, the fundamentals of best practice in assessment (as well as teaching and learning) have remained constant.

When I first started teaching I was given this advice: Tell them what they are going to learn, teach them, find out what they learned. Then Madeline Hunter(1)  gave us this lesson plan model: Stated Objectives, Anticipatory Set, Modeling, Checking Understanding, Guided Practice, Independent Practice, and Closure. In the 1980s being A Nation at Risk (2) led to required accountability and in the 1990s AYP measures let to comparisons from multiple and sometimes contradictory sources of data, i.e., proficiency vs. growth.

By the 21st century there were many new trends in educational assessment, making it even more difficult to comprehend and sustain. Consider these few: constructivist, competency, problem and project-based, comprehensive and communal standards (aka Common Core) gamified, blended, personalized, flexible, and flipped.

Despite these recurring and time-consuming changes, there are longstanding assessment principles and practices that are effective and productive. By relying on these principles way we can be sure to treat our students, teachers, and schools, as assessment VIP’S.    vocab2

V = VARIED: Assessment has multiple purposes from pre-assessment to large-scale measures of learning.  It relies on a continuum of methodology including classroom appraisals, formative assessments, and summative/large-scale measures.

I = INTEGRAL: Assessment is seamless and incorporated throughout teaching and learning. It is
INTENTIONAL in its sequence and cycle and also in engaging of learners in assessment and as assessors.
ILLUMINATING: Effective assessment, in turn, illuminates learning and informs teaching. When assessment aligns with learning intentions, it offers usable insights into learning, informs inferences made about progress and outcomes, and guides the next steps.

P = PRACTICAL concerning student’s readiness, resources, and tempo of learning as well as the desires and necessities of constituents.
 PURPOSEFUL and planned to support learning intentions and processes. Designed to meet the circumstances and expectations of learners.

S = SYSTEMIC AND SEQUENTIAL: Develops and proceeds in ways that are educationally integrated and supportive.
 SOUND: Technically sound assessment is valid (clear, accurate, precise) and reliable (consistent, dependable)

  1. Madeline Hunter lesson plan design
  2. A Nation at Risk: from Archives at the U.S. Department of Education

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I loathed assessment: Then I saw the light


A long time ago I learned not to give unsolicited advice. However, if you are reading this you may well be looking for ways to make your students’ assessments more meaningful, relevant, substantial, and informative.

Like many of my peers, I detested those Friday tests intended to reveal what I learned that week. And large-scale tests were equally distressing. Then midway in my career I decided to become a teacher. That’s when I realized that I had testing all wrong: Not the test answers but rather their principles and practices. I became so passionate about quality assessment that I even wrote my dissertation on it.

Here’s the gist of this practical series on assessment:

  1. Strengthening student learning outcomes is a primary purpose of teaching, learning, AND assessing.
  2. Progress and growth are more important than final scores.
  3. Recurring supportive assessment is essential for improving learning outcomes in any endeavor.

Being trustworthy has been important to me since I earned my Girl Scout Curved Bar award, which is similar in some ways to the Eagle Scout award. This trait has served me well throughout my career as an educator, author, and wayward thought leader. I am passionate about assessment that is intentional, purposeful, continuous, and utilized in ways that sustain learning rather than judge and discourage learners.

Assessment comes from the Latin root assidere meaning to sit beside. In education, assidere refers to observing learning, gathering, and interpreting evidence of learning, sharing results, and responding to learning outcomes. I hope you find my insights about those elements of assidere to be practical and realistic.

You can find more information on these foundations of assessment at:




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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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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

Recent News

The Institute of Educational Sciences (IES) continues to be a reliable source for research and data on numerous topics in education. Learn more about it here

Ideas for making annual testing more meaningful



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


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