Blog, News, Tweets

  • 0

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:

  • 0

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

  • 0

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

  • 2

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.

  • 0

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

  • 0


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:




  • 0


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.

  • 0

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

  • 0

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

  • 0

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

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


View All News >

Recent Tweets