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When Students Own the Assessment


Who owns assessment? Is it the teacher, school, district, or the test industry? If the government requires them, do they also own the measures? Something was missing from those questions and if you noted that it was “the students”, you’re right. The more schools emphasize standardized tests scores, provide the measures of learning, and dispense scores and grades; the more students feel left out. Yet, research continues to confirm the importance of engagement and ownership in children’s success. (NWEA 2015)

Assess didn’t originally mean to measure. It meant to sit beside and assist. When assessment reverts to its true intent, students will predictably become less anxious and more curious. They will also become less resistant and more engaged. This, in turn, leads to motivation, inspiration, and initiative. Here are some ideas for engaging learners as assessors.

  1. RELEVANT: Make assessment meaningful. In place of hollow tests that measure portions of learning, provide opportunities for students to show how they can integrate and use learning. A traditional test may start with vocabulary and content knowledge; a foundation for moving to higher levels of learning. Along with that, allow students choice in showing what they know. Samir chooses to write a traditional essay, while Ramina says she will write a script or poem, and Tashi wants to prepare an infographic. Ask students to then label their learning as content knowledge, application of learning, inquiry, production, and other outcomes that align with learning intentions.
  1. INFORMATIVE: Assessments not only measure student learning, but students can also learn from assessments. During one, they annotate their confidence in their answer and explain or query those that have a confidence level of 3 or below on a scale of 5. When the measure is returned, students correct their errors, explain what they now know, and resubmit their outcomes. In this way, both students and teachers are engaged and informed by the assessment.
  1. COLLABORATIVE: Debates, defenses of positions, advertisements, and other demonstrations of learning can be completed individually or collaboratively. Scoring of these can be more challenging, but a rubric that clearly defines learning intentions and levels of attainment smooths the way. Students assess their use of content vocabulary, research-based evidence, the coherence of their argument, and respect for diverse perspectives. They then also have a well-defined basis for scoring their peers.
  1. INTEGRATED: The best assessments are those that a person doesn’t even know they are taking. For example, frequent student checkpoints provide ongoing updates on learning. At the conclusion of a learning intention or unit, show a brief video, then students use the unit vocabulary to respond to a prompt such as “if you were that person, would you have solved the problem the same way? Why? What other options are there? What knowledge and concepts were used; what are needed?” In doing so, the focus remains on the learning process and progress rather than a summative test.
  1. OWNERSHIP: Informative and integrated assessments can be used for self-evaluation, misconception checks, revision of work, identification of next steps, and lingering questions. Ownership also gives student voice when they explain their answers, defend their views, and decide how to show their learning. They take ownership when they can explain their learning intentions, the strategies they used, analyze the outcomes, and describe their path to improvement. Collectively, these strategies give students the self-confidence they need to ultimately succeed not only on summative tests, but in school and life.

While testing can damage a fragile sense of self, assessment is the mindful practice of reflection, analysis, problem-solving, and improving. When children learn a sport, they consistently assess their progress and seek guidance on stepping-up their game. In the classroom, help students experience that sense of joy with embedded and meaningful assessments accompanied by coaching and scaffolds that support progress towards higher levels of achievement.

 “The aim is to get the students actively involved: their role is not simply to do tasks as decided by teachers, but to actively manage and understand their learning gains. This includes evaluating their own progress, being more responsible for their learning, and being involved with peers in learning together about gains in learning.”  John Hattie, Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning

NWEA (2015) Better Engagement Improves Learning

First posted on Corwin Connect, October 2017

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Assessing From the Heart

The Core Ideas, Fundamental Practices, And True Intentions of Assessment


Relying on the Known   

A few years back, the new administration at Mélange High School urged teachers to “flip” their classrooms. In this way, the foundations of a topic were learned at home. In class, students would participate in meaningful discussions and develop critical thinking skills. At this same time, administration decided that there were no penalties for late assignments or incomplete homework. The results were dismal.

Imagine if Benjamin Bloom hadn’t considered Piaget’s stages of cognitive developmental when designing his learning taxonomy? What if Copernicus couldn’t rely on the work of Aristarchus of Samos to develop his heliocentric theory. Today, it makes no sense for schools to adopt every neoteric idea rather than relying on substantiated foundations.

What Really Matters  

A recent sketch on late-night TV asked the question: “What really matters anymore?” (SNL, 2018) It prompted me to ask “What really matters in assessment?”

  1. If there are no longer consequences for student’s not doing homework, should there no longer be consequences for teachers choosing not to spend their evenings grading papers and designing engaging lessons?
  2. If students can turn assignments in when they get around to it, should teachers also submit their “assignments” when they get around to it? Does that count for report cards, lesson plans, and communicating with parents?
  3. Should teachers have the freedom to teach fake news as facts? For example, “The War of the Worlds” was real, and the Civil War wasn’t about slavery?
  4. Despite their college degrees do we believe that teachers haven’t yet developed an understanding of their content area and pedagogy and that they all require prescriptive curriculum and instructional manuals?
  5. As budgets are cut, and teacher’s salaries are fixed or declining, does it matter that they are spending more money than ever buying supplies and instructional resources for their students and classroom?
  6. Does it matter that many teachers work second jobs to make ends meet? What about the increasing pay differential between teachers and other professions requiring college degrees?
  7. Are teachers the only ones accountable for identified failures of our educational system such as international test score comparisons, and overcoming poverty?
  8. Does it matter that many districts make annual changes to standards, testing, teacher evaluation, and student management systems, requiring teacher to spend a large portion of their time mastering these continuously changing addendums?

 (Hint- The answers are always “Of Course Not”)

A Teaching Quandary

When I was dividing my time between teaching and administrative duties, I chose to teach a class at the end of the day (usually my administrative time). Teachers who I respected were telling me that they were having difficulty sustaining instructional routines and managing behavior during that time of day. It didn’t take me long to realize this was true of my late day class as well. Digging a little deeper, I learned that the class had a larger than typical number of students with 504’s and IEPs. This was the result of budget cuts eliminating instructional aides after lunch and prioritizing their academic classes earlier in the day. Yet, the teachers were held accountable for the students’ low scores. Realizing that three sections of the class were being taught throughout the day, became an Aha! Moment and an opportunity for productive problem-solving.

The three teachers, including myself, shared a common curriculum and common assessments. At the start of the semester, on the pre-assessment (a mini version of the final exam) my class scored an average of 57%, the other two classes, 69%. At the end of the semester, my class scored 71%; the other two classes averaged 81%. I arrived at my yearly evaluation with this data and used it to explain that my student’s growth was higher than the other classes’, and also to defend the value of ongoing growth, not only final scores. Consider the failures of Oprah Winfrey, Walt Disney, J.K. Rowling, Michael Jordan, and Steve Jobs. Without teachers, and mentors, and their own powerful belief in learning from failure and trying one more time, we might have never benefitted from their achievements.

Most teachers choose their profession because they enjoy working with children, want to make a difference in their lives as well as in the world.  Inspired by their own teachers, they dream of paying it forward for the next generation.

Assessing from the heart means relying on these fundamentals assessment practices:

 Students set their own specific and measurable personal goals in relation to the learning intentions

Jamal explains, “I don’t like math, but if I need it to design video games, I’ll do all my algebra homework.”

Rosarial says “If I understand why wars begin, maybe I can help our leaders prevent future ones.”

Markers of achievement are evident, attainable, and measurable

Chan states, “I will list and define 10 new vocabulary words by the end of the chapter.”

Stella says, “I will use my new vocabulary by explaining its meaning using words and illustrations.”

 Students are the users of assessment. They track progress in relation to goals using graphs and narratives

Milan shows this path of his learning:milans-chartEsmeralda announces:

I thought I knew a lot about birds when we started this unit, but now realize that I understood mostly about their bones and feathers, but not about adaptation so let me tell you about that. And also how dinosaurs evolved into birds and why there are so many different species of birds. My favorite new word is phylogeny.

 Multiple measures are used to assess student learning

For example, selected choice for content knowledge, narratives and images for analysis and evaluation, and metacognitive prompts and graphic organizers for predicting and defending.

 Technology is selected and used for a purpose

Choose and use those that align with learning intentions, provide feedback for improvement, and support increasingly complex learning combined with reasonable flexibility and personalization.

Seek what really matters in assessment: Getting to the heart, the true intent of assessment, which has always been for improvement rather than ranking teachers and students.

You can learn more about these best practices at and also from these advocates for quality assessment:

The Gordon Commission, Lorrie Shepard, James Pellegrino, Linda Darling-Hammond, John Hattie, Dylan Wiliam, Heidi Andrade, David T. Conley, and initiatives such as Students at the Center, Assessment Reform Group, Brookings Institution, Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation.


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Reconsidering Noncognitive Skills

Based on Chapter 5 in “Restorative Assessment: Strength-Based Practices that Support All Learners”, this summary explains that cognitive achievement is built on social skills, emotional dispositions, and personal attributes. Everyone is influenced by non-cognitive factors, but there are times that students’ reserves of self-regulation and good judgment become depleted. The potential for success of all learners is strengthened when learning is relevant, engaging, and competency based.


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Assessment that Sparks Learning

sparkler-839831_960_720Assessment originates from the Latin assistere meaning to assist and from assidere meaning to sit beside. In this way assessment is an intentional process that improves learning by relying on the skilled and knowledgeable guidance of others. A test is only one a type of assessment: It provides merely a partial picture of student learning. Assessment has the potential to be a catalyst for learning. In the classroom, assessment can engage learners and spark learning by making it participatory, personal, and purposeful.


Filling in a bubble sheet, even if it is on a computer screen is not engaging. When students are actively engaged in assessment they use their own words to explain the learning objectives, monitor progress by comparing their work to exemplars, and document proficiency on learning trackers. In doing so, students not only take possession of learning but also take responsibility for the outcomes. Whether Javier decides to create a poster or Mackenzie makes a video they both rely on consistent, high-quality learning intentions. For example, a rubric that includes: Reliance on 3 authenticated resources, accurate and comprehensive timeline, and inclusion of alternative perspectives on the topic. Mackenzie uses EdPuzzle to incorporate questions directly within her video on the contributions of Leonardo da Vinci. Javier asks classmates to identify steps that were out of sequence on his poster. Students can ask others to help them improve their learning through feedback and formative assessments


The aims, strategies, and evidence from standardized testing is impersonal. Personalizing assessment means building on student’s strengths, addressing challenges, and helping each one achieve their best. Personalized assessments engage and empower learners by offering opportunities for success along with scaffolds for support. Consider these ideas:

  • Students show what they know and can do in ways that are meaningful to them. When a math question asks about apples, let students decide what to count or calculate: perhaps goldfish, or jumping jacks. Then can also write questions for others to answer.
  • Provide empty outlines and let students select words from leveled vocabulary lists. For, example, Amir works on this sentence: The character says he can’t sleep because his neighborhood is 1. Caring, 2. Noisy, or 3. Peaceful. Ravella uses the same sentence but chooses from these words: 1. Compassionate, 2. Raucous, or 3. Tranquil.

When assessment is personalized, students have options for showing their learning. For historic events, they may summarize an individuals’ roles and beliefs, or illustrate important events and their significance, or write an editorial on what should/could have been done differently. Scoring is based on common standards such as depth of information, reliability of source material, and alignment with specified writing standards.


Ask a teacher why he is giving a specific assessment. Responses may explain that it is mandated by the district, selected by the team leader, came with the textbook, or one he used in the past. These are not good ideas unless they support the learning intentions and align with success criteria. Substantiate this by matching the verbs in the questions with the verbs at various levels of a learning taxonomy. If you want to stretch beyond traditional taxonomies, consider augmenting learning through the Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model for technology integration such as shown in this table

Stretching Beyond the Taxonomy

Levels of Learning: Bloom’s Webb’s DOK, CELT, or SOLO The 4 levels of SAMR Assessment
Remembering: define and use in context, these 3 vocabulary words 1. Substitution: Technology performs the same task as before. Students complete a worksheet: Paper or electronic
Analyzing: categorize food groups or chemical elements 2. Augmentation: Technology is a tool for purposeful improvement. Students take a test that is self-correcting and gives them immediate feedback.
Evaluating: Self-assess written work against specified scoring criteria 3. Modification: Making the classroom more personalized by modifying learning through reliance on and inclusion of technology. Writing progress and process is monitored and strengthened through computer mediation and guidance.
Creating/Producing: Design an original video on a topic 4. Redefinition: Tasks that were not previously possible or actionable. Digital documentary where each student contributes to, edits, and presents the final product for an online peer review

Not long ago, I received this response from an aspiring teacher to a question about which taxonomy of learning was best. Her response was “IDM.” When asked about her cryptic answer, she explained that “it doesn’t matter.” Then went on to say that “They all have relevance and value and can all serve to deepen student learning. It just depends on your purpose and how you use them.” I encouraged her next time, to include this type of explanation in her response to the question. She added that she now understands how low-quality measures hurt learners and the many ways in which high-quality assessment can raise them up.  Students continually inspire me! Use assessment to ignite your student’s learning.

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It Could Be Better


Take a moment to think about your worst test. For me it was macroeconomics. Unable to understand concepts such as GDP Deflator and Quantity Equation, I memorized parts of the text and got accused of plagiarism. Fortunately, it was an understanding professor who explained why I might like microeconomics better. His feedback included relevant advice for achieving my goals. And I was grateful!

For many students, the word test conjures up feelings of fear and images of failure. Especially for those whose COMT* gene predisposes them to stress. Assessment, on the other hand, is intended to reduce stress, emphasize progress, engage learners, and improve outcomes.

What do you think would  be the better way to assess student understanding? A multiple-choice test on content knowledge or an assessment of ability to apply learning. Consider these two questions:

  1. What percent of individuals have the COMT gene version that predisposes them to stress?
    11% 24%                   3. 47%                   4. 73%
  2. If you know that many students become highly stressed by tests and measures, explain, two steps you will take to reduce those stress levels? Explain each step in 2 to 4 sentences.

Most educators choose 2 as the better option. What are your thoughts?

Intentional Assessment
When assessment is restored to its original intent-meaning to assist and guide by being close at hand- students are less fretful and more willing to give it their best effort. Assessment acknowledges the social and emotional underpinnings of learning. When viewed in this light, the focus changes from tests that exclude some learners to assessment that supports all learners. Intentional assessment is purposeful, engaging, and focused on progress. Adjusting the lens from standardized testing to responsive assessment means students know the learning intentions and success criteria, track their own progress, and resolve lingering misperceptions.

Balanced and Restorative Assessment
Assessment is balanced and restorative when it is inclusive of all learners. Ask any teacher to point out their superstars and they can readily identify their top achievers. But what about Alef who is struggling to learn math yet always willing to revise his work as well as share his meager lunch with a kind word and smile. Or Bettina, who completes her homework with accuracy and precision, when she doesn’t have to watch her three younger siblings while her mom works two jobs. These students may not have the highest numerical averages, but they work hard and demonstrate the social and emotional outlook and skills for success. Consider Regina, who knew little English at the beginning of the school year, is still reading 2 levels below grade level, but understands that progress is most important for her success. In these ways assessment is inclusive of all learners while providing access to each learner.

All students can be successful. It depends on the lens we view them through. Consider how you assess and report student success. Do you take a close-up view, primarily data-driven, sometimes producing walls of data and report cards that mystify even the most measurement savvy parents? Or do you take a bigger-picture view that supports students as assessors and values growth over final scores? We have tons of data, but the lingering question is how it is used to benefit students, classrooms, and schools.

Consider steps you will take to move the meter from the left to the right side of this chart. There is space in each section to record your thoughts, recommendations, and action plans.


Fixed learning sequences                                                                    Flexible sequences

Prearranged schedules for learning                                           Adjustable scheduling

Pre-determined learning objectives                          Personalized learning intentions

Learning is segmented by content                                                    Integrated learning

Teacher known learning outcomes                 Student developed learning outcomes

Frequent mandated tests                                                                       Multiple methods

Reporting of final scores                                                  Revealing growth and mastery


Symmetry and Purpose
Restoring balance in assessment doesn’t mean seesawing from side to side. Rather it means seeking ways to move teaching, learning, and assessment practices towards the right side of the chart. It means moving the fulcrum in service of the best types and outcomes of assessment, and in doing so meeting the needs of all learners while making the best use of sound assessment practices.

Students are most successful when there are varied and variable measures across a spectrum of learning outcomes, assessments are infused throughout teaching and learning, and a continuous pulse of learning is taken. In this way, responses can be designed to meet the needs of all learners. For Sumina who is creative, illustrating her understanding of chemical reactions comes easier than remembering where to find tungsten on the periodic table, while Rilez, who has memorized the periodic table, needs help making sense of it.

Please don’t misunderstand my intention or interpret this as a one-sided position. Rather take it as advocacy, guidance, and encouragement for finding balance in assessment.  Consider your students, the types of assessment given to them, and how learning outcomes are reported. Flip thinking from external testing mandates to local needs; from narrow data analysis to broadband assessments; and from summative measures to progress towards mastery. In this way assessment will be restored to its intended purpose.

ESSA provide opportunities for setting achievement goals, developing rating systems, and looking beyond test scores. At the same time, each state’s and district’s practices must ensure equity, balance, and fairness for all students. Locally, this means visible dashboards rather than summative school scores, support rather than sanctions, and planning rather than penalties. This works for all schools, classrooms, and students.


*Learn more about COMT gene, test worriers, and test worriers at by Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman

For more technical insights try

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Chapter 1: Reverting to Purpose

Assessment and testing have different meanings. A test is a tool for measuring. Number 1 could mean your golf handicap or your score out of a possible 10. Assessment extends beyond simply pointing out right and wrong answers. It is intended to illuminate learning, engage students, and guide improvement. Assessment is at its best when it:

  1. Synchronizes and sustains intentional and purposeful learning outcomes.
  2. Monitors progress throughout teaching and learning.
  3. Provides multiple pathways for students to demonstrate competency.
  4. Informs teachers and students of next steps towards closing gaps and improving understanding.

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ASSESSMENT FUN and GAMES: Part 2: The first edition of this blog was popular at the start of the school year: Spot the Fake, Cross the Line, and Recipes. As the school year progresses here are three more assessments to engage students.
FUN* = Focused, Useful, eNgaging


Student-Designed Wanted Posters: Hunt for the antagonist using evidence and examples from the reading to explain his or her faults, describe character traits, and critique decisions and actions. This can be done individually or in small groups and is best when it includes a self-assessment checklist that aligns with learning intentions.

ALTERNATIVE: Students Create Help Wanted Posters: Individually or in small groups students create help wanted ads that describe the traits and attributes of one of the character’s in the narrative, historical event, etc.

Individually or in small groups student’s name the character that best matches the qualities in the ad. For example: Courageous, kind, and clever or Absent-minded, enthusiastic, and loyal. They defend their position using the character’s words, thoughts, and actions and can use additional facts or evidence from source materials. This works best when there are multiple characters in the story.



Student constructs a pizza image made up of 6 to 8 slices, each explaining their most notable or significant learnings. Alternatively, they identify one leading concept on each of the slices and then elaborate using toppings.

In science, Mr. Alamara labels the slices to align with a lesson on sources of energy (solar, coal, etc). Students annotate the slices with a description of the source, pros and cons, etc. In History, Ms. Marcus uses the pizza to summarize major time periods by identifying self-contained events such as hot peppers to identify specific wars and also to connect ongoing trends such as innovation using flowing cheese. Of course, graphic designs and real pizza can increase engagement.



For a lesson where there are opposing viewpoints: Individually students can summarize the diverse perspectives and fact-check questionable data, while building critical thinking skills. Applicable to a range of topics such as school uniforms or climate change.  Consider using ProCon as a resource.

In addition, students can brainstorm and catalog ideas on how people develop to these diverse viewpoints.

Coming Next Q and A Mix-up, Team Trivia, ET News

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