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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

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5 Expert Views on Assessment

Based on the Book
World Class: Tackling the Biggest Challenges Facing Schools Today
Edited by David James and Ian Warwick

Note: These summaries rely on the author’s words; some have been abridged for readability. They are based on a synopsis at

Carolyn Adams and Matt Glanville
“Assessments which require students to think and which demand higher-order cognitive skills are not only for high-achieving students. Today’s young people need to make connections between and across subjects. They need to understand the nature of knowledge and how to apply it rather than simply learn facts, which are readily available through their smartphones. Assessments should address those needs to be relevant and educationally worthwhile.”

Tim Oates
“The social and economic uses of assessment exert pressure on the technical characteristics of precision, fairness, and dependability. Naturally, the ‘high-stakes’ or ‘low-stakes’ nature of assessment is not a feature of the test itself; it derives principally from the uses to which an assessment is put. But one thing does, in fact, unite these two apparently phobic realities. And it’s this. For all the discussion of ‘mired and oppressive’ forms of formal assessment, and the ‘liberating, learner-centered’ character of low-stakes assessment, all assessment is measurement. Whether low stakes or high stakes, technology-supported or not, there is a common interest and common good in assessment being accurate and dependable. Forgetting this fundamental would be a huge error.”
Andreas Schleicher
“The world no longer rewards people just for what they know but for what they can do with what they know. Tests can provide a window into students’ understandings and the conceptual strategies a student uses to solve a problem. They can add value for teaching and learning when tasks incorporate transfer and authentic applications and provide opportunities for students to organize and deepen their understanding through explanation and use of multiple representations. There has never been a greater opportunity to move the assessment agenda forward from providing signals of what students can do, to actually improving what students can do.”
Bob Sornson
“Most education systems now have an over-abundance of data to tell us which students, teachers, schools, and communities are winners and losers. But the limits of a CTS (Cover-Test-Sort mindset) educational system are in its basic architecture. It was never built to help all children succeed. It was designed to cover a standard curriculum in approximately the same way for all students in an age group, give them some tests, identify winners and losers, and move along to the next lesson. Essential skills and knowledge are not represented by a score on a one-time assessment. Proficiency must be observed or measured on several occasions, over a period of time, using several different learning contexts or materials before a teacher can certify that a student is truly able to understand and use the knowledge or skill. In a competency-based learning system the most important assessment is formative.”
Dylan Wiliam
“A standardized test – or any other kind of assessment for that matter – is, at its heart, simply a procedure for making inferences. Students learn, evidence is collected about what they can do, and on the basis of that evidence, assumptions are made. The learning and inferences made are shallow because the kinds of things that can be tested in standardized conditions are limited. The temptation to use these models to produce summary judgements of students, teachers, and schools must be resisted. If schools are to be places where students experiment, take risks, and learn from mistakes, then we should not, nor can we, capture all the evidence. Assessment for summative purposes should be periodic, at the end of sequences of learning and designed to provide snapshots of a student’s capabilities. At all other times, the focus must be on collecting evidence that will help students and teachers guide learning more effectively.”

Summarized by Laura Greenstein

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ASSESSMENT: Personalized, Practical, and Purposeful


“I am still learning.” Michelangelo, age 87

Conversations about personalized learning are increasing throughout the education community. The language, frequently a matter of semantics*, includes adaptive, rigorous, customized, and paced. Many of these assertions come from the technology sector that continues to leverage research in support of their personalized learning tools. Yet, the evidence of positive effects varies by program design, content area, local implementation, and more. (Herold, 2016, Pane, 2017)

Learning by its very nature is active and inclusive. Assessment too is intended to be a reciprocal and dynamic process (see assidere) rather than solitary periods of time with an electronic tutor.

Everything is Personal

Every experience, event, and interaction with others passes through our limbic system, the emotional center of our brain, that immediately decides whether something, including learning and assessment, is beneficial and enjoyable, or too difficult, dangerous, or boring. Stress and fear can activate a student’s primal flight or fight response, adversely affecting learning outcomes.

Each person sees the world through their individual lens that is formed from experiences, beliefs, and feelings. Assessment, when considered through the lens of personalization, may be feasible or daunting. For a teacher, designing and scoring 22 different versions of an assessment is unimaginable. On the other hand, there are practical ways to personalize assessment without activating students’ or teachers’ fight or flight response.

 Not Everything is Within Our Control

Think about the things educators can control: Lesson sequences, instructional strategies, seating configurations, and classroom routines. Students too, can recognize what is within their skill set and sphere of influence. These insights lead to self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-confidence. However, teachers cannot control a student’s home life, their mental health, abuse, fear, trauma, or poverty: Students can’t either. Nor can artificial intelligence respond to emotions in real time.

Personalizing Assessment

Personalized assessment engages learners by linking standards to local learning intentions, relying on meaningful learning routines, monitoring progress, and modifying learning based on informative feedback from peers, teachers, and specialists. Personalized processes include:

Scaffolding begins with what students know and supports them as they move towards deeper understanding and greater independence. Scaffolding includes chunking learning, activating prior knowledge, and using multimodal exemplars.  For example, if students are expected to calculate the area of a rectangle but haven’t quite grasped the concept yet, they can begin by drawing a grid of one-inch squares and counting the boxes. “The Boy Who Loved Words” is an ELA example of embedding new vocabulary throughout teaching and learning.

Student Choice in displaying learning as it relates to and supports explicit outcomes and objectives. For one student 10 multiple choice questions and a brief paragraph may be feasible. A more independent student may choose 10 fill in the blank and a graphic organizer to show their comprehension. Students can also show their expertise through press releases, illustrated guides, or multimedia presentations. Scoring is based on benchmarks such as content, organization, and conventions of writing.

Sequencing of assessment means arranging assessments that start with basic foundations and then proceed to higher levels of learning. In doing so, students can decide (or in some cases, teacher indicates) where to stop when they have responded to the required number of questions at each level of complexity. This allows students to safely stretch beyond their comfort level without serious consequences.

Autonomy increases when students define personal learning intentions, develop actionable and timely learning plans, and have options for displaying learning. When showing their understanding of text complexity, younger children can decide how they would like to explain or demonstrate the who, what, or where of their reading. Older students can use words or visuals to analyze and unpack how a character changes and ideas unfold over time.  A checklist or rubric supports consistent self, peer, and teacher appraisal. (Note: Autonomy requires structure, sequence, expectations, and opportunities in support of choice.)

In Summary: Assessment that is Personalized, Purposeful, and Practical
 *Is consistent and aligned with standards, learning intentions, and outcomes.
*Involves modeling and teaching the skills of self-assessment.
*Engages and empowers learners in assessment
*Incorporates variable process and expression of learning.
*Provides realistic yet achievable levels of challenge.
*Relies on formative guidance that informs the next steps for both students and teachers.

Quality assessment supports and guides flexible groupings, identifies and intervenes in lingering gaps, and records progress towards goals. Technology can have a role in quality assessment, but it is not the primary resource.

Proceed with the 3 Cs: Caution, Care, and Common Sense    

There are already many educational initiatives and reforms demanding our attention: Mastering new learning management systems, frequent reauthorizations of ESEA, project-based and experiential learning, and a myriad of life skills such as collaboration, metacognition, and technological fluency. Each new initiative (1) contributes to initiative fatigue. Instead, slow down and consider ways to blend personalized assessment into existing routines. Be sure to encourage and support students as partners in learning.

(1) The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has spent billions on teacher preparation, educational inequality, and coherent standards; other initiatives include teacher retention, increased technology in school, charter schools, redesign of learning spaces but admit these initiatives haven’t resulted in the expected improvements.

golf-1802020_960_720-1Applying your learning to this image (or select a video in your content area):
The learning intention: Utilize proper form to hit a golf ball a specified distance
Analyze the student’s strategy based on the learning intentions and criteria
What modifications to performance would you recommend?
How would you quantify and qualify the learners progress?
How can your transfer this learning to your setting?


Herold, B. (2016)

Pane, J. F. (2017)

(1) Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation:

* Semantics The language used (as in advertising or politics) to achieve a desired effect on an audience especially through the use of words with novel or dual meanings

Extend your thinking:

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ASSESSMENT: Quality is Mightier then Quantity


To borrow the words of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, “The pen is mightier than the sword:” Assessment is more powerful than testing. Teachers test to see what student’s learned. Schools use test results to evaluate teachers. Districts use them to track and chronicle achievement.

For teachers, it can be a challenge to fit all the required testing within the daily routines of teaching and learning. In some schools, weekly standardized measures that simply quantify learning are the norm.
Alternatively, assessments (from the Latin assidere, meaning “to sit with”) extend and elaborate data, offer insights on student thinking, and guidance on teaching practices, with an emphasis on progress and improvement.

Learning becomes deeper and longer-lasting when students discover, investigate, analyze, and reflect. Think about your own experiences. Did your best learning come from watching a video of someone making a free throw? Or perhaps you were trying to follow a multi-step cake recipe that required caramelizing sugar, clarifying butter, and cutting in the fat. In both cases, deeper learning occurs by working alongside someone with more expertise, asking questions, and seeking clarification throughout learning.

The purpose of assessment has always been to promote learning, while measurement has traditionally referred to numerical reporting of outcomes.
Additional comparisons include:

Measurement Assessment
At the conclusion of teaching and learning Throughout teaching and learning
Reports outcomes Monitors progress
Quantifies student’s knowledge Provides Insights into student’s thinking
Reports data and evidence Presents learning outcomes in context

Assessment In Practice

Instead of a selected choice quiz, ask students to explain vocabulary in context. For example, when studying the Louisiana Purchase with a learning intention of: Students will define and explain the significance, connections, and outcomes of events, students begin by selecting 6 of these words: Federalists, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, French/France, borders, pioneers, New Orleans, Mississippi River, Lewis and Clark. This immediately reduces test anxiety as students activate connections to what they have learned. It also results in deeper insights into student thinking beyond recall of dates, locations, and names. Alternatively, as a substitute for a traditional test that asks who was president during the Louisiana Purchase have students record three pros and three cons of the Louisiana Purchase that Thomas Jefferson considered. Even better, ask them to write their response as if they were voting in favor of or against the purchase.

Verifying learning doesn’t have to be primarily on paper or through electronic devices. Consider ways to incorporate graphics and student-designed illustrations or student-friendly infographics such as and Piktochart. Formative assessments can be incorporated directly within learning, such as a quick-draw of a timeline, designing a compare/contrast chart, or explaining to a Martian how to calculate 15 million (the price of the Louisiana Purchase) in today’s dollars Then self and peer-assess with an analytic rubric designed to appraise purposeful learning intentions. For example; accurate us of vocabulary in context, the ability to compare/analyze perspectives, provide a fact-based defense of the position.


  1. How do these embedded and authentic assessments differ from more traditional summative strategies?
  2. What effects could this have on student learning outcomes?
  3. In what ways can you use these ideas for translating systematic measures into insightful assessments?

RESOURCES for further reading
National Academy Press Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Educational Assessment.

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Refocusing on Assessment


There’s no need to wipe the assessment lens clean each year. Instead of starting from scratch, return to these enduring assessment foundations that have consistently supported best practices in teaching and learning.

Assessment has always been about students: The word assessment comes from the same roots as assistance, meaning to help someone in completing a task or facilitating their achievement. Yet, over the years the balance has shifted from supporting/ sustaining individual learners towards reporting homogenized/collective scores.

Assessment must start locally, right in the classroom, in our own schools and communities. This means starting with what the students know and providing what is necessary for their peak progress and success.  Instead of planning backward from what high school graduates must know and be able to do, it is more effective to start with what incoming students know and can do.

When students arrive at school with dissimilar backgrounds, knowledge, and skills, it means that students may require a different path or different amount of time to grow into the curriculum. Lockstep curriculum does not result in all students reaching identical levels of achievement by the end of a predetermined period.

  1. Refocus on Students

Start with on time-tested practices that work for most students then fill in lingering gaps and misconceptions with personalized and targeted interventions. Be proactive by involving all students in assessment as well as learning. Refocusing on students builds ownership and is relevant, engaging, and motivational.

This doesn’t mean that every student will get their own curriculum, resources, and private tutor. It does mean that some students may require different resources or can display their learning in diverse ways. While Jana writes an essay, Chul chooses to design an infographic. Students, peers, and teachers assess these products of learning with consistent criteria such as accuracy, organization, and clarity.

  1. Refocus on Priorities

Rather than rating teachers on what they are doing, let’s assess students on their proficiencies, perseverance in overcoming challenges, and ability to solve problems. Instead of emphasizing productivity by the number of questions answered, refocus on the alignment of learning with success criteria and progress towards goals.

Just because student answers are displayed, doesn’t mean their learning aligns with the intentions and or even that students understand them. Blaise’s beautifully colored rainbow may attract our attention, but each segment includes only one concept. Blain’s is sloppy on first look, but when reviewed more closely his ideas show how the events blend and flow and illuminate his depth of analysis.

  1. Refocus on Gains and Growth before Final Scores.

Learning is not an Olympic sport. In fact, for athletes to rise to the level of Olympian it requires more than knowledge of technique and physical preparation. The best athletes focus on goals, aim for consistent improvement, and work at developing a positive and affirming mindset.

Emphasizing personal best rather than top scores results in less stress and reduced anxiety. In these settings, all students have opportunities to succeed. Embedded formative assessment is a window into student’s thinking. Rather than passing judgment at the end, it’s far better to acknowledge progress during the process.

When students and teachers use the feedback and information from formative assessment they:

  1. Recognize the current stage of learning,
  2. Identify lingering gaps,
  3. Select relevant interventions.

It is formative assessment combined with assistance that makes the most significant difference in learning outcomes.

Better than continuously reinventing the wheel, strengthening the underpinnings of assessment and fine-tuning those elements that work is more effective. There are many adjustments educators can make to assessment. These are just a few to think about and put into action. Let us know how this works for you and what questions you have.

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Just like everything you see, hear, and experience, assessment gets filtered through the emotional center of your brain. Deep within the limbic system, the amygdala and hippocampus respond to your moods, fears, and joys even before the learning is sent to neurons in the brain’s procedural and memory centers.

Thus, for many brains, the mere vocalization of the word TEST creates anxiety. This anxiety changes the interface of the brain from a learning stance to a fight or flight response. When this happens, the brain is bathed with cortisol and blood flows away from the frontal cortex (the thinking part of the brain) and flows into the primal flight or fight response center.

Alternatively, a brain working on an interesting and engaging project or assessment is in a state of what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls Flow.  An engaged brain is processing learning through multiple areas, relying on the prefrontal cortex for complex thinking, decision-making, and self-regulation.

Rather than causing stress, ASSESSMENT CAN STRENGTHEN MEMORY. Here’s how it works in the classroom:

Students Who Feel Emotionally Safe Learn Better
If students anticipate failure or have negative feelings about the topic or the person teaching it, they are less apt to transfer learning to long-term memory centers. Classrooms must be places where failure is seen as an opportunity, and there is respect for all types of learners and learning.

Explicitly Teach Stress Management Strategies
Children who experience sustained activation of their stress response systems are less able to regulate behavior. Their brains have more difficulty transferring learning to long-term memory centers. With your class, before a test, practice deep breathing by taking “belly” breaths and then relaxing as you let it out. Also consider ways to include movement, music, visualization, and creative opportunities within teaching and learning

Activate Multiple Levels of the Learning Taxonomy
Learning is generally developmental and typically sequential, proceeding from content knowledge to production of original ideas. Begin assessments with recall and understanding to develop student’s confidence then extend questioning into the meaning or applications of learning. Also include analysis of visual prompts, evaluation of alternative perspectives, or production of original diagrams.

Balance the Methods of Assessment
Some learners prefer to match a word with its definition while others would rather include the word in a sentence that demonstrates and elaborates their understanding. Consider offering multiple measures or giving students options for displaying their learning. Variety and choice can reduce stress, but be sure they are aligned with consistent standards, learning intentions, and success criteria.

Rely on Non-cognitive Foundations of Learning
For teachers and students, there is a great deal of pressure to cram loads of testable knowledge into learning. At the same time, it is essential to acknowledge the non-cognitive underpinnings of learning. Teach students that intelligence is malleable, mindset helps them learn from mistakes, and conscientiousness leads to progress, even when the going gets tough.

Warning- Standardized tests don’t build neurons.
We each have different dietary needs and exercise requirements to maximize our health. Likewise, diverse approaches to learning and assessment also have different purposes and outcomes. Reducing stress leads to more accurate assessment. Engaging learners sustains their attention and builds ownership. The outcomes are a win-win for all.

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Pre-Assessment: Where Teaching and Learning Begins

What is Pre-assessment? basketball-49252_960_720Pre-assessment is an action or strategy at the start of instruction that reveals student’s incoming knowledge and skills and, in response, informs teaching and learning. It can occur at the start of a lesson, the beginning of a unit, or the introduction of a new idea, concept or skill. Think about the skilled baker who may have pre-measured all the ingredients only to discover that the bread is undercooked because the oven temperature wasn’t calibrated.

Why Should I Use It?
Emerging research on effective teaching and assessing confirms the value of starting where the students are in their sequence and cycle of learning. Teachers need to be attentive to gaps in knowledge, foundational skills, and preconceptions. John Hattie, in his research on Visible Learning, found that informative assessment has an effect size of .9, nearly at the top of his list.

How Can I Use It?
Pre-assessment can be used to identify incoming knowledge, recognize misconceptions about a topic, raise student’s curiosity, and engage them in new learning. Pre-assessment informs planning and guides next steps for the teacher and the learner. Pre-assessment also supports the alignment of instruction with learning intentions, as well as selection of resources, pacing, and grouping. If it makes sense to use a GPS when traveling, then it also makes sense to use a pre-assessment when teaching to support each learner on their pathway to success.

Pre-assessment Without Technology
Corners: Students go to a posted subtopic of an upcoming unit (from shapes to nutrition) and collectively write what they know about their selected subtopic. (example, what is a quadrilateral or compare chronic to infectious diseases) Post, discuss, and review what everyone agrees is correct, what are the discrepancies, and which ones are definitely wrong. Then, ask students what else they want or need to know.
Entrance Slip: Students map what they know about a topic, respond to questions, solve a problem, or record their ideas about a topic.
Predictions: Students predict the content and purpose of upcoming learning about a given topic such as the solar system or the Renaissance

Pre-assessment with Technology
Padlet can be used for collective brainstorming or displaying incoming knowledge.
Lino is a type of electronic sticky note where students can post their ideas or sort responses by subcategory; perhaps cloud formations or systems of government.
Plickers lets you poll your class as each student holds up a card displaying their answer. Cards can be scanned with your phone producing a class graph or individual student report.
Additional quiz software includes Socrative, Goformative, Google Forms  and Edpuzzle

Pre-assessments should stretch beyond recall of prior learning. They can be used to pique student’s curiosity, support critical thinking, and encourage problem-solving. It’s important to keep in mind that just because you taught it yesterday, doesn’t mean students are ready to put it into practice today.

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Technology: A Means or an End?

If you want to make a cake, does it matter if you beat the eggs with a fork or electric mixer? Either would work, but if you wanted to make meringue, you’d probably reach for the electric mixer. If you are gathering leaves in your yard, a blower may work faster than a rake, but the rake won’t wake the baby. Technology is like that too. It is crucial to be intentional in selecting the right technology and to be deliberate in matching it to explicit learning objectives.

Marketing by technology developers has been intensifying, accompanied by claims of overcoming inequality and improving critical thinking. Conferences such as ISTE, FETC, TCEA, CUE, iNACOL, and IETC all promote on educational technology. Professional education organizations that traditionally advocate for the development of the whole child are increasingly emphasizing the use of technology to personalize learning, learn collaboratively, inspire creativity, and prepare students for tests. But does technology truly make a difference in learning outcomes?

Don’t misunderstand, I love technology and even teach IT&DML in a graduate program for teachers. Students compile and evaluate technologies for specific learning intentions. They also design informative demonstrations of selected technologies. They are routinely asked to explain their reasoning in choosing a technology for this time, place, and purpose? We also rely on models of technology integration such as SAMR, TPACK, and TAR that support increasingly complex applications of learning technologies.

However, when I visit a 3rd-grade classroom and see students spending an hour in the morning on an ELA tutorial and another hour in the afternoon with programmed math coaching, while seated in swivel or bouncing chairs with fidgeting devices, that’s when I worry about the direction that technology implementation is taking.

As a tool or utensil, technology can
*Develop foundational knowledge and skills
*Assist in information management such as compiling, clarifying, and categorizing
*Verify and advance prior learning
*Track scores
*Produce authentic products

As a conduit or process, technology can
Engage students in evaluating evidence
*Strengthen higher level reasoning and divergent thinking
*Foster collaborative learning
*Oversee progress and improve learning outcomes
*Provide opportunities for displaying all types of learning in varied ways

Technology itself may be able to build children’s knowledge, but it cannot make children smarter. It has the potential to be transformational when teachers and students are prepared to constructively choose, use, and evaluate the technology and learning outcomes. Technology is not a panacea for learning nor a cure-all for raising test scores.  Rather, the emphasis must be on promoting thoughtful adoption and valid implementation of appropriate and substantiated technologies in support of instructional aims.

Considerations and Caveats
Personalized and competency-based describe technology that adapts to the learner’s progress. Evidence is still emerging on the advantages and best use of these technologies for instructional purposes. Concerns about insulating children from learning from their mistakes, and over-individualizing learning, can be balanced through teaching and learning that also embraces interpersonal skills such as self-regulation and perseverance, and intrapersonal skills such as collaboration and empathy.

Consider Amanda and Chanda who are learning about volume measures. Amanda starts with the electronic tutorial and quickly understands the relationship between cups, pints, and quarts. Chanda is stymied by the images and vocabulary until she goes home and bakes a cake with her father. He takes a different approach.  Rather than using the measures in the recipe, he gives her partial measures and has her figure out how to translate teaspoons into tablespoons and 1/3 cups into two cup measures. In doing so, she also learns to persevere and correct her mistakes.

It is also important to consider the developmental appropriateness of different technologies. A brief recap of Jean Piaget’s work explains that cognitive abilities emerge over time. Just as we don’t expect a 3-month-old to understand object permanence, we wouldn’t expect most 5-year-olds to demonstrate abstract problem-solving.

When used selectively, technology can support and encourage all modes and levels of developmental abilities. This requires easing up on the technology accelerator and taking the time to choose the best technology for a purpose. Don’t forget that children need to smell the real roses, play with tangible toys, and create original artifacts along the way. There’s always time, in real-time, for students to benefit from the advantages of a well-structured classroom debate, questioning deeply, teaching others, and monitoring progress, rather than simply reporting learning outcomes and scores.

Think about it:

  1. How do you use technology to personalize learning?
  2. In what ways can technology strengthen collaborative learning?
  3. What technologies would you recommend to encourage higher and deeper thinking?
  4. How would advise others in using technology to engage, activate, and inspire, thinking and imagining?
  5. Instead of just substituting technology for a more traditional resource such as a workbook, how will you use it to augment and redefine learning?

The potential for technology is already proven. Selected technologies have been validated, but the full potential of technology integration with balanced learning systems is still under development. Most importantly, there is not yet widespread evidence on which practices are most effective for specific standards and targeted learning intentions. Like the camel trying to get into the tent, technology’s nose is already in: giving the rest of it entry depends on your purpose, context, and circumstances.


If technology came with safety information, what should it include? What would you add?
>This technology may be more effective when blended with other instructional strategies
>Caution, this technology may be habit-forming: Do not use for more than 1 hour at a time
>To reduce side effects, use only for the intended purpose
>Frequent use can be detrimental to children’s physical, social, and emotional development
.May result in a decrease of spending on other important instructional initiatives

As Marshall McLuhan said decades ago: “The medium IS the message.”


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