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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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Proactive Assessment

What does it take to develop and engage student’s minds while also improving learning outcomes? Habits such as regular exercise and a healthy diet contribute to good health. There are also habits of cognitive health that fortify knowledge and skills and promote success for all learners. Experts on habits praise their value.
                        “Quality is not an act; it is a habit.” Aristotle           statue-386647_960_720-copySteven Covey’s (1989) first habit is to “Be Proactive,” and his second is to “Begin with the End in Mind.” In relation to learning and assessing he is asking us to think about where we are headed and how we will take responsibility for getting there. He recommends focusing on the things you can control: your thoughts, actions, and habits.

Art Costa and Bena Kallick (2009) describe “habits of mind” as essential skills and dispositions that empower critical thinking and support purposeful teaching and learning. From their list of 16, these five are especially pertinent to proactive assessment.
Persisting: Sticking with learning, seeing it to completion, utilizing practices that support goal attainment.
Striving for Accuracy: Maintaining high standards, doing your best, and seeking quality outcomes.
Remaining Open to Continuous Learning: Recognizing that there is always more to learn.
Thinking Flexibly: Looking at situations or problems from multiple perspectives.
Thinking about Thinking Ability to stand back and consider thoughts and actions in relation to a goal.

Developing a Proactive Assessment Mindset

Being proactive means being preemptive in averting problems as well as being prepared to respond to emerging situations before they become major problems. In contrast, a reactive approach means taking action on something that has already happened. Of course, it is not possible to prevent all debacles, but it is far better to anticipate them.

In relation to assessment, a proactive mindset recognizes and prepares for foreseeable changes and has strategies for responding to the unexpected. In education, this means considering emerging policies and directives as well as exploring promising practices. Then, in response, making judicious changes to a schools testing methods, assessment practices, and reporting. There are numerous proactive opportunities in balancing federal testing policy with authenticated trends in assessment.

Proactive Assessment and Policy

ESSA offers selected opportunities for states, districts, and schools to be proactive about assessment. At the high school level, they can choose from nationally “recognized” exams. States can also administer interim tests and develop performance tasks, but few have taken advantage of this opportunity due to concerns about validity and costs. Beyond test scores that make up at least half of the measurement of school performance, other accountability measures include student attendance, enrollment in advanced coursework, and school climate. However, most of the proactive potential is at the local level.

Proactive Assessment and Local Practice

The most effective, proactive assessments rely on the best practices in assessment: The ones that have been substantiated and withstood the test of time. Those that not only raise test scores, but engage students in clear, consistent, and informative measures of learning.


Alignment means deconstructing large-scale standards into understandable, actionable, and assessable classroom learning intentions.

Consistency about the student’s role in learning, in behavioral and performance expectations, and clarity of instruction and assessment.

Ongoing, supportive and informative assessments from pre to post along with evidence of students’ understanding of those assessments and outcomes.

Multiple measures from selected choice and standardized to project-based and performance appraisals.

Student ownership of goals, learning, monitoring, and self-assessment; accompanied by meta-cognition, motivation, and self-regulation.

Emphasis on progress over final scores; reasoning over recall of facts.

Developing teachers as assessors who can effectively utilize formative and summative practices to inform their practice, improve instruction, and use assessment in support of learning.

Fostering future readiness in students means preparing them for continuous change through adaptability, meta-cognition, personal initiative, and problem-solving as well as interpersonal skills such as empathy and compromise.

It Doesn’t Matter whether you use technology or more traditional strategies. What does matter is that the assessment aligns with and supports the learning intentions. From Animoto presentations to Coggle mind mapping, and Edpuzzle where questions are embedded in a video, what matters is how well they support and align with the expected learning outcomes. From a Fishbowl activity to a debate, the assessment of learning depends on clear and visible learning expectations that give student agency over their assessments.

Putting Into Practice
Reactive assessments sound like this: “Well I taught it but they just didn’t listen well enough.” Proactive assessments sound like this: “I wonder why they didn’t get this idea- how can I teach it differently?” or “I gave Magrite feedback; I’ll check on why she didn’t use it.” Which led to her explaining “I didn’t understand what cursory meant.”

Proactive assessment relies on giving students informative feedback, annotating descriptive rubrics, peer review and opportunities for self-reflection. In response, students use that information to edit, adjust, and correct their work.

Anton explains that “The review sheet made me realize that I skipped the third stage. I reviewed what we learned and corrected my work. Now, I think my grade should change from a 79 to an 84.”

Student activations for proactive self-assessment
Please be specific and include examples as you respond to these prompts:

  1. In relation to these learning intentions and the success criteria, I now know and can do____
  2. When I compare my work to the goals and success criteria, I become aware that I still am learning or wondering______
  3. I am now working at this level of the scoring scale_______ on account of this evidence:
  4. Here’s what I did to achieve this higher level outcome:
  5. I still need help with___________ I will get this help from ___________
  6. I have these lingering questions ______________
  7. This is what I want to commend about my learning____________
  8. This is what I recommend to improve my learning______________
  9. Here are some ways I can use my learning__________

Source: Restorative Assessment, Strength-Based Practices that Support All Learners, Laura Greenstein, Corwin Press 2018, p.96


Costa, A and Kallick, B (2009) Habits of Mind Across the Curriculum. ASCD

Covey, S. (2004) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Free Press

(Note: there is a subsequent version- Covey, S (2014) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens)


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Courageous Assessment


Does being fearless, knowing how to dog paddle, and wearing floaties prepare you for a 50-meter freestyle? If that was a standardized test question and a student selected True, their answer would most likely be marked wrong. Students rarely have opportunities to explain their reasoning. But, what if Amara explained that she had been taught to visualize her success, learned the rules for the specific race (she actually participated in a dog paddle race), and to ease up on the intensity of practice shortly before the event? Rather than relying on the shallow end of numerical scores, consider how assessment becomes more transparent and meaningful when it delivers visible insight into student’s thinking.

In general, teachers receive minimal preparation in assessment, measurement, and evaluation. Too often, the powerful voices behind data-driven learning believe that if teachers are given detailed data reports and collaboratively study the reams of data, learning outcomes will improve. Like jumping into the deep end of the pool without preparation, knowing data but not understanding assessment leads to misinterpreting the overwhelming glut of assessment data. The result is inaccurate decisions about students and inadequate insight into what they know and can do.

Assessment Literacy
Developing assessment literate teachers, rather than expanding standardized testing, is essential to the success of every student. At the heart of assessment literacy is an understanding of the purpose of assessment, how to interpret and utilize data appropriately, and ways to provide opportunities for all students to succeed.

Standardized tests have a purpose in providing large-scale measures that summarize big-picture outcomes. However, there is no place for high-stakes tests that rate schools, judge teachers, and regulate students’ learning. Rather, it is in the classroom that assessment literate teachers cultivate assessment capable learners. Similar to successful swimmers, these students can: Set goals, develop actionable plans, improve skills, monitor headway, and adjust the course of learning. Assessment capable teachers and students have the skills to successfully navigate the deep end of thinking and learning.

For assessment literate teachers, these are the essentials:

  1. Relying on high-quality assessments that align with the purpose and intentions of teaching and learning.
  2. Incorporating multiple types of measures from selected choice to graphic displays, and justification of conclusions.
  3. Assessing throughout learning taxonomies; from content knowledge to the analysis of evidence, and production of original ideas.
  4. Communicating results and outcomes in ways that are understandable and actionable by students and parents.
  5. Emphasizing progress and improvement in order to support and encourage student’s continuing success.

For assessment capable students it means:

  1. Understanding the learning goals and intentions: Using their own words to explain what, why, and how they will learn.
  2. Identifying and acting on the steps and resources they need to build their learning.
  3. Monitoring their progress against specific indicators: This may be accurate use of content vocabulary or clarity and specificity in their learning journal.
  4. Anticipating and utilizing constructive feedback from teacher, peers, and self-reflection that is specific to process and products of learning.
  5. Improving learning outcomes by understanding and correcting missteps and misunderstandings.

Together assessment literate teachers and students:

  1. Collaboratively develop, identify, and share understanding of learning intentions.
  2. Continuously compare outcomes to intentions.
  3. Recognize their location on the sequence of learning outcomes.
  4. Identify lingering gaps and misunderstandings.
  5. Collaboratively decide on interventions to resolve missteps and close gaps.

Things I’ve learned about assessing courageously, responsibly, and respectfully

  • It’s not the best practice to throw your student into the deep end to see if they can swim.
  • We all need floaties from time to time
  • Other times dog paddling is sufficient
  • Sometimes we must be prepared to swim the distance
  • Everyone can reach their finishing line with just-right support, monitoring of progress, reasonable assessments, and constructive feedback.
  • Sometimes students would rather run or fly than swim to their goal. There are also those who want to meander down their own stream, dive into the Hadal Zone, or skyrocket towards unknown galaxies.


reflection-743932_960_720First Published on EdCircuit:

Enrichment: What Teacher Preparation Programs Teach About K-12 Assessment

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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

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