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5 Ways ESSA Will Change Local Assessment Systems

A Preview of this Year’s ASCD Workshop:

Assessment Systems are the cornerstone of assessment-centered schools. The new ESSA regulations hold promise with these local systemic changes.

1. Multiple Measures: Annual high-stakes Common Core tests will no longer be the primary indicator of success. Overall, the law reduces Washington’s control over local decisions and offers more flexibility in choosing and using multiple assessments while maintaining an emphasis on evidence of improvement and excellence in educational practice.

2. Local Systems: For the first time, states will be required use more than academic factors in their accountability systems. Assessment plans must include challenging academic standards and annual measures of ELA, math, graduation rates in HS/growth in Elementary, and one additional indicator such as student engagement, postsecondary readiness, access to advanced coursework, or school climate. This is where in-house decisions will be made and priorities set.

3. For schools and districts, “adequate yearly progress” has been eliminated along with sanctions. Locally decided measures will replace predetermined national tests. In addition, the law empowers local decisions over the development and maintenance of school improvement plans when evidence shows that that schools or groups of students are falling behind.

4. For classrooms and teachers there will be a cap on the amount of time allocated to testing and in turn, test preparation. Teachers will no longer be evaluated primarily on their students’ standardized test scores. A new “Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund” will provide grants to build and support teacher quality.

5. Pilot programs, aimed at replacing summative tests with competency-based assessments and performance-based measures, are being planned. Although this has been tried in the past, it is intended that these new measures will incorporate the best of what behavioral and cognitive sciences offers in relation to best-practice in learning and assessing.

Conclusion: Only time will tell how these guidelines are interpreted and implemented, if this law will make the difference we need in education, and whether it will support a transition from telling educators how to do their job to helping educators do it.

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Assess, Teach, Learn, Repeat: Why Assessment Comes First

Imagine you have decided to learn a new skill: Perhaps Medieval cookery or competitive stone skipping. But, how do you begin? An internet search may explain strategies and give you examples of people who achieved prominence. You may also decide to read articles and watch videos of successful performance.  

Then what? Most likely you wouldn’t immediately open a restaurant, join the tournament team, or take a written exam. It is more likely you would try it, practice it, and confer with others. Along the way you might get befuddled or bruised, but like “Horton” in the Dr. Seuss story, you would persist or like the “Beautiful Oops”, learn to make the best from your mistakes.

 Assessment is the route to achievement. I don’t mean a 100 question bubble sheet: Rather, the type of assessment that supports and steers learning. Beginning with pre-assessments to determine the starting point, followed by formative check-ins to inform instructional decisions, and incorporating ongoing measures that provide evidence of learning, these approaches engage learners and encourage improvement.

 Assessments that drive instruction rely on just-right timing and just-right focus. In these settings, goals, assessment, and instruction are seamlessly merged. Rather than judging answers, student’s responses are used to guide their learning. This in turn, informs instructional strategies, pacing, and resources. It is this continuous dip-sticking that confirms progress and identifies lingering gaps. As with Medieval cuisine or stone skipping, the focus remains on individual growth and personal best.




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For Better or Worse: PARCC Testing vs. PARCC Testing in the Digital Age

We are hitched to our technologies. Don’t get me wrong, I use them to blog, tweet, Facebook, text message, and sometimes even send handwritten notes using old-fashioned technology (a.k.a ink and graphite).

But when it comes to testing, the research from the cognitive sciences is clear. Brains respond differently to digital text, typically scanning, skipping, and clicking more frequently resulting in decreased concentration thus less substantial comprehension. Reading is a multisensory experience: The feel of the paper, the sound of turning pages, the movement between numbered pages (as compared to fluid scrolling). There is a physicality to reading as we underline a passage or write a note in the margin. There’s a sense of control in returning to an author’s note on page 8 or scanning ahead for a preview of things to come.binary-823382_960_720

Computers are linear processors, making decisions based on pre-established sequences. If you get a question wrong on a computer adaptive test, it adjusts the difficulty of the next question for you but doesn’t help you understand the concept behind the right answer.
Brains are complex and elastic organs that are organized in very different ways from a computer. Reading about Thanksgiving may trigger memories in our olfactory and auditory regions evoking feelings about prior experiences or raising questions about whether turkey really does make us sleepy.

So, why are we surprised when the recently published results of PARCC testing showed that scores were lower for students who took the exams on a computer as compared to those who took a paper and pencil version? It should come as no shock as the research has already shown that students reading printed texts score higher than those reading digital texts.

The evidence that e-reading is harder on the eyes causing Computer Vision Syndrome, is especially significant as some test takers spend hours in front of a screen.

Before we take the easy route and blame it on the school’s technology infrastructure or student’s lack of familiarity and proficiency with the testing technology, or teachers use of different classroom technologies for teaching and learning, let’s rely on the research that can help us understand the PARCC outcomes. Let’s use the data formatively to analyze strengths and struggles and in turn, make informed, responsive, and responsible decisions about students and assessment.

Here are a few recommendations for resolution- please let me know if you have others.
• Explicitly teach digital literacy skills such as how to strategically use multiple technologies for varied purposes and how to find, select, and evaluate sources
• Take practice tests on the device the students will use for the real test.
• Offer families a choice of test taking platforms
• Objectively and rigorously take the time to examine the underlying causes of the difference in outcomes

Additional Readings:
PARCC Test Results Lower for Computer-Based Tests
Reading and Writing on Paper Can be Better for Your Brain

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Assessment Predictions for 2016

As decisions about assessment are shifting back to the local level, along with palpable challenges there will be remarkable opportunities.

The rewrite of ESEA as the Every Student Succeeds Act will provide opportunities to reshape standards that are student-centered and supportive of real-world applications. These outcomes will compel us to broaden assessments of analysis, synthesis, meta-cognition, inquiry, and inventiveness as well as skills such as digital literacy, global understanding, and stick-to-it-iveness. These are my predictions and hopes for assessment in the coming year.

New definitions of achievement will reach beyond test scores and incorporate a spectrum of success skills along with strategies for measuring them. Evidence of mastery will become the essential marker of success. Broader representations of evidence will be relied upon to meet the needs of increasingly diverse learners. Thus, data will mean more than numerical representations of a student’s placement on a scoring scale.

These changes will provide substantial opportunities for the development of local assessment systems that incorporate multiple methods to convey enhanced perspectives of students’ multifaceted achievement. Student portfolios will include self-assessment of growth, anecdotal records, and competency-based appraisal of complex skills.

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Everything I Know About Assessment I Learned from Star Wars

star-wars-899694_960_720The Force is Strong
The forces driving educational assessment are powerful. We are bombarded on all sides from testing and measurement packages that promise to deliver results. Repel this force and build your own toolbox of robust and flexible classroom assessment practices.

Teach Like Yoda
Yoda is a patient tutor and also a no-nonsense teacher. By perching on Luke’s shoulder he develops an understanding of the problem from Luke’s view and creates a personalized learning path that is built on step by step progress towards mastery of the Jedi way. Use embedded formative assessments throughout your teaching and learning to continuously monitor students’ fulfillment of their learning goals.

Why Can’t Anakin Learn?
Don’t be like Anakin when he says, “I’ve heard this lesson before” and Obi Wan replies, “But, you haven’t learned anything.” Anakin wants others to think he knows everything but this may be a ruse to avoid showing his weaknesses or fear of making mistakes. Foster growth mindsets to increase resiliency and bolster success.

Obi-Wan’s Truth
There are many viewpoints on fixing education but as Obi-Wan explained, many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. Seek a balanced and galactic perspective:

  • Minimize the politics: Maximize research-based practice
  • Gaze through a wide-angle lens: Bring together local needs with large-scale principles
  • Teach the whole child: Blend content knowledge with critical thinking, non-cognitive, and social-emotional competencies
  • Utilize a comprehensive spectrum of measures: From traditional strategies to on the spot formative assessment

As Yoda said, “That which you seek, inside you will find.”

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An Affirmation That Requires Action

Without action an affirmation is just empty words. Saying “You did better” and “Good work” doesn’t tell a student anything about their achievement. Compare this to “When you changed your study habits you got better grades” or “You organized your ideas more purposefully on your second draft. Next time separate them into paragraphs.” in which the learner understands the connections between his actions and the outcomes.

“Too Much Testing”. This affirmation has been all over the news this past week. President Obama says there is “too much testing without enough clarity of purpose”. Parents call them stressful and difficult to decipher. Teachers say they “feel so much pressure to teach to a test that is takes the joy out of teaching and learning.”

In his Facebook Video the President recommends that tests meet 3 principles:
1. Only takes test that are worth taking
2. Tests should enhance teaching and learning
3. Tests should be just one source of information

In that same month The Council of Great City Schools issued a report stating that “there is no evidence that added testing time improves academic achievement.”

When the government issues its full report in January, I hope to see these recommendations:

  • Moderation in the number of tests and time spent on testing
  • Assurance that tests are purposeful in their design, delivery, and use
  • Reliance on a spectrum of valid, reliable, informative, and accurate measures
  • Assessment of a wide range of learning from content knowledge to skills for continuous real-world learning
  • Transfer of accountability to local levels
  • Rigorous local assessment systems supported by informed local leadership
  • Increased time for teaching, learning, and small-scale assessment

President Obama is right, testing shouldn’t “crowd out teaching and learning.” Now is the time to take action on that affirmation.

(Words in quotes are from President Obama’s speech on October 24, 2015)


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Pre-Assessment for a Purpose

Pre-assessment is like assembling the ingredients before you begin baking to make sure you have the right types of leavening and flour. Sometimes, after mixing the ingredients, pouring it in the pan, and popping it in the oven you discover that it is way overcooked when you take it out. Whoops! Forgot to calibrate the oven temperature.

In the classroom, a pre-assessment is generally given at the start of a lesson. Teachers use them, like a thermostat, to check the current status and consider adjustments to the dial. After a KWL, they may back-track to previous content in order to fill in any lingering gaps. In response to a Plickers pretest, students may be regrouped.

Pre-assessment should stretch beyond recall of prior learning. It can be used to pique student’s curiosity and uncover 21st century skills such as collaboration and critical thinking. Students with well-developed problem solving skills may easily jump into inquiry learning or case studies, while others in the group immediately assert their own answers and solutions. When students are pre-assessed on their ability to sequence the problem solving process, the knowledge and skills they display then informs teaching and learning.

Higher level thinking involves making connections to and building on prior learning. But how does a teacher know their student’s abilities before starting a lesson? Using graphic organizers such as or to display incoming thinking can be reciprocally used to assess learning outcomes after instruction. A specific-to-general chart  checks for understanding of the meaning of an event or theory.

The key idea to keep in mind is that there is no one pre-assessment that serves all purposes. When selecting a method consider how you will use it:
**Support standards and learning targets: Check for proficiencies, prior experiences, and dispositions
**Align with the taxonomy: Ask students how is this related, how does it compare, what do you predict?
**Guide instructional strategies: Plan for direct instruction, inquiry, reciprocal teaching, or producing
**Inform interventions, content, chunking, pacing, and resources

Purposeful and targeted pre-assessment is an engaging, fun, and illuminating way to support all learners.


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Pre-assessment: Where Teaching and Learning Begins

What is Pre-assessment?
Pre-assessment is an action or strategy at the start of instruction that displays student’s incoming knowledge and skills and in turn 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.

Why Should I Use It?
Much of the emerging research on effective teaching and assessing confirms the value of starting where the students are in their sequence and cycle of learning as this is most likely to increase their success. John Hattie, in his research on Visible Learning, found that formative assessment has an effect size of .9, nearly at the top of the list.

How Can I Use It?
Pre-assessment is used to identify incoming knowledge, recognize misconceptions about a topic, raise student’s curiosity, and immediately engage them in new learning. It informs planning and guides next steps for the teacher and the learner. This may relate to complexity of content, alignment of instructional processes, 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 ensure everyone is on the right pathway to success.

Strategies Without Technology
Corners: Select a position and provide an annotated defense based on prior learning.
Entrance Slip: Students map what they know about a topic, respond to questions, or record their ideas.
Predictions: Students predict the content and purpose of upcoming learning.

Strategies With Technology
Padlet can be used for brainstorming or displaying incoming knowledge.
Lino is a type of electronic sticky note where students can post and sort their responses by category.
Google Forms can create quick quizzes that provide data on each student’s knowledge.
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.

Coming up in next:  Strategies for a purpose
Followed by: Responding to the data


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“Whad’Ya Know?”

At the beginning of each episode of Michael Feldman’s NPR show, “Whad’Ya Know?” he asks this question and in unison the audience replies “Not Much, You?” It’s a brilliant illustration of effective pre-assessment that begins by identifying learning outcomes and what students need to know about them. Think for a moment about what is really important in teaching, learning, and assessing. Is it proficiency on the standardized test, content knowledge in biology and civics, or mastery of skills for success such as problem solving, creativity, and social-emotional intelligence? The work of teaching and learning should start with that question:  “What’Ya Want” learners to know and do at the end of the day, the unit, the grade, the school level, and beyond.

Once we identify what is important to know and do and then utilize strategies to engage, guide, and support learners, it is time to determine and substantiate learning outcomes. Multiple measures and multiple ways to demonstrate proficiency provide opportunities for all learners to be successful. Chad may excel at selected choice tests while Tessa may succeed with a “show what you know” assessment. The essential element here is that the assessment aligns with the visible learning targets. So, while Chad takes a test, Tessa create a Prezi in which they each show that they can define, explain, and sequence photosynthesis.

As Yogi Berra said “It’s not over till it’s over”, so it goes with assessment. After we assess student learning outcomes, decisions need to be made about how many are expected to show mastery, at what level, and what to do about those who don’t. It is not realistic to expect every student to earn a perfect score but it is realistic for the majority to achieve a pre-determined set point in relation to the learning targets. Then, decisions need to be made about what to reteach, how to reteach, and how to enrich for those who have achieved. “Whad’Ya Know?” The cycle is endless and I hope you know more than when you started out.

You can learn more at

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Less Testing, More Assessing

Although testing is a form of assessment, assessment is not the same as testing. Assessment is defined as a process of collecting evidence of learning that is used to inform educational decisions.  With testing, the user is given a score such as 1 meaning they got one right or maybe that’s their golf handicap. 36 can mean a perfect score on the ACT or a failing score on a 100 point test.

There is a growing movement to reduce over-testing and decrease the reliance on test scores to measure students and evaluate teachers. Call-outs from parents and educational groups often stress the need for better accountability based on multiple measures that highlight growth and inform improvement. Some believe that the tests narrow the spectrum of student learning. In response, they urge schools to provide a balance of opportunities that include the arts, technical skills, and a toolbox of strategies for success in learning and in life.

These noteworthy ideas come with challenges. Over the years there has been little professional development on classroom assessment strategies and minimal inclusion of it in pre-service programs. The changing nature of teaching, learning, and assessing requires improved abilities to assess learning outcomes as well as increased skills in determining students’ proficiencies in collaboration, digital literacy, creativity, real-world problem solving, and more. The current emphasis on data-driven instruction overlooks the value of qualitative data that is produced by alternative types of assessments such as rubrics and checklists as well as student’s self-assessment or their personal insights into where they struggled in grasping new ideas.  Yet it is these assessments that are windows into a child’s mind that in turn inform instruction and guide responses to learning.

The transfer from heavy reliance on standardized test scores to an increased emphasis on classroom assessments is built on three foundations of professional practice:

  1. Guidance for teachers on the development of multiple types of classroom assessments from selected choice to projects.
  2. Support for interpreting, utilizing, and responding to the results of classroom assessment.
  3. Inclusion of classroom assessments in determining student mastery of standards.

In addition, teachers need to recognize the differences between testing (“You scored 36, or 100, or 800”- depending on the test), evaluation (“You are proficient”), and assessment (Here’s what you do well and how you can do better). What does this all mean? – We need to reduce the emphasis on testing and spend more time assessing.

Recent News

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

Ideas for making annual testing more meaningful



Assessment-Literate Educators

7 Things Assessment-Literate Educators Need to Do. (including: Balanced, Intentional, & Aligned) from NWEA/Advancing Assessment Education


Overused Buzz Words

In this edweek article, from Larry Ferlazzo’s Classroom Q and A, the most overused words in educatioin include: at-risk, data-driven, rigor, 21st century skills, flipped and more. Read about it at

SCAN “The Journal for Educators”

Showcasing innovation in education


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