Blog, News, Tweets

  • 0

Coherence and Evidence in Assessment

book-1014197_960_720There’s a cartoon where a little boy is telling a friend that he taught his dog to whistle. His friend notes that the dog is unable to whistle. The little boy says, “Just because I taught him, doesn’t mean he learned it.”

So, how do we know when a student has learned what has been taught? Some say a test will confirm it. Others say a project is a better way for students to demonstrate achievement. I believe it is not the assessment method, but rather the process for gathering and using evidence of learning.

This process starts with alignment between the learning intentions and the learning outcomes. If I tell a student they will learn to tie their shoes, then demonstrate how to do it, then have them perform the task, they may or may not be successful. Why?

1.       I did not check their incoming knowledge at the start.

2.       My boot laces were different from the student’s sneaker laces.

3.       During the demonstration, some of the steps were not visible such as pulling the loop through the wrap-over.

4.       During instruction some of the steps were not fully explained, such as why a double knot is more durable and lasts longer.

5.       Student did not have a checklist of the steps to help them identify gaps in understanding or performance.

6.       No information was gathered on their developing skills while the student tried to tie their laces.

7.       Student was unable to explain reasons for their success nor ways to improve their performance.

Consider how this example can be applied to a spectrum of learning from writing the alphabet to analyzing lab experiments.  The best way to gather accurate evidence of learning is to:

·         Be certain the learning intention matches the learning action. If the intention is to analyze, be sure the teaching and assessment includes higher level thinking such as classifying and prioritizing, not simply defining and explaining.

·         Check-in on students’ progress throughout teaching and learning. Rather than asking, “Any questions?” have students record their progress on a learning tracker or submit a “bump in the road” or “feathers and salt” review.

·         Be sure the summative assessment incorporates a spectrum of learning outcomes from knowing to producing, and that each aim is unambiguously assessed. For example, using words in a word bank to complete sentences for demonstrating understanding vs. synthesizing the ideas from multiple sources into a cohesive summary and position statement.  

Let me know how you have or will use these ideas.

  • 0

Artisanal Assessment

architecture-1851117__340Artisanal refers to skilled craftsmanship that results in functional products such as furniture, tote bags, and tools. In this way the artisan constructs beautiful objects that are also practical.  Artisanal assessments blend the purpose and process of assessment in ways that meet the needs of students, classrooms, and schools. Here are four ways to make assessment both practical and beautiful. 

Like colors of the rainbow, assessments come in all types, from standardized tests to analysis of a project, product or performance. Sometimes it is necessary to get the right answer such as when calculating your discounted price. Other times, it is more important to be able to explain how you came to your conclusions or provide an analysis of alternative solutions. In addition to selected choice and completion, let students annotate their answers, offer choice boards, and include opportunities for self-correction.   

Clarity of purpose guides decisions about assessment. Are you seeking cumulative growth of a cohort of students or one student’s increase in language fluency? Assessments are intended to display evidence of learning over time on multiple outcomes. Thus, consider using blueprints to ensure that assessments align with instructional aims. Keep in mind that diverse levels of the taxonomy; sorting, making connections, and generating new ideas all rely on different assessment methods.  

Assessment is intended to inform instructional decisions. What’s the point in knowing that your cupcakes didn’t rise if you don’t understand the different types and actions of leavening agents and how to resolve the problem? Ask why, what if, and what else, to illuminate student thinking in informative ways.

Beautiful objects are designed to be enjoyed by others. These assessments engage learners, display a panorama of learning, and illuminate the starting point, progress, and outcomes. When it is visible it becomes actionable. Conclusions to learning show not only final scores, but growth and mastery along the path of learning. 

Next time you think about assessment, think artisanally. Ask students to explain their learning to a Martian, let them track their own progress with a “Learning Trackers” or chronicle their learning path from “I used to think, now I know, but I’m still confused about”. Purposeful and engaging technologies include GoFormative, ExplainEverything, Padlet, Coggle. Enjoy these videos on Tech Tools for Assessment and on formative assessment from Teaching Channel to learn more about blending technology with beautiful assessment.





  • 0

Assessment Silos


There is one silo when it comes to standardized tests. Teachers are given test-worthy curriculum accompanied by detailed lesson plans and pacing guides so they know what to teach on which day of the week. This strategy has had little effect on test scores since the 1990s.

Standardized tests do have a place and purpose at one end of the spectrum of assessment: Primarily for making comparisons between schools and districts in relation to student achievement of the tested content. They provide little insight into students’ understanding of the question, their problem-solving skills, or their ability to transfer learning to other scenarios. In this way, they are like a channel for seeing how information entered at the top of a silo comes out the bottom.

In today’s world, it is less about what you know and more about what you can do with what you know. When I play Team Trivia on Tuesday nights, there are many who know what you get when you add opposite sides of a dice or who invented the scissors. My group, of self-proclaimed sages, will take all the time allowed to discuss what gives Silly Putty its unique characteristics or whether it is neurons or dendrites that continue to grow during a human’s lifespan. Think about which set of questions encourages student’s thinking. Is it the one that has one right answer or the one that requires thoughtful analysis and synthesis of prior learning.

Assessment is not an isolationist task. Learning does not take place in silos that are emptied on a predetermined schedule. Along the assessment spectrum are numerous measures that provide insights into student thinking. For example:

  • Annotated tests where students explain their answers.
  • An open-ended strategy (with reasonable parameters) where the learning targets are provided and students shape their answers in response to specific questions.
  • Reciprocal appraisal where quizzes are returned for analysis by the student.

You can find more ideas for purposeful, responsive, mutual, and flexible assessment at Sticky Assessment

  • 0

Tempering Assessment: Reclaiming Equilibrium in Daily Practice

Testing is often viewed through the lens of success or defeat when in truth, it is about improvement. Everyone wants to achieve: No one says “I can’t wait to be a failure.” But success takes “Sisu”, a Finnish word meaning determination in overcoming challenges, resilience in the face of adversity, and perseverance in reaching one’s potential. To restore balance and help students reach their highest potential consider these assessment moves and views.arrows-1414328_960_720Develop a Positive Assessment Environment
It’s not about what you know or giving the one right answer; it’s about how you use what you know to investigate and solve problems. This may be about learning to hit a tennis ball, deciphering the periodic table, or recognizing words that don’t sound like they are spelled such as knead and island. Engaging learners, emphasizing growth, and assessing small steps along the journey helps learners see that the results really are worth the effort.

Some of Us Just Haven’t Learned It YET
As Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” In a learning-centered classroom, help students track progress rather than focusing solely on final scores. They can annotate their learning tracker, note improvement on a standards chart, or graph their growth in order to substantiate their learning so far.

Recall How Hard Learning Really Is
The “Curse of Knowledge” is used in the business world to explain what happens when one person assumes another knows as much about the topic as they do. For a teacher, it can be hard to recall how difficult something was to learn in the first place. Once we have understood the times tables or the mechanisms of social change, it is hard to recall not knowing it. Rather than making assumptions, ensure that new learning targets are explicitly deconstructed, clearly explained, and routinely assessed.

Strengthen the Feedback Loop
Frequent formative assessments can reinforce learning. Knowing where students are at the onset as well as routinely checking on progress throughout instruction reduces later difficulties. Intersperse the assessments and offer frequent practice through real-world applications. Think of it as a cycle of learning, rather than a steep pathway directly to the top of the mountain.

Vary the Drumbeat
Mastery comes from studying, practicing, and assessing using multiple methods. Becoming skilled at the piano or testing hypotheses requires watching, listening, rehearsing, comprehending theory and more. Beyond basic recall of facts, use diverse assessment to discern understanding of a concept, analysis of a viewing, or a demonstration of a process/procedure.

While summative measures provide a snapshot of a specific time and place, it is the ongoing embedded assessments that support step-by-step progress towards success.arrows-1414328_960_720

  • 0

Restorative Assessment

Restorative justice dates back to ancient times when it was believed that any crime harmed the whole community. As a strategy to resolve conflicts and repair harm, restorative practices took hold in the criminal justice system in the 1990s. In nursing, it refers to a healing process where treatments respond to identified needs. It now holds promise as an educational practice that combines the best ideas from both justice and health care

In schools, restorative practice refers to actions that foster a positive school climate and culture. Much of the literature refers to at-risk students and low performing schools. However, at the same time that restorative justice empowers students to resolve conflicts, it also applies to their encounters with assessments that can be disappointing, frustrating, challenging, and even devastating.

Too many students, in all types of schools, have been harmed by traditional assessment methods and have become demoralized by their lack of success. They stumble through the mandatory tests. But with appropriate interventions and support all learners can overcome the harm and realize their best selves.

A restorative approach to assessment requires a paradigm shift from assessments that show deficiencies to ones that illuminate strengths. This requires a transition from one right answer to the exploration of possibilities. It is built on personalized goals, meaningful learning strategies, and appropriate interventions that culminate in relevant and accurate assessments. It becomes a therapeutic, refocusing on growth not solely final scores, and restoring student’s confidence. Restorative strategies, integrated into the daily routines of teaching, learning, and assessing, include:

Learning targets are clear and visible to students, success criteria and exemplars show what they are aiming towards, and assessment methods are evident and accessible from the start.

Formative assessment is embedded throughout teaching and learning, strategies for improvement are mutually planned and utilized, and progress markers are used to acknowledge improvement.

Multiple methods are used to assess learning. Scaffolds are in place to support progress and interventions are available when progress doesn’t align with the learning plan and blueprint.

Without fear or favor it is time to restore balance, put students at the center, and return assessment to its foundations.


  • 0

Assessing the Uncommon Core

What is really at the core of learning? It is not memorizing facts for a test, although we’ve all done it. Motivating learners to reason deeply is more complex than memorization. Think about a time you were inspired to learn because of: Interest, engagement, determination, challenge, or encouragement. There was probably something on that list that resonated such as the time you were told you couldn’t possibly (fill in the blank) learn to ____ or someone inspired you to try it a different way.

The Uncommon Core is the foundation that goes unnoticed or even disparaged as not measurable or worth our effort. Reversing the formula means putting non-cognitive and social/emotional skills at the forefront of learning. With cogent assessments of what are sometimes called “soft skills,” we validate and honor their importance. When we incorporate them in teaching and learning students’ develop the skills and dispositions for success.

Skills: Time management, planning, prioritizing, goal setting, self-regulation, monitoring learning, conceptual understanding, effective communication, respectful collaboration, problem-solving, metacognition, imagination, and higher order thinking such as analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

Assessments of These Skills: Learning Contracts, Sequenced Planning, Concept Maps/Graphic Organizers, Learning Trackers, Structured Reflections, Progressive Rubrics, Annotated Checklists, Focused Peer Review, Purposeful Feedback

Dispositions: Growth orientation, mindful of thoughts and actions, sense of belonging, seeking meaning and relevance, a recognition that self-efficacy leads to success, belief in justice and equity, and understanding that learning improves with determination and perseverance. Dispositions also include perspective-taking, resilience, intuition, empathy, flexibility/adaptability conscientiousness.

Assessments of These Dispositions: Process Trackers, Strategy Maps, Annotated Progressions, Discerning Self-Assessments, Analysis of Process and Outcomes, Deconstructed Critiques and Reflections 

Examples of these assessments can be found in the toolbox at the AssessmentNetwork

  • 0

Recovering from Overtesting

Making the Transition From Excessive Testing to Restorative Assessment

We stand at a crossroads of educational assessment. It is a time when opportunities are emerging to lessen the adverse effects of over-testing. This includes reducing the amount of time spent giving tests, time spent preparing for tests, and time generating vast amounts of unused data.

5 Steps to Recovery

  1. Decide what is really important for students to know and do. As Robert Marzano (2001) points out, if we want to teach all the standards we would need education from K-22. Start with a strong foundation of essential literacies and numeracy. Integrate those with the attributes that advance student success such as non-cognitive aptitudes, 21st century attributes, and abilities and for life.
  2. Remember that schools were designed to be places of learning, not test churning factories. Students need to be actively engaged in assessment and empowered as self-assessors who find delight, wonder, and gratification in learning.
  3. Consider the studies that find testing doesn’t raise achievement. Then, rely on the verifiable research (Stanford 2013, McMillan 2013) that clarifies the MUST’s of assessment: Mutual, Useful, Sticky, and Technically Sound.
  4. Emphasize growth rather than fixating on summative rankings. How wonderful it will be when students, teachers, parents, and communities celebrate improvement instead of final scores.
  5. Embed formative assessment throughout teaching and learning in order to take a continuous pulse of learning and inform in-the-moment responses and modifications.

All this is possible when we reduce the emphasis on testing while ramping up assessment that supports progress and success for all learners.


  • 0

STICKY ASSESSMENT Classroom Strategies to Amplify Student Learning

sticky 2 515xkqXwkZL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_

“Sticky Assessment is a straightforward guide to assessment that helps teachers monitor learning, make assessment engaging and meaningful for students, and improve rather than simply measure learning outcomes.”

“With a multitude of engaging and realistic classroom examples, Greenstein uses contemporary research extensively to show how teachers can plan and implement effective assessment. Her emphasis on the integration of assessment with teaching throughout the text illustrates in practical language how teachers can use assessment to enhance student learning and motivation. Her engaging, non-technical writing style concisely captures all critical components of the assessment process.” James H. McMillan, Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University



“Rather than an add-on, assessment is an essential and ingrained element of reciprocal teaching and learning.” p. 6

“The process of on-going active retrieval corresponds with these basic tenets of quality assessment: clear criteria, alignment with learning outcomes, routine check-ins, engaged learners, and purposeful responses.” p. 63

“Giving students multiple and diverse opportunities to show what they know results in the widest and most inclusive displays of their knowledge and skills.” p. 77

“Assessments that are sticky work in two ways. They catch a student’s attention, serving as the glue of learning. They also reveal how well the learning is sticking and how deeply the student is learning.” p.90

“With choice comes accountability. When students set the learning targets and formulate their own learning plans they are developing a sense of ownership and responsibility for their achievement.” p. 101

“What makes embedded assessment different is that students do not notice they are being assessed.” p. 118

“With deeper learning, students become investigators and producers. This requires multidimensional assessment of hypothesizing, predicting, planning, constructing, and displaying.” p. 126

“Despite all our efforts to make assessment an exact science there still remains a significant element of professional judgment.” p. 135

“An alternative to external control is the development of local balanced assessment systems that are comprehensive, purposeful, formative, and responsive.” p. 152

  • 0


Teachers are amazing. They arrive early to prepare for the day, encourage and support learners through a spectrum of cognitive and behavioral competencies, and routinely communicate with others to share and strengthen their practice. They comply with a multitude of mandates from teaching to standards to administering standardized tests. Between the standards and the tests are opportunities for upskilling.

Upskilling is like reaching for the next step on the ladder. Teachers continuously traverse multipleclimbing-824373_960_720 ladders such as classroom management, instruction, assessment, and school improvement plans. Upskilling assessment means stretching beyond comfortable practices to those that engage students in reaching higher levels of learning, include reciprocal assessment, incorporate multiple methods throughout levels of the taxonomy, and meaningful responses to student progress and lingering gaps.

Most teachers are already doing much of that with cohesion and precision. Upskilling simply means striving, step by step, towards higher levels of practice: Just like learning a sport, cooking, or artistry. Following the steep learning curve of a teacher’s first few years, continuous learning becomes a habit that is supported by emerging research on cognition, instruction, and assessment of student learning.

It is this last one, assessment, that can be confidently upskilled by following these core ideas: Alignment, Mutuality, and Stickiness.

Upskilling Understanding

Everyone likes to hear that they are good at what they do: From the child on the bunny slope to the winner of the national spelling bee, each of us is good at something. When Mr. O’Byrne asks his students “What’s your special power,” he doesn’t expect them to be supermen and superwomen, but rather to think deeply about what they know and do. Marcus says that he can run so fast that his mother always picks him to go to the groceria for milk. Zyrla says he can do math in his head, and Odessa says she helps her friends when they have a problem.

Teachers too have secret powers. Mr. O’Neal says he can listen to two students reading different texts at the same time, and Mrs. Angelou convinces her students that with just “a little more oomph” they can succeed. I have never heard a teacher say their secret power is assessing. Why, because typically assessment means testing. In fact, the Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT, believes that “testing, assessment, and evaluation can be used interchangeably.” However, James McMillan (2000) explains that “measurement assigns a score and evaluation interprets the score.” Huba and Freed (2000), state that “Assessment is the process of gathering and discussing information from multiple and diverse sources in order to develop a deep understanding of what students know, understand, and can do with their knowledge as a result of their educational experiences; the process culminates when assessment results are used to improve subsequent learning.”

In other words, a test is merely a strategy such as an essay or multiple choice. Assessment is purposeful and aligned,  the learning targets are clear to students, and multiple measures gauge the outcomes of learning and guide next steps.

Upskilling Purpose and Process

transparency-wall-113541_960_720When assessment that is about the learner rather than the teacher, it becomes more relevant, engaging and mutual. When assessment is focused on improvement, varied strategies are used to assess divergent learning outcomes that are clear to the teacher and student from the start. This requires deconstructing large-scale standards into assessable portions. For example:
Large Scale: Students will be able to compare and contrast findings from multiple sources.
Local: Students will use a graphic organizer to compare at least 3 sources of energy based on 4 reliable resources.

In an authentic learning opportunity, each student posts their graphic for a rubric-based peer review based on accuracy of content, clarity of strengths and weaknesses, coherent and readable design, and quality of sources. After a collaborative review, students plan a world summit on energy. In teams, they defend their recommendations and a panel of judges evaluates their data and arguments.

Teacher evaluation models such as Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching and Robert Marzano’s Domains rely on the research on best-practice. In relation to classroom assessment, their models include alignment with standards, engagement of learners, participation in cognitively complex tasks, and student goal setting. In these ways, assessment becomes a collaborative and mutual process that makes learning meaningful and sticky.

For more information, visit the Assessment Network. You can find more 9781138640917
ideas on alignment, mutuality, engagement, and sticky practice here:

  • 0

Making Assessment Visible

There is plenty of information available on assessment; often about how teachers can use data more effectively, and why the newest policies and tests will improve learning outcomes. But rarely does this take into account the foundations of best practice in assessment.

John Hattie explains that most assessments are used to inform teachers of their student’s achievement. He suggests changing that perspective to one that considers how assessments inform students about their own progress. He even goes so far as to say that “Until we see tests as aids to enhance teaching and learning, and not primarily as barometers of how much a student knows now, on this day, on this test, then developing more tests will add little, and will remain an expensive distraction.” (Using Assessment Correctly)

head-1169901_960_720By taking these four steps, teachers can utilize best practices in the classroom that refocus assessment on the student and their learning rather than the teacher and their strategy.

1. Utilizing Assessment Practices That Bring Out the Best in Students

When understandable and assessable learning targets are shared with students, they have a clearer idea of where their learning will take them and the best path to success. Personalized goals mean that students can “analyze complex texts” using their choice of fiction or non-fiction reading at the appropriate Lexile/readability level for them.

In learner focused classrooms multiple measures are used for multiple purposes so that students can demonstrate their knowledge, understanding and skills in diverse ways: a selected choice test, an annotated essay, or a content-driven demonstration. Assessments that sequence through increasingly complex levels can display student’s competencies as well as areas for growth. In doing so, frustration is inhibited and a growth mindset nurtured.

2. Engaging Students in Assessing Their Own Learning

honey-1006972_960_720 - CopyWhen learning targets are clear, students can monitor their progress and regulate learning. The teacher’s role is to help learners diagnose errors and recognize the value of mistakes as learning opportunities. If a student recognizes their own “Whoops” and can adjust their own learning, it is more personalized than when a student simply utilizes the teacher’s feedback about the right formula to use or the rules for commas and clauses.

Self-reported grades are at the top of Hattie’s Visible Learning strategies. When students set feasible and achievable learning outcomes and have the support, confidence, and skills to achieve them, they become the best assessors of their own learning

3. Viewing Assessment as a Mutual Process

New learning is built on a foundation of basic information and skills prior to attempting more complex tasks such as using a chainsaw or running for elected office. As learning develops over time, the teacher and student gathers information on growth and respond to lingering gaps. Students and teachers working together to come to agreement about the next steps strengthens reciprocal learning.

Viewing feedback as a two-way street is a significant element of mutuality. When feedback is focused on the goal and is informative and actionable, then as Hattie explains, the greatest effect on student learning occurs when the teacher becomes aware of their own effect on learning (

4. Shifting The Dialogue From Assessment as a Final Outcome To Assessment as a Continuous Process

When assessment is embedded throughout learning, students can recognize and record the knowledge and skills that develop over time. This can be done with data trackers, curating examples of new learning, and metacognitive reflection. In this way, assessment becomes an ongoing practice rather than solely a final score.

A cycle of intentional learning, monitoring, feedback, and planning, supports learners as they strive towards higher levels of learning. In turn, learning is strengthened when students have the necessary scaffolds and resources.

Using these practices ensures that assessment is visible, engaging, informative, mutual, and ongoing as it supports the success of each learner.

Laura Greenstein will be presenting her ideas at the 2016 Annual Visible Learning Conference in Washington D.C. in June 2016. Her new book “Sticky Assessment” is available through Routledge

This blog originally appeared in Corwin-Connect, May 2016

Recent News

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

Ideas for making annual testing more meaningful



Assessment-Literate Educators

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


Overused Buzz Words

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

SCAN “The Journal for Educators”

Showcasing innovation in education


View All News >

Recent Tweets