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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.


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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

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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.


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STICKY ASSESSMENT Classroom Strategies to Amplify Student Learning

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“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

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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:

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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

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What Happened? A Brief Chronicle of the Storied History of the US Department of Education


As stated by the US Department of Education, its purpose is to “establish policy and administer federal assistance to education.”

President Andrew Jackson instituted the Department of Education to collect information and statistics about the nation’s schools. “However, due to concern that the Department would exercise too much control over local schools”, it was downgraded to an Office of Education in 1868.

Nearly a century later, during President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty”, the “Department” was restored and its role expanded to include federal monitoring of schools receiving Title I funding under the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA,1965). The first Education Secretary, Shirley Hufstedler (Serving under President Jimmy Carter), stated in 1980 that the department’s role would be a “Helping, supportive friend of education, as a simplifier and streamliner of regulations and paperwork, and not as the holder of an unlimited federal purse, and not as a power beyond the reach of local decisions.”

Through the decades, the role of the Department expanded and legislation was enacted giving it additional powers. This included No Child Left Behind in 2001, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004 (this replaced the earlier EHA act), Race to the Top in 2009, and the most recent renewal, the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA, 2015)

Today, the Department of Education holds accountable nearly 100,000 public schools and 3 million teachers serving 56 million students. It has a total budget of $154 billion (this varies by source). It oversees enactment of policy and maintains data on testing, family demographics, staff qualifications, school funding, international comparisons, and more. In their Digest of Education Statistics, you can find multifaceted data, tables, and reports on virtually every aspect of education in the United States.

This makes me wonder how the intentions of Andrew Jackson and Shirley Hufstedler turned into the department’s current role of “improving results and promoting student achievement through the administration of programs that cover every area of education and range from preschool education through postdoctoral research” (USDOE).

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Overcoming Instant Gratification

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Let’s face it, we live in a world of instant gratification. We get our news anytime and anywhere and purchase anything we want with the touch of a button. Technology has pushed us further into the instant gratification age with millions of movies, games, channels, and social media sites.

Let’s stop for a moment and think about this in relation to assessment. No one would deny it feels good to get a hole in one or prepare the perfect filet mignon. But, just because you got a hole in one, once, on a miniature golf course, doesn’t mean you win The Masters. It takes time, preparation, repetition, and talent to achieve that. It also takes a lot of feedback and modification to practice. On high-stakes tests, students rarely have the opportunity to analyze, correct, and learn from errors. Informative, and constructive assessment takes time; it requires recognizing errors, revisiting learning, and revising work as steps towards improvement.

In order to slow down instant gratification, it is necessary to change assessment from one right answer to a process of discovery. Instead of moving a word or number on the screen into the correct box, it means considering other strategies or solutions. Ways to do this include working progressively on complex tasks, planning goals and strategies from the start, portioning the steps into feasible and actionable steps, and frequent check-ins that inform progress and adjustments.

The challenge comes in redirecting the dopamine response that stimulates our reward centers when we get something right on a test. It is not easy to say to a child “stop for a moment and reflect on your answer.” Yet, it is possible to ask learners: “Are there other ways to solve the problem or could there be different outcomes or perspectives?” or “Consider why your answer is correct or why you got it wrong?” Using these strategies, followed by an affirmation of a student’s response, keeps the dopamine flowing.

Also, acknowledge that making mistakes is an assessment option as well as an opportunity. Using mistakes to identify misunderstandings leads the teacher and student to an analysis of errors. Turning mistakes into learning opportunities and then celebrating improvement provides a similar dopamine rush. Try these: Play learning games by making silly or extreme errors and then analyzing them. Explain why the foil-wrapped ice cube in the microwave didn’t melt. Ask students to give wrong answers to test questions, then explain the right ones. Use multiple opportunities to show learning through multiple channels and diverse strategies.

When students are feeling especially frustrated, watch the video on Famous Failures. Even Walt Disney, Oprah, and Michael Jordan, who worked persistently, failed before succeeding. Make sure your students know that failure is okay because it leads to growth which leads to long-term rewards.


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The Wisdom of Giants

As I was entering a session at the 2016 ASCD Annual Conference, I overheard one teacher say to another: “These are the giants in education”. But these giants bring their own seeds and shovels for the hard work of planting and nurturing ideas. The plentiful enthusiasm and generous sharing, from the people I met in the hallways to the keynote speakers, was extraordinary. Here are a few of my take-aways along with some anecdotes through my assessment lens.


Myron Dueck: Creating means there is no obvious right answer. Teachers must provide students with planning formats, clear targets, and assessment strategies that display evidence of learning.
My Add-on: You can learn more about assessing creativity at Edutopia.

Steve Oertle: Engage students in standards-based learning and assessment by deconstructing standards into explicit criteria-based rubrics.
My Tag: Here are some additional resources to support teachers in translating standards into assessable criteria.

Jim Rickabaugh: We can personalize learning by tapping into motivation via interests, ownership, independence, relationships, and rewards.
My Codicil: Personalized learning and student-centered assessment is a continuum, with a gradual release of responsibility for achievement, utilizing self-reflection, metacognition, and feedback.

Pedro Noguera: Equality is about giving children shoes. Equity is making sure the shoes fit.
My Tag: Equity belongs everywhere in education. Personalized and restorative assessment can support that.

Carol Dweck: We are all a mix of growth and fixed mindsets. Developing a growth mindset is a journey.
My Add-on: Learn more about how to connect mindset to Assessment.

Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey: There is a difference between difficulty and complexity. Surface and deep learning can be both.
My Insight: So it is with assessment. Multiple choice questions can require deeper understanding of theories and hypotheses and a performance-based assessment may entail a fact-based task.

Many are hopeful that ESSA will deliver on its promise of reducing Washington’s control over local decisions and offering more flexibility in choosing and using multiple assessments.

Thank you ASCD, for a spectacular conference and to all the participants for sharing their passions, hopes, and solutions. I brought back so many ideas and materials that I have enough to work on… until next year in Anaheim.


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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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