Tag Archives: formative assessment

My Inquiry in Term 4

17 Nov


One of my favourite activities when working with teams is to have them create a “stop doing” list. It’s the opposite of a “to do” list and will likely be a highly reflective opportunity for collaborative teams. Here are some of the ideas I’ve had teams consider and debate during these conversations:

  • We need to stop assessing everything and focus on our essential standards. It’s not unusual for me to see teams skip over answering the first critical question teams should ask: “What do we want students to know and do?” They give the same level of attention to all the standards on their list. When they realize they are spending more time assessing than teaching.
  • We need to stop writing summative tests and focus our work on common formative assessments. Short, frequent formative assessments are important for teams because they give them information during the unit about the material with which students are struggling or for which students need extensions. Waiting until the end of the unit often compounds problems because students go for a more extended period without extra time and support.
  • We need to stop using bench-marking assessments as our common formative assessments. A dangerous shortcut I’ve seen teams make in this process is to try to use purchased bench-marking tests in the place of writing their own common formative assessments.
  • We need to stop providing the same response to all students who miss a learning target on a common formative assessment. One of the main purposes of a common formative assessments is to go beyond just identifying students who need help, but to understand what misunderstandings or misconceptions the student has.
  • We need to stop comparing classroom results during our data meetings and instead compare teaching strategies. Rather, different strategies work better for different students. When teams meet to discuss their data, the conversations they have about different strategies help every member get better.
  • We need to stop writing assessments without developing an assessment plan or map first. Valid assessments have items that are linked to each of the learning targets being assessed. Those items are written to match both the content and the rigor of the target. If we don’t plan the assessment there may not be enough items to reliably assess each target or more items than needed leading to longer assessment time.
  • We need to stop grading formative and common formative assessments. If the purpose of these assessments is to know what students still need to learn, grading them signals that the opportunity for learning has closed.

Have you used STOP, GO and SLOW down model with your teams?




My Assessment Inquiry: Term 3

10 Oct


Feedback is “the most powerful single moderator that enhances achievement.” (Hattie, 1999)

As teachers, we look for this same type of feedback from our school leaders during our evaluations. If a singular letter grade or symbol was delivered after an evaluation, frustration would ensue. In order to grow as teachers and learners, we need to know: What were my strengths? What were my weaknesses? What am I supposed to do to improve next time? We look for guidance and direction from our school leaders, as our students do from us. We also appreciate them taking a look at the process instead of just the product. We don’t want a single snapshot into our classroom to determine our value as a teacher. Like good coaches and school leaders, teachers see the value of ongoing assessment and meaningful, specific, personalized feedback that guides the learning and teaching process. It is time that we change the way we provide feedback to our students to make it more meaningful. So how can we provide this feedback – the kind that inspires, that students listen to, and the kind that promotes growth?

Feedback should relate to our learning targets
As teachers, we want to be transparent in our teaching. As we know, a target is much easier to hit when we know where it is. Students need to know what the end goal of their learning should be and how they are going to get there. Thus, when we provide feedback, it needs to be focussed around the learning targets.  We too often get distracted by the student’s mistakes and communicating what they did wrong. Communicating what’s wrong doesn’t explain how to be right.

Feedback should be student friendly
If our feedback is too complex or sophisticated, the feedback will lose its value. We need to make it manageable for our students and easy to understand, while not overwhelming them. The existence of feedback is simply not enough. Feedback must be accessible to students so that doing something with the feedback is more likely.

Feedback should be actionable
When students receive their feedback, they should know definitively what the next steps in learning are. Through actionable feedback, we can acknowledge correct understanding while guiding future thinking. Students should understand what they did right and what they need to do next. As well, we want to look forward instead of backwards. Instead of identifying what was done wrong, we should tell students the steps they need to take to improve their learning. Just as we use formative assessment to adjust our instruction, students should be able to use the feedback from formative assessment to adjust and guide their learning.

Feedback should be timely
If we want students to be reflective, students will need timely feedback. If we want to create reflective learners, assessment should be ongoing, and feedback should timely. A student receiving feedback a week after an assessment will not have time to reflect and grow. In fact, they have probably already moved onto learning a new topic.

Feedback should be ongoing
We want to make sure that we are continuing the teach – assess – feedback loop to develop that growth mindset in our students. Assessment should not stop the learning but should be imbedded into the learning process. If we are constantly communicating with our students, they are constantly growing.

Students are active participants in the feedback process
At its best, our feedback will allow students to take ownership over their own learning to be more reflective learners and effective goal setters. Increased feedback does not mean that the teacher is simply identifying the student’s mistakes and telling them what to do next. We are just narrowing the target and guiding the students’ learning.

It is time that we start using our feedback to help inspire our students to grow and not limit our feedback to a number or a letter. We have the power to create reflective students who know what they are learning and how to succeed. Let’s create learners who have a growth mindset and who OWN their learning. We owe that to our students.


Hattie, J 1999, Influences on Student Learning. Inaugural Lecture: Professor of Education, University of Auckland (downloaded August 2015 from https://cdn.auckland.ac.nz/assets/education/hattie/docs/influences-on-student-learning.pdf)


Assessment Observations

6 Sep


How do students view assessment in your classroom or school? Is assessment something that elicits hope and a belief that students can grow? I am viewing any type of assessment as the end game, whether it was a test, project, or essay. I am hoping the changes to NCEA will change this. Assessment is the last thing in a unit and the score the measure of how much a student knows. Wrong!!!!

After teaching my last semester I observed assessment was not only a stopping point; it indicated we were moving on to a new unit or topic without looking back. It didn’t seem to have anything to do with the daily happenings in class. I believe this had to do with the way assessment was framed for me. Assessment was communicated as a noun by teachers in my faculty and a separate entity from instruction and practice.

As I moved forward in my practice and learned about assessment more thoroughly, I realized it should be framed in a different way. Assessment is a vital part of learning infused into daily lessons and practice. It provides invaluable evidence along the way, feeding instructional decisions, guiding student learning and forming a loop of communication between student and teacher.

When assessment is used as a noun, there is some level of finality. It becomes bounded by a feeling of ‘one and done’. Students have been trained to know that assessment is the end of something, and you can’t go back. There is no hope in a lack of proficiency that cannot be revisited. A definitive stop to the learning is communicated in this treatment of the word. An assessment feels like an independent object and compartmentalizes learning. A fixed mindset is promoted; assessments are given and taken. What are the answers? I am still reflecting on this. 

My Inquiry: Part Three

30 May


Time is often identified as the biggest concern when engaging in authentic assessment. Both the time it takes students to engage in a meaningful authentic assessment. I find it frustrating giving students some much time to do research. Class time that could be used for something else.

However, these tasks can be as simple as 15 to 30 minutes, during which students—individually or in a small group—solve a problem that has multiple solutions; analyze and interpret a graph that shows the increase in stress among teens; or even discuss two cartoons that show opposite perspectives of an issue.

A longer task may take one to three class periods. These tasks may involve solving a problem with two or more solutions and creating a video that explains the process. That video may become a resource for other students attempting to learn to solve problems. A longer, more involved task might also include studying the cause of teen stress by looking at multiple sources, discussing potential solutions and generating some ways to support students in school.

Finally, a comprehensive task may take one to six weeks or longer. These tasks often identify a local or global issues and ask students to learn essential outcomes (standards/competencies) through reading, studying, talking, and producing solutions to some of these issues. Students may tackle distracted driving and develop a full campaign to reduce dangerous driving behaviors in teens. Younger students may study the benefits and challenges of owning a pet and raise awareness and/or money to advocate for a pet issue they uncover.

Timing is important and ensuring that the task is manageable and relevant within the time frame allotted will ensure a meaningful student and teacher experience. Trying to tackle too much can lead to surface level work.

My Inquiry: Assessment Part Two

26 May


Meaningful and relevant assessment tasks involve a different way of design. Meaningful tasks assess the critical competencies, or 21st century skills, along with the content in varying contexts. Relevant tasks tap into a compelling and interesting aspect of the content to pose a task that is challenging and fascinating. Relevant tasks may also connect to students’ interests, realities, and their latest passions (e.g. bottle flipping, teen stress). Meaningful and relevant tasks ask students to use competencies such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication, social competence, or creative problem-solving to do one or more of the following:

  • Research, dialogue, and explore emerging issues
  • Pose solutions or offer perspectives on school or the local area
  • Pose solutions or offer perspectives on global issues
  • Communicate ideas, information, or insights to an audience outside of the classroom
  • Collaborate with other students or with experts knowledgeable about the focus of study
  • Collaborate with organizations or businesses to seek multiple perspectives on a topic
  • Put existing ideas together to generate new ideas or knowledge
  • Design new and innovate pieces to make the world better or contribute something to the world

The assessment tasks are really import. Perhaps even more then redesigning curriculum. Indeed from my inquiry I find they are going hand in hand.

My Inquiry: Assessment

26 May


One of my teaching inquiry’s this year deals with assessment. This will be reflected in my reflections here. My hunch is that we as educators need to assess differently.

Being able to recall scientific concepts, identify historical events, or memorize mathematics facts and algorithms, while acutely impressive, is no longer sufficient to prepare students for the challenging world they will face. Identifying characters, theme, and symbolism used to be the focus of education, and it was enough. In the past, learners would occasionally have opportunities to collaborate, communicate, critically think, and creatively problem solve, but that was the means, not the end. After engaging in dialogue, problem solving, or analysis, learners would typically take a multiple-choice test or an essay prompt would ask them to recall details or themes discussed in class. As critical competencies shift to be the end rather than the means, recalling facts is not nearly as important as being able to find the content, critically evaluate its value and credibility, apply it appropriately in different contexts, or put new ideas together to generate something interesting and original. Content is not obsolete; rather, the memorization (and recall) of it is. More than ever it is essential for educators to provide more meaningful tasks so learners tap into rich content while demonstrating the critical competencies through application” (Erkens, Schimmer, Vagle, 2019, p. 6).

This new reality requires a different way of thinking about how and what we assess.

There are moments when students are deeply engaged in classroom instruction, and then it comes time for an “assessment” and the engagement stops as “test day” suddenly occurs. Methods of assessment are supposed to capture the level of the intended learning. Assessment is evidence of learning, and it takes on many forms. Assessment can be observations based on a set of criteria or descriptions such as during a collaborative activity, a Socratic seminar, a conversation, an interview, a verbal presentation; it might take the form of a product such as a blog, an essay, a video—the list goes on. A test is only one way to capture a level of learning and is not always the most accurate. When considering what learners are facing in their future, they must experience a wide variety of assessment method.

Erkens, C., Schimmer, T., Vagle, N.D. (2019). Growing tomorrow’s citizens in today’s classroom: Assessing seven critical competencies. Solution Tree Press, Bloomington, IN.

Why should we assess?

10 Mar


Schools often ask  when they should use standardized  testing.  Twice a year?  Once a year ? There is no definitive answer, just a few questions, which, when answered by the school, will make choosing the time of year to assess more logical.

In a way, the introduction of teachers making their overall teacher judgement about where a student sits in the NZ curriculum, has given schools much more freedom in their assessment choices. Moderation is more common and teachers are using a range of assessments, with few relying on single sources of evidence  to make their judgement (Wylie, & Berg 2013).  So where does standardized testing fit in to the assessment picture?

The NZ Curriculum has a good statement at the beginning of its assessment section on pg. 39:

The primary purpose of assessment is to improve students’ learning and teachers’ teaching as both …respond to the information it provides. 

Keep that statement in mind as you ask yourself:

  • What information do I need to gather on which children?
  • Does the assessment chosen match the teaching  the students have received?
  • What is the purpose for gathering this data – how will it help teaching and learning?

There are many different reasons teachers choose standardized assessments to support their judgement. For many schools, the days of blanket testing twice a year for all students are gone.The reasons for using standardized assessment are becoming more considered, more refined, as schools underpin their self-review with deliberate planning.

Reasons might be:

  • Closely monitoring a particular cohort of children who have received specific interventions
  • Tracking the progress of the cohort identified in the annual target
  • Gathering information for a priority  learning group
  • Gathering school-wide data to inform strengths and needs in a subject
  • Gathering year group data to inform strengths and needs
  • Assessing teaching strategies in a particular subject
  • Getting reassurance about the moderation process and decisions about individual children
  • Cluster data to improve collaboration around improving teaching and learning in a particular subject
  • To monitor progress, determine professional development needs, and assess the value of interventions in a particular area

Schools have enormous freedom now to choose the tool and the time that best suits their purpose, but it requires a collaborative response to the question:

What is the purpose for this assessment?

Authentic Learning

14 Sep


Authentic learning is a measure of connectedness based on pertinence, interest, and immediacy of a given context. Relevance is critical. Teachers will have a difficult time increasing rigor for learners who do not find the tasks at hand very relevant.

There are degrees of relevance. Something is less relevant if it is an isolated experience and far more relevant if it offers knowledge and skills to support life-long endeavours. Relevance is also contextual. Studying the setting of a story will seem less relevant to a student who hates reading literature than it will to a student who aspires to be a novelist. Fortunately, teachers can increase the relevance for everyone by helping learners find personal value in the studied content or skills. For example, disinterested readers can understand that their entire lives are defined by their personal settings. They can then begin to explore the variables within their own control to alter their settings for the better, making setting a relevant concept to explore beyond literary options. When content (e.g. literature) is used as a medium (not the end goal) to explore critical, real world skills, then relevance is maximized.

When considering if learning is relevant, as a teacher I explore the following questions:

  • Are the questions, prompts, or tasks interesting for the learners? Consider age, region, and modern trends as variables.
  • Might the questions, prompts, or tasks unintentionally exclude some learners (e.g. those who aren’t interested in sports, those who don’t have access to gardens, those who don’t wish to become historians, etc.)?
  • Do the questions, prompts, or tasks replicate processes that are authentic to ‘real world’ applications?
  • Will the questions, prompts, or tasks be fun or engaging? Will they be explained in the context of life-long application?

Few learners will accept robust challenges if they 1) don’t believe someone is there to support their efforts, and 2) can’t find a worthy reason to engage in something that will not be easy.


31 Aug


This week I have been writing a Faculty Review and looking at developing units of study and the matching assessments while talking about the learning skills necessary for students to experience success. In the review I’ve deliberately not used the label “21st Century” I note that we are well in the 21st century. I know that the learning skills essential for students today are certainly divergent and the teaching practices to support those skills also need to be different. How we use the data gathered from high-quality assessment is a key component to furthering and deepening the work.

We need to deepen the critical thinking skills of our students. To do this I would like to see more student “talk” time. With the advances in technology, it’s been suggested that students today communicate more. While that may be true, I think it’s equally true to claim they talk less. They can spend an hour with a peer the previous night on their devices, but hardly muster a morena at school when they pass each other in the hallway. Teachers will need to provide the time to have students explain not only their answers but also their thinking as they developed those answers. I am seeing in many classes students knowing answers but unable to explain how they got there. Asking students to explain their solutions (not just the why but also the how) is foreign to some. I love the why question. It creates deeper thinking and responses.

This will mean less teacher talk timeand more collaboration between students. This will require a shift from what I call the right/wrong dichotomy that many of us experienced in our school careers. There was one answer—the right answer- and everything else was, therefore, wrong.

Using the evidence gathered from assessments and using the assessments as formative will result in a shift in the dialogue occurring in classrooms today. It will mean more of the “beautiful noise” that is evidenced in classrooms where students are highly engaged and deeply involved in their learning, and their teachers are interested in hearing about that learning. It will mean a shift to what was once valued and haled as the most productive classroom. Teachers know the difference between disruptive and non-productive noise. Do you here that sound in your school?

Growing a Positive Mindset in Assessment

23 Aug


This week I have been doing a great deal of planning around the 2019 academic year. Looking at student courses and special conditions. Confidence is the thing that will help students see possibility and hope It’s this intrinsic state of being that will ensure interventions lead to high achievement. It is important to establishing a positive mindset to develop confidence for students.

Framing intervention in terms of learning is vital. Verbally frame every intervention in terms of what students need to learn more about. Ensure learning targets and essential standards are written and posted on assessments. Convey to students in words and actions that the work they are doing is about learning, not just compliance or completing work. Every student should know what they are learning more about. Intervention should not be about just completing work; it needs to be about gaining skills.

The following has been a successful method for me to establish this.

1. Accurately interpret assessment evidence

Ensure that the assessment evidence that led to the intervention is thoroughly analyzed so that those facilitating or conducting the intervention with students understand the misconceptions leading to students needing this intervention. In the absence of interpreting the assessment evidence, students may get the wrong type of instructional intervention.

2.Teach and facilitate self-assessment

Ensure students are reflecting on their assessment evidence and are seeing that the intervention is helping them learn what they are strong in and also reveals what they get more time to work on. For students in the beginning stages of achieving this essential standard, they may need more support in making the connections between the assessment evidence and their learning. This must be built into the intervention process to ensure that students’ perceptions are framed around learning.

3.Use assessment evidence to check the intervention effect

Ensure that the assessment evidence used to determine the effectiveness of the intervention accurately gathers information on achievement (the essential standard) and student confidence (student perceptions). Check to see if students learned more during the intervention and also check to see if their confidence grew.



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