George Lucas Educational Foundation

Revitalizing this group

Revitalizing this group

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Hi all, I'm looking for ways to revitalize this group. I'd like to see more discussion happening around assessment as I feel this is a key part of our jobs as teachers. This is an invitation for suggestions on what we can do as a community to encourage more participation in this important space. Please let me know what you think in a comment below. Thanks!

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Andrea Fishman's picture

I wonder if what this group needs is not more debate but more concrete, positive, useful strategies for actually assessing student work. For example, my local National Writing Project site uses five categories for assessment not just of writing but of presentations and projects, too. And not just for summative but for formative purposes as well. We find that teachers of all grades are excited to have a language they can use - and teach their students - so everyone understands not only what's expected but how well they're doing. The magic words: Focus, Content, Organization, Style, and Conventions.

David Wees's picture
David Wees
Formative Assessment Specialist for New Visions for Public Schools

Great point. So more sharing of things we are doing which are working, and less debating about each point of assessment. I'll post a (long) summary of how assessment works in my school, so people have a sample to work from.

Thanks for the idea.

Molly Elder's picture
Molly Elder
Sixth Grade Language Arts Teacher in Shalimar, Florida

As more of education is becoming nationalized, I know at times that fear of the unknown comes into our lives. In Florida, we have a lot of pressure for our kids to perform on multiple standardized assessments and our jobs are on the line if our children do not perform.
What I have found that has really reduced my stress (and is proving effective) is teaching according to the standards that the kids will be tested on in engaging ways, and then seperately teaching test taking strategies.
If I stuck to our "workbook" (which is dull), not only would the kids be falling asleep, I wouldn't want to be in the classroom.
I use a alot of hands-on materials, have the students work in groups, bring in music, art and history and teach classic literature. We also do a lot of writing and presenting. The students enjoy class (I weave the "standards" into all of my lesson plans.)
Then I spend about 15 minutes a day six weeks before the test teaching strategies of testing. Examples of this are underlining key words, eliminating obvious answers, developing strategies for pacing etc.
This is of great releif to the kids, who really dread the testing.
Unfortunately, it is here to stay. My perspective has evolved from fear-based to action-oriented. I hope this helps!
Also, I keep portfolios on each of my kids so that if they do not test well, their work can be used as a justification for class placement.

Michal's picture
Teacher and ActiveGrade Partner

As much as I hate standardized testing, I see what it's after. How else can a college know, for example, that a student who got an A in one school is really better than a student who got a B in another school? So if we have to use numbers to describe a student's knowledge, we might as well find ways of communicating those numbers to students in a way that empowers them to respond and grow.

Our solution has been to switch to standards-based grading and then create a program that communicates the data clearly to teachers, students, parents, and administrators. The thing is, no matter how clearly you display numbers, it's never as effective as verbal suggestions for improvement. Feedback has to be a conversation, not a pronouncement. We are still working on this program and would love feedback on it if any of you are interested. You can check it out at

InTechEd's picture

I think it would also be helpful to differentiate between testing purposes/practices for different levels. For example, I work in an elementary school and our testing is specific to our needs - which are not the same as a content-area teacher at the middle or high school level.

I also think it is important to note the differences between Title 1 schools, and schools that consistently perform in the top percentile. Having taught at both (in the same district), I know that testing is not treated with the same attitude.

The teachers on my team work together to create assessments, and "team-score" the writing to make sure we have similar interpretations of the standards on the rubric we all use. I think that many of our assessments are repetitive or tell me what I already know (from just watching and listening to my students).

That being said, the following are the current "assessments" used in my 3rd grade classroom. I'd be interested in hearing reactions to the type and number of assessments we use.

1. Weekly post-tests (about 10 questions) covering the skills introduced and practiced that week, the results are used to plan small-group instruction the following week.
2. Unit pre-assessments
3. End-of-the-unit performance assessments requiring students to solve problems (showing their work)
4. Daily progress monitoring: using activboard, activotes, class work assignments, teacher observation
5. Student performance on

Language Arts/Reading/Writing
1. Weekly vocabulary assessments (based on reading)
2. Weekly comprehension assessments (based on reading)
3. Weekly spelling assessments (based on spelling pattern/rule for the week)
4. Monthly genre-specific writing assessments - we use rubrics based on the state writing assessment criteria
5. Daily progress check: using activboard, activotes, class discussion participation, small group work
6. School-wide monthly content-specific vocabulary quizzes

Science/Social Studies:
1. End-of-the-unit assessments - vocabulary and concepts
2. Daily progress check: using activboard, activotes, class discussion participation
3. Additional evaluations: experiments and projects (rubric)
4. End-of-the-Unit performance assessments

We also give our students district standardized, multiple-choice assessments in August (pre), December (post), January (pre), March (diagnostic), and May (post). 3rd graders also take the ITBS (fall), the state-wide writing assessment in March, and the state's criterion-referenced test in April.

David Wees's picture
David Wees
Formative Assessment Specialist for New Visions for Public Schools

That's a lot of testing. I might give that many unit tests in a single year to my students, but I spend a lot of time using other forms of assessment. I'm especially big on project work, particularly since I find I can assess for understanding with the final project, I can also use the project as a learning activity.

In this way, the assessment of learning becomes assessment for learning.

We are lucky though, we have far fewer standardized tests than do you. We have tests in 4th and 7th grade which are only used by a 3rd party to assess our school, and are otherwise an internal diagnostic tool (which we pretty much ignore). In 10th grade our students take provincial exams which count for a tiny percentage of their grade. In 12th grade they take their International Baccalaureate exams, but these exams don't prevent them from getting a graduation diploma, they just need to do well to get an IB diploma.

Mike Reilly's picture

I know my first thought in watching this group is to get something practical, useful. I really like data, and believe it can really direct our attention to weak areas. Tests aren't everything, but they really can help diagnose.

Here's my latest assignment in my 3-hour PBL block: Part of the assessment are weekly online quiz questions about drama. My co-teacher and I host immediate discussions about the worst questions, asking the kids about why they chose the wrong answers. It also took me some time to develop confidence in general feedback, just having discussions with my students about their progress.

I'm now going to try peer reviews a bit more often, but they will not be the final say.

Tom Schimmer's picture

New to this group. One thing that needs to be clear is when we say 'assessment' what do we mean...AFL, testing, evaluation, etc. Assessment is huge part of a teacher's job...and should be if it identifies where students are along their learning continuum. Lots of thanks. I think that to revitalize there needs to be a focus...formative/summative...standardized/authentic classroom. If it's all lumped into one then we could inadvertently be discussing 2 different things simultaneously. Just some intial thoughts...

Michal's picture
Teacher and ActiveGrade Partner

I would really love to focus on formative assessment as well as standards-based assessment. I think talking about specific ways to use these ideas in the classroom would be really helpful.

Brian Preston's picture
Brian Preston
Director at the Lower Hudson Regional Information Center / SW BOCES

I'm impressed by InTechEd's list of assessments in his/her district. If these are largely ungraded, shared with and explained to students as guides for the student's own use for future study, and used to generate next steps for instruction as suggested, they are models of appropriate formative techniques that make sense, and consistent with best practices models from folks like Stiggins and Marzano. Developed across grade levels as collaborative measures, they would provide a clear roadmap for everyone to move forward. And to the suggestion that this is too much assessment, I would offer this thought. This comprehensive system can replace the quirky, individual teacher opinions that often misinform kids and parents, and it gives teachers a clear measure of when each child is at, improved by the standardization of the evaluative process across the building. I applaud this program. My professional work right now is dedicated to helping districts develop such systems in schools in my region.

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