Cassandra Erkens is a presenter, facilitator, coach, trainer of trainers, keynote speaker, author, and above all, a teacher. She presents nationally and internationally on assessment, instruction, school improvement, and professional learning communities.

Assessments Must Build Efficacy

When you come upon a seemingly insurmountable challenge, do you give up or do you persist?  If you tackle such moments, then you have a strong sense of efficacy.  Efficacy requires belief (I can do this) and action (I will take the risks, even though failure is a possibility).  It is the foundation learners require if they are to develop deep understanding and personal skill.

Classroom assessment offers the primary conduit through which teachers can develop efficacious learners.  Assessment provides both the challenge and the results that help learners 1) define their self-beliefs and 2) refine their skills and strategies to accept future challenges.

Efficacious learners integrate and consistently employ 3 strong learning attributes – the 3 M’s – when faced with challenging opportunities:  Metacognition, Mindset, and Motivation.  Teachers can use quality assessment practices to support learners in their development of all 3 components.


Metacognition involves thinking about thinking.  It is the inner voice learners use to explore their interests, strengths, limitations, dislikes, and so on.  Efficacious leaners reflect on the quality of their individual results by examining their actions and processes and then strategizing next steps to attempt better results.

Teachers can use the assessment process to help learners be metacognitive through the following:

  1. Provide the necessary time for learners to make changes during and between assessment activities.
  2. Offer supportive feedback to improve performance on current or future assessment activities
  3. Design and employ guided questions, tools, and processes that require learners to self-assess, set goals, monitor progress and reflect on personal performance.

Mindset (Growth-oriented)

Carol Dweck (Mindset:  The New Psychology of Success, 2006) points out that growth mindset learners readily accept challenges.  They are learning-oriented.    Learners must maintain a growth mindset; otherwise, all the gathered data and metacognitive opportunities in the world will not support the desired outcome.  Because efficacious learners begin from the place personal strength, they can challenge themselves to step outside their comfort zone.  If the task before them is truly challenging, they launch with the full understanding that failure will not define them and they will be stronger for any mistakes made along the way.

Failing often and failing well is a risk-taking, learning-oriented behavior that shouldn’t be a problem (see The Economist’s April 14, 11 article Fail Often, Fail Well), but it never fares well in our grade books.

Teachers can use the assessment process to help learners develop a growth mindset through the following:

  1. Make the learning expectations crystal clear.  Learners can only control for their individual success if they have a clear vision of what must be done.
  2. Tie scores and feedback directly to those learning expectations to help learners make direct links.
  3. Create a formative pathway that acts as a lighted runway – highlighting the direct and clear path to liftoff.
  4. Withhold scores until absolutely necessary.  Instead, provide ‘clean’ or non-evaluative data based in ‘facts’ or specific clarifying details about where they are relative to where they are supposed to be, they can more readily answer the three critical learning questions (J. Chappuis, 2014):
    • Where am I going?
    • Where am I now?  And,
    • What must I do to bridge my gap between those two spaces?


Albert Bandura, psychologist, professor, and the leading authority on the research regarding Self-Efficacy, notes “unless people believe they can produce desired effects by their actions, they have little incentive to act or persevere in the face of difficulties” (p. 3., 2006).  As it turns out, results have a symbiotic relationship to motivation – doing well on something encourages learners to want to do more and better on similar things, while doing poorly can lead to disinterest and dis-engagement.

In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, (2009) Dr. Daniel Pink highlights the research that proves motivation is not driven by carrots and sticks; rather, it is driven by 3 somewhat surprising ingredients:  Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.  When handled with care and contextualized in a growth-oriented and metacognitive learning environment, even the grades that result from assessments can increase motivation:

  1. Organize assessment results for the individual learner in a visible manner that shows a trajectory of growth throughout the duration of the unit of instruction.
  2. Engage learners as the instructional decision makers that they are.  Allow them to use their personal data to make informed decisions about which targets require their attention and practice.
  3. Create systems in which learners can still achieve mastery on final grades (e.g. the top scores) even if they made mistakes during the formative phases.
  4. Design assessments that are purposeful and strategic so that learners understand the relevance to the work and can readily gauge their own knowledge and skills through the process.
  5. Assure that any and all resulting grades reflect an accurate score regarding the learner’s mastery against a given set of standards and achievement level descriptors, and not an average of the sum total for all assessments during the unit.

In a high stakes culture, ‘assessment’ has become a very clinical and often sterile activity.  So much so, that some people now struggle with the notion that assessment was originally intended to support learning.  Assessment is a human endeavor and there are faces of children on the other side of those cold numbers.  In a healthy assessment system, the assessment process is used to develop efficacious learners.

Efficacy matters if learners are to be successful.  In the end, if we can’t find ways to help learners build efficacy so they can tackle their own uphill battles, then we ourselves must develop “Herculean Self Efficacy” because a classroom full of unmotivated learners becomes a daunting, insurmountable task.  Classroom assessments must be used to increase efficacy for learners.  The evidence that is generated from classroom assessments must be used to help learners believe that they can produce desired effects by their own actions and beliefs.


Bandura, A. (2006). Adolescent development from an agentic perspective. In F. Pajares & T. Urdan (Eds.). Self-efficacy beliefs of adolescents, (Vol. 5., pp. 1-43). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing. Chappuis, J. (2014).  Seven Strategies of Assessment FOR Learning, 2nd edition.  Portland, OR:  Pearson Assessment Training Institute.

Costa, A., and Garmston, R. (2016) Cognitive Coaching: Developing Self-Directed Leaders and Learners.  Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Hattie, J.  (2009).  Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement.  NY: Routledge.

Hattie, J. (2012).  Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing the impact on learning.  NY: Routledge.

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81–112.

Pink, D. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

Stiggins, R. (2008).  An assessment manifesto:  A call for the development of balanced assessment systems. ETS Assessment Training Institute.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)