Katie White spends her days working to transform the educational experience for teachers and students. She has been an integral part of her own school system's multi-year journey through educational reform and has assisted systems worldwide in their work toward approaches that honor learning relationships.

For Leaders: Recognizing Quality Assessment in the Classroom

A few years ago, after a number of professional learning experiences on the topic of assessment, several principals in my district asked how they might recognize strong assessment when they saw it during classroom observations or walkthroughs. They also wondered what questions they might ask to invite further reflection and refinement. These were fair questions because we often develop our assessment philosophies and practices in environments removed from the classrooms in which they will eventually be applied. Understanding something is one thing, and implementing it is an entirely different enterprise. So how do we recognize quality assessment as it is being lived out in classroom spaces, and how can leaders support teacher reflection on assessment practices?

18 Signs of Quality Assessment to Look for During Classroom Observations:

  1. Lessons and groupings that are flexible and varied, based on assessment data. Students clearly understand the purpose of their grouping and what they are trying to achieve.
  2. Students are familiar and comfortable with differentiated instruction. They have explored the idea that learners get their needs met in different ways and that this is part of deep learning and growth.
  3. The criteria for proficiency are embedded into practice, self-reflection, and formative assessment processes. In some cases, students may be part of the criteria-defining process.
  4. Self-assessment and/or formative assessment are part of every lesson, and the results visibly and explicitly inform instruction.
  5. Assessment experiences are referenced as a way to make decisions and engage in feedback.
  6. Learning is captured (documented) through photographs, video, and/or artifacts, and students have clearly been involved in the process. This documentation serves the purpose of advancing learning.
  7. Student work on display acts as a catalyst for future learning. This work may serve as a springboard for reflection, goal-setting, or celebration. Every display is purposeful and documents the learning cycle.
  8. Learning and assessment experiences are visibly connected to standards. This may be seen in lesson plans, in assessment tools, or on displays of student work.
  9. Behavior is assessed and learning is encouraged through reflection, feedback, and goal-setting.
  10. Students approach summative assessment experiences with confidence. They are prepared, and this can be seen in their demeanor and language.
  11. A variety of assessment tools are used in a lesson (exit cards, anecdotal records, rubrics, checklists) by both teachers and students.
  12. Students are assessing themselves and/or peers, reflecting, and identifying goals and strategies for improved learning.
  13. Students are practicing some of the sub-skills associated with strong self-assessment (noticing remembering, describing; relating, comparing, analyzing, and connecting; predicting, visualizing, and imagining; expressing empathy and forgiveness; decision making and self-regulating; organizing, revising, and revisiting).
  14. Students are offered choice (on the process that will be used or on the product created) during assessment experiences.
  15. Assessment processes support the development of skills and knowledge that clearly lead to proficiency on standards. The connections between smaller targets and larger standards is explicit.
  16. Students are highly engaged in the learning. They have clear direction and strong investment. Their language is positive, and their choices are purposeful.
  17. Students are demonstrating independence. They are in charge of their own learning, with the teacher acting as a partner.
  18. Students who are ready for enrichment receive it and are engaged in whatever form it takes.

13 Questions that May Be Asked after Classroom Observation:

After a classroom observation, it is important to place the learning and reflection directly in the hands of the teacher. Therefore, strong questions can guide a conversation that empowers the teacher and supports the relationship between a principal and an educator.

  1. How do you engage in pre-assessment, and what kinds of information do you find most useful to collect during this process? What do you do with the results?
  2. How did you engage in formative assessment today? How will what you learned impact the instructional choices you make tomorrow?
  3. How were your assessment processes and feedback connected today? Who gave the feedback? Did it provide the hoped-for results?
  4. How are you capturing and collecting evidence of learning? Are students part of this process? Why or why not?
  5. How did the learning experiences connect to standards? How did you explain this connection to your learners?
  6. How did students feel about assessment today? How did each student respond? How did each student do?
  7. How did you decide how to group the students today? How was this connected to assessment?
  8. How will you assess tomorrow?
  9. How will you know when it is time to engage in summative assessment? What will that look like? Are students aware of how and when they will be assessed?
  10. How were students offered choices today? How do you ensure the choices they make will address their needs?
  11. How did you precorrect for behavior today? How did you monitor behavior and respond when needed?
  12. What did students do when they were done early today? To what degree were you ready for this possibility? Was your response purposeful?
  13. Which learners showed the most confidence today and why? Which were the least confident, and how do you address this?

In the end, purposeful observations and supportive follow-up conversations are the most enriching for everyone involved. In order to ensure processes that support growth, knowing what to look for and what questions we might ask is a good place to start.


  1. Alexandria Martinez

    A good friend of mine was talking about classroom observations. I think that these are a great way to make sure that a classroom is running efficiently. It is really nice to see that this service will allow for different things like the behavior of students, and confident students to be studied.


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