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Your Job … Is to “Show What You Know”

Even now, after many years, I can hear these words: “Your job today is to show what you know.”

Following my passion to support learning spaces with quality evidence of learning has allowed me to visit a variety of settings where student learning was being assessed. From quick checks for understanding, to high-stakes tests, let’s just say I have seen it all.

Yet, one day stands out. Read more


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Are Essential Standards a Part of the Assessment Process?

As I’ve worked with teams across the country in developing and using assessments, I’ve heard some interesting beliefs about essential standards (e.g., “We’re not allowed to do this in our district,” or “Our curriculum only requires us to teach the essential standards”). Comments like these have convinced me that there are lots of educators who have misconceptions about the first of the four essential questions we ask a collaborative team in a PLC to answer. That question is: “What do we want our students to know and do?” Read more


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Avoiding the Joystick and Giving Control to Students

My husband is a soccer coach for two groups of adolescent boys (ages 10–14), and a common struggle he faces are the parents who like to coach from the sidelines during the games. They want to help position the players and tell them what they think should be happening. He likens this to the videogames where a joystick controls everything on the screen. The parents are trying to be helpful and guide their children on the field, but this practice can actually stunt the growth of the player. The players need to hone their decision-making skills on the field, make mistakes, and recover from them. They need to learn how to work as a team and talk to each other on the pitch. This isn’t to say that coaching doesn’t happen throughout the game, but my husband chooses those moments carefully, and the coaching becomes a conversation on the sideline. Do the kids make some mistakes? Clearly, the answer is yes. Could a mistake cost the team a goal or cause them to lose a game? Yes again. Is there a chance to improve and correct the problem in future games? Absolutely. Read more


Painting an Assessment Plan

About seven years ago, I decided the kitchen needed to be painted. Never having painted before, I quickly learned painting is messy and tedious and far from one of my favorite activities. Filled with indecision, I decided on a lavender paint color to replace the eggshell yellow that had been on the walls. After my husband and I started the work, I realized the color was not what I had hoped. Read more


Using Assessment to Change a Student’s Mind

Grading and assessment is often very personal—to students, to parents, and to teachers. I wear (as many of us do) many hats: parent, trainer, facilitator, author, and learner. And, I am all too aware of how my own children’s confidence and motivation is impacted by assessment.

In the absence of clear descriptions, students often make their own meaning of what those comments, symbols, or quantities mean. Those interpretations influence what students believe about their abilities. Read more


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Take Time to Smell the Roses

Along with the change of seasons from winter to spring comes the anticipation of new growth—it may be seen in the budding of leaves or blooming of early flowers.  But for many educators, when the calendar pages arrive at spring, it signals a different type of anticipation.  Instead of “Ahh, spring!” the reaction is “Agghh!  Spring!” The final stretch of the race is here, what some educators call “crunch time.”  We might hear worried statements such as “We still have so much to teach before the end of the year”, “My kids aren’t ready for testing”, or “I can’t get everything done.”  In our “busy-ness” and haste, we might not notice the many forms of new growth taking place right before us.  Maybe we aren’t taking the time to “smell the roses.” Read more




Do We Really NEED Common Formative Assessments, Too?

Recently, I had the opportunity to work with collaborative teams in a school whose principal had asked them to add common formative assessments to their arsenal of assessment practices.  Many of these teachers had worked hard to develop classroom formative assessments that were used to diagnose student learning issues.  This school also had a sophisticated response system that used benchmarking and progress monitoring assessments to identify and monitor students who were not yet at grade level in reading and math. Each of the teams I met with included teachers who were worried about the amount of time it would take them to write common formative assessments, give them to their students, and work collaboratively to plan how to respond to the results of these assessments.  Early in our workshop, I asked teachers to talk together and brainstorm a list of their best hopes and worst fears about this work.  Not surprisingly, several teachers articulated their concerns about adding more assessments in addition to those they were already using. My next step, then, had to be to explore the “why” behind this work. Read more


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The Unbreakable Bond: Assessment and Instruction

“I can see why I should probably do this assessing all the time! You really learn a lot about your kids!”

The words of this teacher, new to the profession and new to reading instruction, were music to my ears. Our collaborative time together had been initiated because deadlines were looming on the reading assessment required by both our district and our provincial government. However, I had asserted that we were actually learning about it because it was essential for reading instruction and great for students. The young teacher initially seemed skeptical so, after practicing a diagnostic assessment with two of her first grade students, when she came to see the true value of the assessment to inform her instruction immediately, I knew we had made a breakthrough. Read more