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Beware Normative Tendencies in the Classroom

Ask any group of teachers if they grade on the curve and you will receive an almost universal, resounding no! Now, I believe teachers when they say they don’t grade on the curve; however, what has become apparent in recent years is that shedding some of our traditional habits—our normative grading tendencies—is easier said than done. Even those who have moved to a more standards-based approach to grading can, if not mindful, fall back into habits misaligned with a modern assessment system. Read more


Using Feedback and Success Criteria to Empower Students

This guest post is written by Tara Reed, a fourth grade ELA teacher at Hawk Elementary School in Denton ISD.

Being reflective is essential. Whether done by the teacher or the student, reflection allows an opportunity to think closely on one topic, make decisions about work, or ask peers for some feedback.

Last spring I took some time to interview kids about their interactions with feedback and co-constructed criteria. One thing I learned about my students was that they hunger for feedback. They crave someone with whom to collaborate, discuss, rehearse, revise, and reflect. Read more


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? Read more


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Putting Reporting in Perspective

Imagine you walk into your doctor’s office, ready for the follow-up appointment where the results of your diagnostic tests are shared with you and your prognosis is revealed. You are a little anxious and uncertain, but you are confident you are in good hands. You understand that this appointment is intended to communicate information that may lead to future healthcare processes. You expect that you may need to shift your diet or your exercise and that you may need further tests or supports from additional health care personnel. You also know that there is a system in place that will take care of you the best way they know how, so in spite of your uncertainty, you feel confident you will leave that office knowing what you need to know. Read more


What type of questions do we put on tests? Better yet, why?

While working recently with a high school mathematics team to write quality common assessments, I asked the teachers to bring in their previously used unit tests. They had already been giving common assessments for about three years as collaborative teams, so their unit assessments were in agreement. However, I noticed that every assessment item was multiple choice on every exam throughout the department.

When asking the algebra team about the reasoning behind only using multiple-choice items, I was told it was necessary in order to quickly analyze the data as a team and give results to students. When I asked what teachers or students did with the results, I was met with silence. When I asked how teachers and students learned from the common misconceptions shown on the exam—again, silence. Read more


Seeing the Light: Opening Dialogue for Stronger Grading Practice

It’s 5:00 p.m. on a Friday night, and my phone rings. It’s a close colleague, Bryan, who is a middle school assistant principal. Uh-oh, I think. Given the time of day, I don’t anticipate this to be good news. He starts in, “Ang, I’ve got a good one for ya…” And so the story begins.

Over the past year, Bryan and I had been engaged in some productive dialogue around current grading practices at his site. He was new to his school—just in his second year—and hadn’t been too comfortable with some of his observations of teacher practice. Coupled with complaints from students and parents, he had been trying to determine the reasons for the dissonance between the school’s grading policy—as it lives on paper—and what was actually practiced in classrooms. Read more


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Never Mistake Unmotivated for Unsure

As I write this, I’m looking out my window to see green grass and flowers everywhere. It’s the time of year when we are enjoying final concerts, awards ceremonies, and the other typical end-of-year events. If you ask teachers about this time of year, they talk about trying to keep students engaged when the warmer weather and other distractions are competing for students’ attention. Thinking about my own efforts as both a teacher and a principal to keep the focus on learning until the very last minute made me think about student investment. Read more


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