Angela Freese is an author and speaker with expertise in assessment, leadership, system improvement, and strategic planning. Most recently, Angela served as a director of research, assessment, and accountability, as well as a director of learning analytics and systems improvements for school districts in the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

Making a Comeback: Reclaiming Assessment as a Motivator in your Classroom

I appreciate how patient my daughter is with me when I ask her questions about school. Fortunately, she does not yet have an awareness that, when her friends get home from school, they likely do not have to respond to the same questions of, “How did you get to show your teacher what you know today?” or “Where did you have choice in your work today?” Admittedly, typing this makes me smile, as I realize I should probably simmer down with my questioning a bit. Yet I learn so much about the experiences she is having in school as they relate to her ability to communicate what she can do with the content and skills she is being taught. And that knowledge is very important to me.

This year, as a third grader, my daughter had the gift of a teacher who believed in growing learners. A teacher who, according to my daughter, “made learning fun” and “gave us time to work with others and learn even more” and “let us be creative with projects” and “helped me figure out how to make my work even better” and—my favorite—“told me she believed I could do great things.”

And when, exactly, were these magical phrases being communicated to my daughter? As she began to describe these moments in the classroom, it became clear that her teacher was creating engaging environments, providing appropriate time for learning, and making space for creativity and collaboration as she was gathering evidence of learning from my daughter. My daughter didn’t even know she was being “assessed.” She did not realize that her thinking and demonstration of learning would soon be measured against a rubric that would help her teacher better understand the level at which she knew the material being taught as well as provide her teacher with specific insight regarding her next instructional moves.

High levels of student investment occur when we design assessment strategies that are not an endpoint to learning, but rather are viewed as an integral part of learning (Hierck & Freese, 2018, p. 105). Dimich (2015) defines student investment as “the extent to which students are engaged in their learning and moving toward independence in describing where they are and how to grow” (p. 86).

4 Assessment Motivators

As you reflect on this year and start your planning for the coming year, consider the following “assessment motivators” as you prepare for reclaim hope, efficacy, and achievement for your next group of learners:

  1. Begin from a place of strength.

    Know your standards and criteria for mastery so intimately that you can tell kids what they already do well. Then—and only then—offer a single next step. Not 17 next steps, even though there might be that many. Show kids that you are excited about what they already know and then give them their first next step to move toward proficiency.

  2. Ensure there is time for learning to occur.

    Both you and your students will grow increasingly frustrated if there is not enough time provided for either of you to respond to the identified learning needs, or to design space for students to extend and advance their thinking once they have already shown you they know it.

    Let yourself breathe. Rather than feel debilitated by your pacing calendar, use those windows of time to ensure the most essential concepts and skills are mastered. Remember, your most frequent feedback should be around your identified priority standards; target those moments for your instructional responses and be flexible with your time to respond to what is most essential.

  3. Teach students how to describe their learning.

    Students will not be able to reach a target if they are not aware of how close or far away they are from that target, let alone what that target actually is. Keep some examples of proficient and non-proficient work (anonymous, of course) and let students discover the strengths and opportunities to improve elements of that work. Then show them how to describe both the assets and areas for growth in their own work, and provide descriptive feedback on how to make those adjustments for mastery.

  4. Create and sustain an efficacious learning environment.

    In their new book, Growing Tomorrow’s Citizens in Today’s Classrooms, authors Erkens, Schimmer, and Dimich (2018) offer us a critical point:

    “Because a learner’s ability to maintain a growth mindset is paramount to his or her success with intellectual risk taking, educators must strive to develop that mindset when engaged in instruction or assessment-like activities that involve generating evidence and, ultimately, evaluating results.” (p. 47)

    Using goal setting, data notebooks, descriptive feedback, and other self-reflection tools supports students in taking ownership of their learning by monitoring their own progress. Do not underestimate the power of these tools; be sure to create space for these routines from day one.

We are the keepers of hope for our students. Each moment we experience with students is an opportunity to honor their gifts, talents, and assets as well as provide meaningful support in their areas of growth. When we use assessment as part of the teaching and learning cycle, it becomes a powerful motivator to promote your students’ own sense of efficacy and even higher levels of achievement.



Erkens, C., Schimmer, T., & Dimich, N. (2017). Essential assessment: Six tenets for bringing hope, efficacy, and achievement to the classroom. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Hierck, T. & Freese, A. (2018). Assessing unstoppable learning. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Dimich, N. (2015). Design in five: Essential phases to create engaging assessment practice. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.


  1. Stephanie oliver

    Saw you in Arkansas in the fall. I got super excited about unit plans and feel it is a critical step that we are missing and is why our system seems broken. I am looking for training on how to develop unit plans around essentials as well as assessments. Do you offer a training like this?


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