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Know Better and Do Better

I plan to explore self-assessment with my blogs this year. One of my favorite things about writing for this blog is that it causes me to reflect and formalize my own thinking about assessment topics. Maybe it is all of the talk about resolutions, or the fact that my own resolutions have not quite taken hold (Sorry elliptical machine! I promise to visit you soon!), or this looming birthday of mine, but the pulls of both reflection and action are pretty strong right now. Read more


Improving Professional Practice Through Assessments

It’s widely supported that using common formative assessments is one of the best ways to systematically improve student learning (DuFour et al. (2016); Reeves, 2004; Ainsworth, 2007). The impact of these assessments is best realized when teams collaboratively unwrap the essential standards into smaller learning targets, use formative measures to monitor student learning of those targets, and use the results to engage students with meaningful feedback and support to propel learning forward (Bailey and Jakicic, 2019). Read more


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Is Your ‘Standard’ Really a Standard?

We, more often than not, define the term “standard” as “something someone needs to know or be able to do.” We use this definition to develop curriculum, create assessments, plan instruction, and provide feedback to students and parents. No one can be sure when we started subscribing to this definition; however, we do know it is in direct opposition to the dictionary’s definition. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a standard as ”something set up as a rule for the measure of quality.” So, which is it?

In this brief article, I argue that the dictionary has it right. Further, I assert that it is our responsibility as educators to align our pedagogical practices to the dictionary meaning to ensure that our standards are, in fact, standards. Read more


Assessment: Why Bother?

The title of this post is intentionally provocative, and since you’re reading it, there might be some ideas rattling around in your head that might be aligned with that provocation. Let me be clear from the outset, however, that I am not on a rant to eliminate high-quality, effective evidence gathering.  

I do struggle, though, with the pursuit of numbers simply for the purpose of rank and sort, or mathematical computation as per a formula or computer program.   Educators are familiar with the work of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and the four questions originally defined by the DuFours and Eaker. I want to zero in on questions 3 and 4:   Read more


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Next Generation Assessment: Moving from Counting to Quality

In Growing Tomorrow’s Citizens in Today’s Classrooms: Assessing 7 Critical Competencies (2019), Cassandra Erkens, Nicole Dimich, and I outline how critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, communication, self-regulation, digital citizenship, and social competence are the necessary skills for students to succeed as future citizens. In the book, we highlight two important, overarching aspects of teaching and learning in the 21st century.

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Implementing Changes in Grading Practices & Policies

This is the fourth and final entry of four blog posts about facilitating healthy grading conversations in schools. The first three posts (read posts one, two, and three here) outline a tremendous amount of work that may span a few years’ worth of preparation before implementing changes in grading practices.  

It’s a common mistake to assume that implementation simply involves pulling the lever while saying “ready, set, go!” Even after a solid foundation of establishing coherence, clarity, and readiness has been built, much care and attention must be given to the implementation phase.  The Guiding Coalition is active through the entire implementation phase. Members of the team help to facilitate conversations and consensus processes. They also engage in enacting staff decisions and monitoring the effectiveness of their efforts. The implementation phase offers the formal launch to a public process that is rife with opportunities for things to go askance. During the implementation phase, the Guiding Coalition is still actively pursuing evidence of effectiveness and troubleshooting concerns along the way.

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Initiating a Change in Grading Practices

This is the third of four blog posts about facilitating healthy grading conversations in schools (read posts one and two here). The series is intended to help educators navigate the challenging and sometimes turbulent waters of changing any traditional practice—but especially grading practices—where tradition, the court of public opinion, and the potential for failure at the expense of students’ future opportunities hurl immediate deterrents in the way.

Initiating changes in grading practices requires action research—there’s really no way around that. Read more


Inviting Stakeholders into the Grading Conversations

Note: This is the second of four blog posts about facilitating healthy grading conversations in schools. The series is intended to help educators navigate the challenging and sometimes turbulent waters of changing any conventional practice—especially grading practices—where tradition, the court of public opinion, and the potential for failure at the expense of students’ future opportunities hurl immediate deterrents in the path.

Pulling the trigger (e.g. creating and announcing policy changes) before there is systemwide understanding and preliminary agreements will backfire. Schools that do usually end up on the evening news or the front page of the local paper. Generally, this results in abandoning the initiative completely, and thwarting future conversations from ever happening again. The grading “blowout” seems to leave deep and wide scars across the system.

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Investigating Grading Conversations

Note: This entry is the first in a four-part series by Cassandra Erkens.

School improvement conversations fail when everyone walks away frustrated, the public angrily engages, and all change efforts within the initiative are abandoned. Sadly, many grading conversations fall into that failing category. In fact, the mere worry that things might go badly prohibits some very smart educational leaders from ever launching the grading conversation.

Conversations about grading can prove challenging. They are fraught with ingrained expectations, past practices, emotions, and opinions. But just because they’re hard conversations, doesn’t mean they should be avoided. Sometimes, those are the most important conversations to have. Indeed, generating clarity and consistency in policy and practice across a school building or district—especially on something as significant as grading—is crucial work.  
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