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Sharing assessment & grading strategies that help students learn


This post is excerpted from an article written by Stephen Chappuis and Richard Stiggins. It was originally published in Educational Leadership in 2002 and was then reprinted in the book, Assessment FOR Learning: An Action Guide for School Leaders. While professional reading can sometimes be dry, Chappuis and Stiggins really capture the heart of AFL. This excerpt can be used by a school as an overview of what AFL is all about - teaching and learning and getting students to take ownership of their progress. This article also includes practical examples of how teachers and students would practice AFL.

Classroom Assessment for Learning

Classroom assessment that involves students in the process and focuses on increasing learning can motivate rather than merely measure students.

Imagine a classroom assessment as a healthy part of effective teaching and successful learning. At a time when large-scale, external assessments of learning gain political favor and attention, many teachers are discovering how to engage and motivate students using day-to-day classroom assessment for purposes beyond measurement. By applying the principles of what is called assessment for learning, teachers have followed clear research findings of the effects that high-quality, formative assessment can have on student achievement.

… largely absent from the traditional classroom assessment environment is the use of assessment as a tool to promote greater student achievement (Shepard, 2000). In general, the teacher teaches and then tests. The teacher and class move on, leaving unsuccessful students, those who might not learn at the established pace and within a fixed time frame, to finish low in the rank order. This assessment model is founded on two outdated beliefs: that to increase learning we should increase student anxiety and that comparison with more successful peers will motivate low performers to do better.

By contrast, assessment for learning occurs during the teaching and learning process rather than after it and has as its primary focus the ongoing improvement of learning for all students (Assessment Reform Group, 1999; Crooks, 2001; Shepard, 2000). Teachers who assess for learning use day-to-day classroom assessment activities to involve students directly and deeply in their own learning, increasing their confidence and motivations to learn by emphasizing progress and achievement rather than failure and defeat (Stiggins, 1999; 2001). In the assessment for learning model, assessment is an instructional tool that promotes learning rather than an event designed solely for the purpose of evaluation and assigning grades. And when a student become involved in the assessment process, assessment for learning begins to look more like teaching and less like testing (Davies, 2000).


Research shows that classroom assessments that provide accurate, descriptive feedback to students and involve them in the assessment process can improve learning (Black and William, 1998). As a result, assessment for learning means more than just assessing students often, more than providing the teacher with assessment results to revise instruction. In assessment for learning, both teacher and student use classroom assessment information to modify teaching and learning activities. Teachers use assessment information formatively when they:

Pretest before a unit of study and adjust instruction for individuals or the entire group.
• Analyze which students need more practice.
• Continually revise instruction on the basis of results.
• Reflect on the effectiveness of their own teaching practices.
• Confer with students regarding their strengths and the areas that need improvement.
• Facilitate peer tutoring, matching students who demonstrate understanding with those who do not.

We tend to think of students as passive participants in assessment rather than engaged users of the information that assessment can produce. What we should be asking is, “How can students use assessment to take responsibility for and improve their own learning?”

Student involvement in assessment doesn’t mean that students control decisions regarding what will or won’t be learned or tested. It doesn’t mean that they assign their own grades. Instead, student involvement means that students learn to use assessment information to manage their own learning so that they understand how they learn best, know exactly where they are in relation to the defined learning targets, and plan and take the next steps in their learning.

Students engage in the assessment for learning process when they use assessment information to set goals, make learning decisions related to their own improvement, develop an understanding of what quality work looks like, self-assess, and communicate their status and progress toward established learning goals. Students involved in their own assessment might:

Determine the attributes of good performance. Students look at teacher-supplied anonymous samples of strong student performances and list the qualities that make them strong, learning the language of quality and the concepts behind strong performance.
Use scoring guides to evaluate real work samples. Students can start with just one criterion in the guide and expand to others as they become more proficient in scoring. As students engage in determining the characteristics of quality work and scoring actual work samples, they become better able to evaluate their own work. Using the language of the scoring guide, they can identify their areas of strength and set goals for improvement - in essence, planning the next steps in their learning.
Revise anonymous work samples. Students go beyond evaluating work to using criteria to improve the quality of work sample. They can develop a revision plan that outlines improvements, or write a letter to the creator of the original work offering advice on how to improve the sample. This activity also helps students know what to do before they revise their own work.
Create practice tests or test items based on their understanding of the learning targets and the essential concepts in the class material. Students can work in pairs to identify what they think should be on the test and to generate sample test items and responses.
Communicate with others about their growth and determine when they are nearing success. Students achieve a deeper understanding of themselves and the material that they are attempting to learn when they describe the quality of their own work. Letters to parents, written self-reflections, and conferences with teachers and parents in which students outline the process they used to create a product allow students to share what they know and describe their progress toward the learning target. By accumulating evidence of their own improvement in growth portfolios, students can refer to specific stages in their growth and celebrate their achievement with others.

Source: From "Classroom Assessment for Learning," by S, Chappuis and R.J. Stiggins, 2002, Educational Leadership, 60(1), pp. 40-44. Copyright 2002 by ASCD.

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Comment by Augusta Freedman on May 12, 2010 at 3:58pm
Scudder, Lou Anne, Gussie, and Patty, Students achieving a skill level required will assist/tutor/remediate students who still need to reach that skill level. This will be assesed by the teacher and students observing that all students have achieved that level.
Comment by Pamela Carter on May 12, 2010 at 3:52pm
Social Studies

During the 2010-2011 School year, we will increase student learning by using practice assessment via paper or technology to assess student weaknesses in order to identify students who may need additional practice. This may come in the form of short non-graded quizzes, surveys, or journal writings.

Example...give the students the word 'Civilization' and ask them to write 3 sentences on what the word means.
Students can then list an example from the current unit of study.
Comment by Scott Habeeb on December 5, 2009 at 12:58am
Great idea - I'll look forward to hearing how this idea works. Could be worth sharing with others if it goes well.
Comment by Joan Vannorsdall on December 2, 2009 at 9:51pm
Taking a break from grading lit. I scanned this article excerpt. And...Test eureka! I love the idea of having students generate test questions as a means of assessing--pre-test-- their comprehension of material. In IB English, this means allowing students to create a list of short-essay questions that they feel they could adequately answer in short essays. If they come up with a set of questions far afield from what I've put together, then we're not communicating too well, it seems to me. Then, having them do "outline answers"--doing an "answer outline"--would allow me to see how comprehensively and accurately they can address the questions that have occurred to them. I like it!

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