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Why do you assess your students? A teacher's answer to this question reveals much about what that teacher values.  

For example, if a teacher's answers to the question center around determining a student's grade for a report card or transcript or around figuring out how much a student learned at the end of instruction, then it's obvious the teacher places a great emphasis on grading.

On the other hand, if a teacher's answers center around providing the teacher and the student with feedback so that more appropriate instructional and learning decisions can be made, then it's obvious the teacher places a great emphasis on learning.

This post is written to provide those teachers who care more about learning than they do about grading with an analogy that will help them productively focus their assessment efforts.

At a recent Salem High School faculty meeting, SHS Welding Teacher, Joshua Graham, shared with his colleagues the assessment tools and practices that he and his fellow Trades and Industrial teachers use to help them help students learn.  He spoke about several software programs they use to assess student progress and to provide students with descriptive feedback to help them focus their study habits.  He talked about using assessment data to evaluate his teaching and to enable him to make more student-centered decisions.

The content of Josh's presentation was insightful and the strategies shared exemplary.  Near the end of it, though, he shared with us a rather simple analogy that has profoundly impacted the way I now view an educator's assessment role.

Josh shared with us that, along with other women in their church, his wife was reading a book entitled Leading and Loving It.  The book included an analogy that Josh took and applied to assessment.  It was the analogy of The Thermometer v. The Thermostat.

The Thermometer

Think about what a thermometer does.  A thermometer gives you a temperature at a certain point in time.  Let's pretend you have a thermometer in your home.  By checking its reading, you will know the air temperature in your home.

What does the thermometer do FOR the temperature in your home?  Nothing.  While a thermometer is a useful tool, it simply provides us with information.  It does nothing to alter or change that information.

The Thermostat

Now consider the thermostat.  Like the thermometer, the thermostat also checks the temperature at a certain point.  In fact, by checking the thermostat in your home you can find out the air temperature in your home just like you could with a thermometer.

But the thermostat also does something FOR the temperature in your home.  The thermostat takes the temperature, compares that to the DESIRED temperature outcome, and then makes adjustments to increase or decrease the temperature accordingly.

While a thermometer is a useful tool, a thermostat is a much more powerful tool and a much more impactful tool.  With only a thermometer you would be able to verify the fact that your house was too hot, too cold, or just right.  But with a thermostat you can actually control the temperature outcome.

Josh explained this analogy and then applied it to assessment by encouraging his colleagues to be thermostats - not thermometers.  Being a thermometer is fine if our goal for assessment is to determine a grade.  We can teach a unit of content, asses our students to see how well they learned it, record that "temperature", and move on.  

But if our goal for assessment is to increase learning, then we have to be thermostats.  The thermostat teacher is constantly assessing so he or she knows where his students - collectively and individually - are in the learning process.  Then the thermostat teacher makes the necessary adjustments in teaching so that the "temperature" changes appropriately.  The thermostat teacher trains students to be thermostats as well, always self-assessing and analyzing feedback to determine what adjustments need to be made at their end.  

Simply put, the thermometer teacher can document IF students learned.  The thermostat teacher increases learning.

So why do you assess?  If it is to increase learning, then consider how the analogy of The Thermostat might be applied to your classroom.

Thanks, Josh! 

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As the Standards Based movement has grown, allowing students to Redo assignments and Retake tests has become a rather common practice.  Blogs, articles, books, and workshops have focused on the importance of Redos and Retakes (R/R) and how to practically implement R/R at the classroom and school level.  Divisions, schools, and teachers have created policies that detail, rather specifically, the conditions through which students might R/R assignments.

The progression from Standards Based philosophies to the practice of R/R goes something like this:

  1. Students learning content and skills is the mission, therefore, we can't be satisfied with students not learning.
  2. Since all students do not learn at the same pace, when we become aware that students have not mastered specific content standards, we should give students additional opportunities to learn those standards.
  3. Low scores/grades/marks/feedback commonly indicate that a student hasn't mastered content or skills.
  4. When students have low scores/grades/marks/feedback, we should provide them R/R opportunities so they can improve the scores/grades/marks/feedback.
  5. Improved scores/grades/marks/feedback indicate that students have learned the content and/or skills.

Based on what I have seen working with outstanding teachers in my own school (Salem High in Salem, VA) and from what I have learned as I have traveled around the country helping schools with their assessment needs, I would like to make the following recommendation:

Let's remember that R/R is not the ONLY way - and often not the best way - to implement Standards Based philosophies.

Let me clarify: I will not be suggesting in the paragraphs to come that R/R practices should stop, but that:

  • We need to make sure R/R fall in their proper and appropriate context, and that
  • Looping is a teaching and assessment practice that deserves strong consideration because it keeps the focus on learning better than most R/R practices do.

The phrase Standards Based Grading (SBG) is used quite commonly to refer to the use of Assessment FOR Learning practices based on standards.  However,  the phrase Standards Based LEARNING (SBL) is more instructionally-relevant to use since this keeps us focused on the goal and the mission of learning rather than on the significantly less important focus of grading.  

Regardless of your choice of terms - SBG or SBL - the most important aspect of the Standards Based movement is not any one specific practice but instead how educators think about assessment.  Teachers trying to grow in their use of assessment must focus first on the way they THINK about assessment rather than than on HOW they will assess or WHAT assessments they will use.  The Standards Based movement is not really about grading; it's about learning.  But the associated increase in learning is dependent on a change in thinking.  

  • If a teacher thinks about learning primarily in terms of students demonstrating mastery of individual specific standards (as opposed to students increasing their overall aggregate "average" grade) then a teacher will communicate with students and parents in terms of individual specific standards mastery.  
  • If a teacher communicates in terms of individual specific standards mastery, then students and parents are more likely to think about progress in terms of individual specific standards mastery, rather than increasing their overall aggregate average.
  • If students and parents think about progress in terms of individual standards mastery, then they are more likely to communicate in those terms, as well.

The problem with typical R/R practices is that they have a tendency to cause all of us - educators, students, and parents - to think and communicate in terms of grades rather than learning.

It's natural for students and parents to be hyper-focused on grades, and it would be unrealistic to expect them to unilaterally take steps to shift that focus to learning.  The perceived benefits and consequences of grades are too immediate and too ingrained in our culture.  If learning is ever to take its rightful place in relation to grading, it will have to be the educators in the schools who set that tone.  Anything educators do that encourages or reinforces the focus to be on grades will run counter to what we want most - to have a culture that values learning about all else.

While the typical reason educators embrace R/R is a desire for students to learn, too often the reality is that R/R reinforces the students' focus on grades above all else.  If I'm a student and I find out I have a low score/mark/feedback, my natural inclination is to consider how that impacts my grade.  When a teacher or a school or a division creates a policy that gives me the "right" to retake an assignment, what I tend to hear is that I have the "right" to increase my grade.

The underlying problem with many R/R policies is that they are examples of what could be called "After-the-Fact" Standards Based assessment.  In other words, now that we've finished this unit/topic and you have scored at a level that you (or your parent) don't approve of, you can go back and fix your grade by R/R after-the-fact.  

If you're exploring incorporating Standards Based assessment practices into your classroom, starting with figuring out an R/R policy/procedure would be a mistake.  Begin by growing in your understanding of SBL philosophy so you will be able to THINK in a Standards Based manner and be prepared to apply SBL logistics to the myriad of situations that inevitably will arise.  

The power of assessment is greatly enhanced when, rather than after-the-fact, Standards Based teaching and assessment practices - such as Looping - are interwoven into the fabric of the learning process.

Here's what happens when a teacher gains a great understanding of SBL philosophy:

  • A teacher who THINKS in terms of standards mastery will base instruction and communication on standards.  
  • Then, because the teacher THINKS this way, communicates this way, and wants to ensure that students master standards, the teacher will routinely - probably daily - assess students to gauge the level of student learning.  
  • This will cause individual standards to be assessed multiple times and, more than likely, through multiple measures.
  • Because measuring progress towards individual standards mastery is important, the teacher will want to record these measurements in a manner that allows him/her to see how each student is progressing toward each standard - rather than simply averaging all work completed.

There will come a time when the teacher will move on to new content, however, the students' progress toward past standards will remain in front of that teacher and the students as a constant reminder that some students - maybe many students - have still not mastered standards at a satisfactory level.  This leaves the teacher with 1 of 3 options:

  1. Don't worry about the standards not satisfactorily mastered.  
    This should be obviously unacceptable but needs to be included since it is a theoretical possibility.
  2. Wait until the end of the year and then go back and review past standards.
    This often helps students "cram" for an end-of-course test but does little to move learning into long-term memory.
  3. Throughout the year, continuously review previously taught concepts, content, and skills.

For the remainder of this post we will refer to this Option 3 as Looping.

The Looping concept - continuously reviewing previously taught concepts, content, and skills - is a teaching and assessment strategy with greater potential to increase student learning than R/R practices alone.  Here's why:

Looping focuses on learning while R/R tend to focus on grades.

Furthermore, Looping is teacher-driven, while R/R is often student (or even policy) driven.

As previously stated, R/R tend to happen after-the-fact once students (or parents) are unsatisfied with grades.  R/R policies in schools tend to focus on students having a right to something.  This often leads to unnecessary tension as students "exercise their rights."  However, even when tension does not occur, when R/R is the major standards based thinking is implemented, students tend to focus it primarily as a way to improve grades.

Looping, on the other hand, is all about learning.  Looping is not dependent on students (or parents) wanting, after-the-fact, to improve a grade.  Instead, Looping is teacher-driven and built into the teacher's normal planning.  It's organic, rather than after-the-fact.  It's based on the idea that repetition is essential to learning, so teachers who want students to learn will naturally keep looping back to topics that need reinforcement.  Looping doesn't require a teacher to constantly grade and re-grade assignments, a logistic that can often turn R/R into a burden.    

With Looping, the teacher controls:

  • THE WHAT: 
    Looping occurs on topics that the teacher knows - based on assessment data - need to be re-addressed and re-assessed, 
  • THE WHEN: 
    Looping occurs as frequently as the teacher's assessment data shows looping is needed,
  • THE WHO:
    Looping makes sure that all students in a class - not just those who come and ask for R/R - are continuously enhancing their skills. and
  • THE HOW:
    Looping can be happen through repeat lessons, additional practice, old questions being included on new tests, whole class activities, differentiated assignments, daily quizzes, etc.

Looping doesn't require a policy.  Looping just requires a teacher who:

  • assesses regularly,
  • knows how students are progressing toward standards mastery, and
  • understands that humans learn through repetition and practice.

So does this mean that teachers should stop allowing students to R/R assignments?  Absolutely not.  Teachers should use their professional judgement to determine when R/R are most appropriate.  But R/R must be applied in a manner that supports the philosophy of SBL, rather than as one-size-fits-all approach.  

What I'm recommending is this.  As educators who value learning above grading, let's:

  • First think in a Standards Based manner - let's think in terms of how to teach standards, assess based on standards, and organically and regularly Loop back to standards so students get maximum practice and repetition.
  • Put into daily practice the seemingly obvious fact that the more times a student encounters content, practices, and is assessed, the more likely the student is to actually learn and remember.
  • Make sure we don't allow the quest for grades to trump learning.
  • Not create policies that tie teachers' hands - such as "thou shall give a retake whenever students request one" - but instead, let's encourage teachers to use their expertise to help students learn.
  • Remember the purpose of Assessment FOR Learning - we assess so students will learn rather than assess to create grades.

Got any thoughts?

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It's Time to Take an Assessment Journey!

This network has tons of practical examples of Assessment FOR Learning, great insights into Standards Based Learning concepts, and even a bunch of Sports Analogies to help educators apply sound assessment philosophy to their classrooms.  But how can school leaders and teachers help lead assessment change in their schools and systems?

Pawel Nazarewicz (Salem High Math Teacher) and I (Scott Habeeb, Salem High Principal) wrote this article for the Fall 2016 issue of Virginia Educational Leadership to help administrators and teachers lead determine their assessment needs and then lead assessment journeys in their schools.

It's Time to Take an Assessment Journey


We'd love your feedback!

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A recent post on The Assessment Network titled Redos and Retakes? Sure. But don't forget to Loop! received a lot of attention via social media and led to quite a few productive discussions.  Without repeating all that was already shared in that post, the basic premise was this:

If we care about learning more than grading and if we want to communicate that to students, then we will need to understand that:

The power of assessment is greatly enhanced when Standards Based teaching and assessment practices - such as Looping - are interwoven into the daily instructional process.

This concept of Looping was juxtaposed with the common practice of allowing students to ask for Redos and Retakes. While Redos and Retakes were not directly discouraged, educators were encouraged to focus first on building reassessment into the very fabric of the learning process instead of waiting to reassess after students decide they don't like their grades.

The post and the concept of Looping generated quite a bit of feedback via social media.  A common response went something like this:

I really like the idea of Looping.  Could you share practical examples of what this might look like in a classroom?  

If you haven't read the original post yet, I would suggest doing so before moving on.  Once - or if - you have, then read below for very practical and applicable examples of Looping shared in her own words by Robin Tamagni, an Earth Science teacher at Salem High School in Salem, VA.

How do I loop in my class?

The first thing that I do is teach my Earth Science content to the best of my ability.  I try to explain and break down everything and have no assumptions that my students just ‘know what I’m talking about’.  Once I teach something, I make sure the very next day I go back and have my students practice it with one another, especially the vocabulary.  In Earth Science there is an abundance of new vocabulary that students have never heard of, so going back and practicing it every day with their partners is crucial for maintaining, establishing, and growing knowledge throughout the year.  I use partner quizzing of vocabulary words, flash cards, Quia.com and Kubbu for review games, and acronyms to help students remember the words.  This constant review and practice is Looping in its simplest form. 

Once we have taught and practiced the content, I assess my students.  Specifically, I like to use PowerSchool Assessment (formerly Interactive Achievement) so that instead of just finding an overall grade I can receive and give feedback in terms of mastery of specific content standards.  The data from the assessments shows me areas of strength and weakness for each individual student.  This is an example of what that data looks like for a student. 


Instead of just seeing a grade of 63%, PowerSchool Assessment provides me with more specific and standards-based feedback.  I learn that a student does better with the topic of Igneous Rocks, but struggles with Sedimentary and Metamorphic Rocks.  Therefore, I am able to focus on their problem areas so they can grow rather than waste their time and mine reteaching them everything about rocks.

As important as this standards-based data is for my decision making, it is even more important to get the data in the hands of my students so they can trained to let it guide their decision making. Training them to understand and interpret data is something I begin doing early in the school year and then am very consistent with all year long.  To help make the students' data meaningful, I give them what I call the "Weak Areas Sheet" (see example below or click link to download a Word file). 


On each student's Weak Areas Sheet I fill in the mastery feedback from PowerSchool Assessment into the blank for each assessed standard.  Now the students know exactly which specific topics they need to work on. 

On my classroom website, our school's other Earth Science Teacher, Wes Lester, and I have compiled a huge list of resources for practicing each specific standard.  (Visit Mrs. Tamagni's Study Center)  These practice activities include Quia "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" games, YouTube video clips to reteach a topic, Kubbu games to practice sorting vocabulary, Purpose Games to practice labeling features of the earth, practice quizzes, etc.  Each standard has a list of these types of activities that are specifically labeled for easy access. 


My typical lesson planning involves giving students opportunities each week go to my website and work on their weakest areas.  Generally this looks like students taking about 15 minutes in class to login, pick 3 games in each of their weakest areas, and practice.  I ask them to complete the review game and then show me their results when they have done so.  I may use this as a Do Now/Bell Ringer activity or as an Exit Ticket activity.  If I find that I have 10 unexpected extra minutes near the end of class having my students get our their Weak Areas Sheet and doing some Looping is a practical and meaningful way to "fill that time". 

Looping in this manner also works great for students who are accelerated.  First of all, this method of assessment lets me know who has actually mastered the standards rather than just who happens to have a high grade.  It is rare to find a student who has truly mastered ALL taught standards.  However, when I do find someone who has reached this level I can let the student go ahead and start practicing standards that will be taught in the future, or I can give that student an opportunity to serve others by coaching peers who are weak in standards they're strong in. 

As the school year progresses, my looping practices expand somewhat.  By mid-year I have worked hard to create an abundance of practice stations in my room.  Each station correlates to a specific content standard. By mid-year, my students definitely know where their weak area(s) is (are).  I strategically pair students up with one another (one weak, one strong) and have them travel around my classroom to all the different stations beginning at their weakest standards.  The stronger student is coached on how to act as a peer teacher and to make sure they take the opportunity to explain and help their partner through their weaker standards. While serving as a peer coach does not come naturally to all students, if I focus on developing great relationships with my students they become more willing to work at it as a way to help me.

Opportunities for Growth

A final key component of my looping strategy involves "never letting go of the past".  Each time students take a test in my class they will always have a retest on old standards at the same time.  For example, students will take their first test on our Rocks and Minerals standards in September.  Then in October, they will take a test again on Rocks and Minerals and a separate test on Plate Boundaries.  Then in December students will take another test on Rocks and Minerals and Plate Boundaries, but this time we'll add in Earth’s History. 

This method of looping means that each time a student takes a test they have an opportunity to demonstrate growth - as opposed to just demonstrating how well they have learned (or memorized) the current content.  Let’s say a student scores a 60% on the first Rock and Mineral Test in September.  A 60% does NOT reflect what they will know about Rocks and Minerals by April.  Students are encouraged to continuously get better and grow in each standard instead of just moving on and forgetting about it. 

In October when we test again on Rocks and Minerals along with Plate Boundaries students will have worked on their weaknesses in the category of Rocks and Minerals and will hopefully show some sort of growth within that standard.  If a student has demonstrated growth I will replace the old score with their new score since that new score is now a better reflection of what they actually know.  If a student has scored the same or lower I will add that score to the grade book and use it as communication for where they need additional growth and practice.  

The Looping strategies I have described are essential to getting kids to learn and master content.  There is definitely a lot of infrastructure that must be created before it can be done well.  However, the payout is worth the effort.  

Thoughts or questions?  Feel free to leave comments below.  You can also reach Robin at her profile page on this network or email her at rtamagni@salem.k12.va.us.  Similarly, Scott can be reached at his profile page on this network or reached via email at scotthabeeb@gmail.com.

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Quit Focusing on Standards Based GRADING

Followers of this site know by now that Assessment FOR Learning is way more important than Assessment OF Learning.  In order to make sure our assessment and our feedback increase student learning, we need to communicate and assess in a standards based manner.

Many schools and school systems have begun their Assessment Journeys by focusing on Standards Based Grading Policies.  There are 2 key dangers of having Grading Policies as a point of focus:

  1. This puts too much emphasis on grading.
    Schools need to set the example for students that learning trumps grading.  Anything that reinforces the hyper-focus on grading that tends to motivate students will be detrimental to our goal of keeping our focus on learning.  This includes polices that create one-size-fits-all grading practices.
  2. Policy is not as valuable as professional development.
    There is no way to create a policy that addresses all possible scenarios.  However, a faculty that is well-grounded in Assessment FOR Learning philosophy can create its own logistical answers to the situations that arise.

Our friends at @CVULearns in Vermont have put together a wonderful argument for why focusing on Standards Based LEARNING is significantly more important that focusing on Standards Based GRADING.  All I can say is "Amen!"

Enjoy their thoughts here:


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Making Every Assessment a Formative Experience

If you've spent much time on this Network you are well aware that we promote the use of formative assessment - or Assessment FOR Learning.  Formative assessments are often compared/contrasted with summative assessments.  Typically, educators use the term "formative assessment" to refer to smaller checks for understanding and use the term "summative assessment" to refer to more larger assessments such as traditional unit tests.  But to differentiate between the two can be misleading IF THE ULTIMATE GOAL IS FOR STUDENTS TO LEARN RATHER THAN FOR THE TEACHER TO BE ABLE TO DETERMINE A GRADE.

As educators make their lesson/assessment plans, they should keep this simple truth in mind: WE CARE MORE ABOUT LEARNING THAN WE DO GRADING.  If this is true, then how can we allow some assessments to help students learn while other assessments help us determine a grade?  If we care more about learning than we do grading, then shouldn't ALL assessments help students learn.  ALL assessments should have a formative purpose, right?

Last week I entered the classroom of Mark Ingerson, a 9th grade Modern World History teacher at Salem High School, to conduct a quick walk-through.  What I saw was a great example of how all assessments, even those that traditionally would be considered summative in nature, can have great formative benefit if the teacher is intentionally focused more on learning than grading.

Mark's students were taking a test in his classroom on the unit he had just finished.  The test was designed by him in Quia, and the students took it on their Chromebooks.  Mark had tagged all the questions on this unit test based on the standards they represented.  Therefore, as students finished Mark received more than just a grade; he received an instant report of how well each individual student had mastered each specific standard.

As the students finished and submitted their tests, they immediately (as if they had been trained to do this....) came up to Mr. Ingerson's desk where he, one-at-a-time, gave each of them a post-it note on which he had listed their weakest standard ON THE TEST THEY HAD JUST TAKEN.  After receiving the post-it note, the students went back to their desks to IMMEDIATELY use Quia to practice the standards they had just scored low on.

It definitely takes some work to create the infrastructure needed to provide this sort of instant feedback, and it's true that the Quia format would not work as well for all classes as it does for Mark's.  But there's no denying the simple beauty of what is occurring here:

  • The students are receiving instant and standards-based feedback.
  • The teacher is able to differentiate and personalize the relearning experience for each student.
  • The traditional summative assessment is truly a formative experience.

Let's remember the truth we believe:
Learning is more important than grading. 

So here's the question for you:
How can you ensure that assessments in your classroom, rather than just help you determine a grade, actually help students learn?

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Getting Students to Buy Into a Focus on Learning

As educators we definitely care more about Learning than we care about Grading.  So it tends to frustrate us when our students seem to only care about getting a Grade. 

Do you ever wish you could redirect your students' focus to learning?  While it's not easy to do so, it's also not impossible.  Since most students will not unilaterally change their focus, we have to make sure that:

  1. Everything we do reinforces the fact that we value Learning over Grading, and that
  2. Nothing we do encourages students to focus on Grades.

Those 2 ideas might sound overly simplified, but the ramifications are immense.  If we honestly analyze traditional assessment practices, we'll start to find that much of what we do puts a focus on getting a grade.  Even the relatively "enlightened" practice of allowing retakes can end up causing kids to focus on trying to raise their grades rather than learn content. (For more on the subject of retakes, read this previous post.)

But when a teacher gives students regular feedback that is focused on learning - rather than on grades - it is possible to train students to think, communicate, and focus in a learning-centered manner.  Below is an email that one of our teachers sent me recently.  In it she recounts a conversation with a student who exemplified a focus on learning.  I hope as you read it you can imagine the satisfaction this teacher felt (as opposed to the typical frustration we feel when students just care about grades).

So I've been talking about mastery and areas of weakness more this year with my students. I'm trying to communicate it better, and I have done different exercises with them to help them diagnose their weaknesses.

Anyways, cool moment today - I had a girl who came to me on her own willingly and took out one of the papers I gave her last week on which she diagnosed her weakness during a station review. 

She said, "Can I go in the hallway and work on my weakness?"

I said, "Well, I haven't handed back the mastery sheet yet from your test today, but of course you can.   Do you know what your weak standards are?"

She responded with, "Yes I do,  I have the paper we used last week where we did stations, and I was able to pick out what I need to work on."

Keep in mind, this is a student who is more of an typical or middle-of-the-road student, not necessarily one who would be seen as an overachiever. In other words, my talk of "mastery and weakness" is working!  :)

Awesome!  How fun it was to read this email and to celebrate with a teacher who is helping students value learning!

(For more information on how this specific teacher helps students identify areas of weakness, read this previous post.)

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Which do you care about more - Learning or Grading?

Educators always answer that question with Learning.  And if you've spent much time on The Assessment Network, you know that our focus is to help educators use assessment FOR the purpose of learning - rather than to help ecucators figure out new grading systems.  

So while our goal is to explore best practices related to assessment so we can increase learning, the reality is that in order to do so we must spend some amount of time examining our grading practices.  It's not that grading practices are the focus, but many traditional grading practices have a negative impact on our ability to provide the type of feedback that leads to learning and on our ability to get students to focus on learning - rather than on "earning" a grade.

One traditional grading practice that has such an impact is an overreliance on creating mathematical formulas to determine a student's grade on a particular assignment.  Based on our stated priority - Learning - we should instead be developing methods for providing descriptive feedback that helps students learn.  Instead, our profession tends to try to develop just the right formula to "calculate a grade," thereby practicing assessment for GRADING rather than assessment for LEARNING

For example, take a look a the scored rubric below.  Pretend this rubric was used in your class.  The student had an assignment that covered 4 standards or topics - 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, and 1.4.  You've scored the assignment as evidenced by the Xs in the boxes. 

Based on this rubric, what letter grade ( A, B, C, D, or F) would you think the student should receive for this assignment?


If you said B, then you answered the same as almost every single educator who has seen this rubric.

When educators are shown this rubric, they tend to think the student should receive a B.  After all, in 3 of the 4 standards the student was marked as being in the 2nd best (out of 5) category.  Perhaps because in one standard the student was marked in the middle category, the student might receive a B minus, if "shades of B-ness" must be used.  But most teachers would use their professional expertise to classify this student as roughly a B student on this assignment.

But, unfortunately, in an attempt to be objective, educators often find the need to "hide" behind mathematical formulas.  They choose to let fractions, rather than professional expertise, make grading decisions and choose to provide grade information rather than learning-focused feedback. 

Here's what that same rubric might look like when a formula is applied to it:


In this scenario the student would receive a total of 15 points (4+4+3+4) out of a possible 20.  This fraction would then be converted to a percentage and the student would receive a 75%.  Depending on the school system, this 75% would either be a C or a D.

But when we first analyzed the rubric, our professional expertise and instinct told us this student was in the B range on this assignment.  Why then would we allow a mathematical formula to tell us the student should receive a C or a D?  Why would we remove our expertise from the decision?  More importantly, though, why would we get ourselves caught up in a "grading game"?  Why would we employ practices that lead to students arguing about a grade or scrambling to earn more points when, instead, we could employ practices that provided feedback useful for learning?

Here's another way to use that same rubric:


By using this rubric, we prevent ourselves from getting caught up in a numbers game.  We're not arguing between 75 or 76 or 77.  It's very easy to see that, by and large, this student should be rated in the B range.  We don't need 100 different points of rating to determine that this student falls into the B range - and frankly, does it really matter where in the B range the student falls?  Because we're most interested in learning, right?  Therefore, we don't really care about the B or the 75 or whatever the grade is.  We care about providing feedback that will help a student learn, correct?

A numerical score of 75 leads to 1 of 2 things.  It leads either to:

  1. A debate about the grading system, or
  2. A request by the student to earn more points

But if we provide feedback in the form of a letter grade that is not necessarily the result of a mathematical formula, we have the potential to get students to ask questions about how they can improve their learning, especially if the letter grade feedback is attached to descriptive feedback.

What if you used a descriptive chart like the one below that was created by Math teachers at Salem High School in Salem, Virginia?


A chart like this one attaches a descriptive meaning to the letter grades.  The B no longer means that the student received 80-89% or 87-93% of the possible points.  Instead, we now know that:

  • In 3 of the 4 standards the student has a strong understanding but a fair number of mistakes are still being made;
  • To improve to the A level in these standards, the student needs to check his/her work and strive to reach a point of complete understanding as evidenced by little to no mistakes and the ability to lead someone else; and
  • In 1 of the standards assessed the student shows a basic understanding of the concepts but needs a lot more practice as evidenced by his/her ability to start but then the tendency to get stuck..  

The descriptions in the chart above might not be the perfect ones for your class or your grade or your school, but they are examples of feedback that is much more learning-focused than typical fraction-based grading practices.  If our goal was just sorting and selecting students, then perhaps a focus on an assessment OF learning based on fractions would suffice.  But we are in the business of unlocking human potential to help all students learn and grow.  Therefore, we need to focus on assessment FOR learning and descriptive feedback.

Please don't fall into the trap of thinking a mathematical formula is more objective than your expertise.  You know much more about learning and about your students and about their growth than a formula does.  Use your expertise to provide descriptive feedback.  Tell your students where they are and what they need to do - not so they can earn enough numerator points to raise their grade but so they can master the important content and skills you teach.

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This Assessment Network is dedicated to the concepts of AFL: Assessment FOR Learning.  In other words, the PURPOSE of assessment is for learning to occur.  It's impossible to maximize your AFL efforts if you don't assess based on content standards.  That's where SBL: Standards Based Learning comes into play.  

There's philosophy, and then there's Philosophy in Action.  When it comes to Assessment Philosophy in Action, it doesn't get any better than LOOPING.  This blog post will include all other posts from this network that are dedicated to the practice of LOOPING in the classroom.  

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Sports Analogies

As this site has grown, so has the number of sports and coaching analogies.  It seems that one way to communicate excellence in the classroom is to compare it to excellence on the field or court.  As sports-related posts/discussions/resources are added to The Assessment Network, links to them will be added to this blog, making it a one stop shop for all AFL-related sports references.




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Grading (as it relates to AFL)

Grading and assessment are two distinct yet overlapped topics.  This site is dedicated primarily to assessment - the getting and giving of feedback that helps teachers adjust their teaching and students adjust their learning.  However, it is impossible to talk about assessment without occasionally discussing grading.  Therefore, grading posts and resources pop up on this site from time to time.  As a way to help members find these resources, this blog post has been created as to serve as a collection of grading links.  Anything posted on this site related to grading can be found on this blog.


Also, please note that as more examples are added to this site, they will also be added to this blog.



Blog Posts:


Stories in the News:

Faculty Meeting Conversations

  • 11/12/14 - Pretend You're A Grade Coach
  • 2/24/16 - Using AFL/SBL to Analyze a Common Assessment Practice: Earning Points Back on a Test
  • 1/11/17 - Applying SBL Philosophy
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Interactive AFL Faculty Meetings

For the past several years at Salem High School we have focused on assessment for the staff development portion of our faculty meetings.  The Assessment Network has played an integral role in those faculty meetings.  The Forum feature has enabled us to make our discussions more interactive and collaborative as well enable us to archive our activities for future use.


This blog post is a list of the AFL Forum discussions we at SHS have had during those faculty meetings.  They are included here so that other schools can benefit from our exploration of AFL.  We encourage you to feel free to use our Forums as you see fit.  Furthermore, please be encouraged to use the Forum feature to create your own interactive staff development discussions.  Don't look at this as just Salem's page - it belongs to all members.  This Network is for any educators interested in exploring AFL.  If your faculty has an assessment discussion on this Network it will only serve to benefit the rest of us.


As we have additional AFL Forum discussions at SHS we will add links to them to this post.  

  • 9/03/09 - The relationship between assessment and grading
  • 9/23/09 - Grading v. Assessment
  • 10/28/09 - An example of AFL - GPS
  • 1/13/10 - An example of AFL - Whiteboards
  • 3/10/10 - Results of AFL Survey
  • 5/12/10 - Plans for AFL Objective
  • 12/8/10 - Use AFL Rubric to set mid-year objective
  • 12/14/11 - Building a Culture of Failure
  • 3/23/12 - Homework
  • 10/24/12 - AFL Discussion Question: Non-graded assessment to make sure students understand content
  • 11/28/12 - AFL Discussion Question: Using a summative assessment for a formative purpose
  • 1/22/13 - AFL Discussion Question: Quick AFL-activities to use at the end of class
  • 11/12/14 - Pretend You're A Grade Coach
  • 2/25/15 - Standards Based Learning and the Inchworm
  • 2/24/16 - Using AFL/SBL to Analyze a Common Assessment Practice: Earning Points Back on a Test
  • 4/13/16 - Tools for the Standard 7 Teacher
  • 1/11/17 - Applying SBL Philosophy
  • 1/10/18 - Incorporating Assessment into Lesson Plans
  • 1/08/20 - Compensation, Consequences, and Compliance
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The Assessment Network has grown to the point where that it now contains many different examples of how the power of assessment can be maximized in the classroom. These ideas are scattered throughout the site. To make this site easier to navigate, this one blog will include links to all of the other classroom AFL examples. It's sort of like an AFL Wal-Mart - everything you need in one blog!


Please note that while these blog posts are grouped by content area, the vast majority of them can be used in any content area. So be sure to explore examples listed in content areas other than your own.
Also, please note that as more examples are added to this site, they will also be added to this blog.

Physical Education
General Examples
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The Philosophy of AFL

This AFL site has grown to the point where that it now contains many different blogs and discussion that get to the heart of the philosophy of AFL.  In order to most effectively implement AFL strategies into the classroom, it is helpful to have a strong understanding of the overall philosophy and goals behind AFL.  These ideas are scattered throughout the site. To make this site easier to navigate, this one blog will include links to all of the blogs and posts that deal with the philosophy of AFL.  

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Communicating AFL to Students and Parents

Many of the posts on this Ning have dealt with how to communicate with students and parents about AFL practices.  Let's face it, just like AFL concepts are new to many educators, they are definitely new to many students and parents.  It's important to properly communicate with students and parents so that they understand what we we're doing and why we're doing it.  This increases the likelihood that they will benefit from your AFL methods.


As additional resources for communicating AFL are added to the Ning, they will also be added to this blog.

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