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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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Rubrics are a great way to help students learn from their mistakes and to assess their own knowledge (#5 and #6 of the 6 Key AFL Ideas). In the typical high school setting, rubrics are most commonly used by English teachers to show students how they will be grading essays/papers. Other teachers will sometimes use them to show students how projects will be graded. Essentially these rubrics detail how the teacher breaks the assignment down into specific parts and then show how many points each part will be worth. While there is nothing wrong at all with using rubrics this way, I would like to describe an additional way to incorporate rubrics into the classroom. The use of a rubric is a highly effective and easy to apply AFL strategy. In fact, I would contend that rubrics could be implemented into any content area and any classroom. If you teach content or skills then a rubric then you can use a rubric. For just a moment forget about using a rubric as a way to show a student how he or she will be graded. Instead, think of a rubric as an overview of the key knowledge/skills that you will be teaching during a set period of time – whether it’s a month-long, week-long, or even single-day unit. In this model, students are given the rubric – the overview of content – at the beginning of the unit. At regular intervals – perhaps daily, perhaps every other day, perhaps every ½ hour – students are given an opportunity to look over either the entire rubric or a portion of it and use it to assess their understanding. Students will look over the portion of the rubric to which the teacher directs them and will then rate themselves in one of three categories: 1. Category 1 – Content the student knows/understands and will not forget 2. Category 2 – Content about which the student has questions 3. Category 3 – Content the student still doesn’t know One of the nice side benefits of using a rubric in this manner is that it helps the teacher stay focused on what is most important. Especially with a young teacher or with a teacher who is teaching a specific unit or class for the first time, it is very easy to get sidetracked. Sometimes the content plays itself out over the course of teaching the unit. Often by the end of a unit a teacher might look back and realize that the core content had not received the appropriate level of focus as compared to some less-essential knowledge. By creating a rubric that students get at the very beginning of the unit and by then referencing that rubric throughout the unit, the teacher will be more likely to focus on the key content and to create graded assessments based on that key content. As students assess their understanding along the way, they become more aware of what they do and don’t know. Awareness of what one doesn’t know is a major step toward learning something. When it comes time to study for a summative assessment, the rubric becomes an excellent study guide. Students have rated their knowledge of the content and can spend their time focusing on the lower-rated items. While it is common for a teacher to hand a study guide to a student, it is less common - and much more effective - if a student has a personalized study guide that they have created and of which they have a sense of ownership. So what might such a rubric look like? Below is an example of how a rubric that follows this model might be used in a World History class that is learning about World War One:

(Click on the above image to download a pdf version of the rubric.)
Below is an example of how a rubric that follows this model might be used in a senior-level English class that is reading The Freedom Writers (thanks to Cammie Smith for her help on this one):

(Click on the above image to download a pdf version of the rubric.)
Helpful Hints:
  • The teacher will have to guide/train students about how to use the rubric in this manner. Don’t expect magic the first time.
  • This will work best if the teacher provides class time for the students to use their rubrics.
  • The teacher might want to keep the rubrics in the classroom so that they do not get lost. Students might not take them home until the night before a large test/quiz/graded assignment.
  • Be very explicit with your students about the purpose of the rubric. Don’t let this become just another "thing". This could be yet another worksheet provided by a teacher but not effectively used by students. Instead help your students view self-assessment as a core learning strategy and something that they can apply to future classes/learning. Help them view the rubric as a key to success.
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New Terminology: Scoring v. Grading

After studying Assessment FOR Learning pretty intensely for the past few school years, I am now beginning to think that we might do ourselves a favor if we would change some of our terminology.  Specifically, I think it's time to stop using the words "grading" or "grade" as often as we do and replace them - at times - with "scoring" or "score".


You don't have to go very far down the AFL road to realize that traditional grading practices often get in the way of our attempts to use AFL strategies.  Traditional grade books and grading strategies typically average together all of a student's grades for the grading period to determine a final grade.  Therefore, practice assignments such as homework and classwork will have an impact on the student's grade.  Since the concept of assigning lots of practice so that students and teachers can receive the feedback necessary to increase learning is central to AFL (see Heart of AFL), averaging practice grades into a student's overall grade becomes obviously problematic.  What if the additional practice helps a student learn but also lowers the student's grade?  The natural reaction to this problem is for teachers to feel that they should not grade practice assignments.  For more on this topic see:

So the philosophy of AFL naturally leads to teachers feeling as though they should not grade practice assignments.  This is where Newton's third law of motion comes into play: "To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction."  When students realize that some things are graded and some things are not, they react by asking before most assignments, "Is this going to be graded?"  Implied in their question is the idea that if the answer is "Yes" then they will work harder than if the answer is "No".  As a result, teachers are reluctant to not grade assignments - even if they agree with the philosophy of practice assignments not lowering a grade - for fear that students won't work hard and, therefore, won't learn as much. 


So we're left with a quandary.  We don't want to let practice impact the student's final grade but we want students to work on each assignment as though their final grade depended on it.  Part of this quandary is of our own making.  As explored previously in What we WANT students to do v. What we TRAIN students to do, we wish that students worked for the love of learning but we then use points and grades as a Sea World trainer uses a fish.  It's difficult to argue that students should not be motivated by grades when we, in turn, use grades as motivators.  We have to find a new way.  Perhaps our new AFL philosophy requires some new terminology.


What would happen if we started "scoring" all assignments and "grading" only a few?  The term "grading" implies the following:

  1. The teacher will assess how well the student did on the assignment.
  2. The student will receive feedback on well they have mastered the content.
  3. The grade will go into the grade book to be used to help determine the student's final grade.
In most classrooms, "grading" is the only tool the teacher has - or uses - for providing feedback.  There is an old adage that describes this problem: "When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail."  


"Scoring" could be the new tool needed to help us out of our quandary.  The difference between scoring and grading is in implication #3 from the list above.  Both scoring and grading provide the teacher with feedback and both provide the student with feedback.  However, a score on an assignment may or may not be used by the teacher to determine the final grade.  Here's how I envision scoring working in a typical AFL classroom:

  1. The teacher assigns practice everyday.
  2. The teacher provides feedback on all practice.  While this feedback is often provided very informally, the majority of feedback given formally is in the form of a score.
  3. The score looks very similar to a grade.
  4. The score goes into the grade book.
  5. The students understand up front that the teacher will be looking over all of a student's scores - and grades - to determine what the appropriate final grade is for the student.  While graded assignments are the few that will definitely count toward the final grade, they will be much fewer in number than the scored assignments.  Rather than being tied down to averaging all graded assignments, the teacher who uses scoring will now be able to study the evidence and arrive at the most appropriate final grade.

The point here is that every score counts toward helping the teacher determine a grade.  When students ask, "Is this graded," what they really means is, "Does this count?"  With scoring, the answer to that question is:

"Yes, it counts.  Everything counts.  As the teacher, I will be analyzing ALL the evidence - just like a good detective - before arriving at a conclusion (your grade).  How it counts could be different for each of you, depending on how you perform, but ALL assignments count."

Scoring satisfies our desire to be AFL-ish:

  • teachers receive feedback
  • students receive feedback
  • practice doesn't have to lower - or overly inflate - the final grade

At the same time, scoring doesn't entice students to fall into the trap of only working "when it counts."


What do you think?


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The 2 x 10 Method: Building Student Relationships One Kid at a Time

January 10th, 2011, By: Diane Trim in Articles, Classroom Management

This has been reposted from Inside the School. Click here to read it in its original location.

In a recent online seminar with school psychologist Dr. Allen Mendler, Mendler talked about the 2 x 10 method of connecting with students, especially tough students. Here’s what he suggested:

Take two minutes a day for 10 consecutive days to engage the student in personal conversation.

I haven’t tried this myself, but I can see how this 2 x 10 method would work well to improve classroom management. Personal connections are so important to learning. If a student knows the teacher cares, the student is more likely to be engaged in class. If the teacher and student have created a personal bond, it’s harder for either one to depersonalize and disrespect one another.

The two minutes need to be personal and not about math, science, or business communications. What did you do over the weekend? is always a good start. So are: Did you catch last night’s game? What do you think about the new movie? Could you recommend a video game my son might enjoy? The conversation should be about the student, not about the teacher. Listen and learn. Respond. Smile. Treat the kid as if she is the most interesting kid in the room.

If I were to use the 2 x 10 method, I’d first target my influential student leaders – the ones who are more likely to lead the class in mayhem, like Tim or Ashley, rather than those who edit the yearbook, like Charisse or Karen.Charisse and Karen already tell me all about their weekends and show me their yearbook layouts. They connect with everyone. Tim and Ashley connect with their peers just fine, but love to strengthen the us-versus-them students-versus-teachers mentality.

It might be an interesting experiment to use 2 x 10 on the student leader’s buddy first rather than approach Tim or Matt head on. Clint feels more approachable to me than Tim does; at least he’s more predictable. Hannah is less likely to be fashionably rude to me than Ashley. Winning over the best friends could be a good first step to winning over the student leaders.

I’d also use the 2 x 10 method on those kids who are hard to reach, like Aaron, who doesn’t come to class very often, or Kurt, who rarely puts pen to paper.

I’m sure that the 2 x 10 method isn’t a miracle cure for classroom management. But I have two minutes to strengthen a bond between myself and a student. One caring adult can make a huge difference in a student’s life. And maybe, my two minutes over 10 days will yield benefits beyond the personal connection: improved classroom management and more student learning.

Allen N. Mendler, PhD, is an educator, psychologist., and author. His most recent book published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Connecting with Students (2001), provides numerous practical strategies that help educators to connect effectively with their students. He can-be contacted at: Discipline Associates, phone: 1 /800/772-5227; fax: 773/549-6515; e-mail:; Web site:

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Can AFL strategies impact student behavior?

The simple answer to the title question is "Yes".  If you're just interested in the simple answer, then you can stop reading.  If you'd like more details, read on.


I'm going to share a specific example of how AFL can be used to impact student behavior; however, first I'd like to take a look at the topic from a philosophical standpoint.  We should start by reminding ourselves why it is that AFL helps students learn content.  AFL practices help students learn because as a result of regular/daily assessments:

  • Students receive feedback on their progress,
  • Students are trained how to use that feedback to guide their own learning,
  • Teachers receive feedback on how effectively they are teaching, and
  • Teachers use that feedback to guide their teaching.


Those first two bullets are especially important.  When students are given the proper feedback and the tools to use that feedback, then the potential increases for them to take control of their learning.  AFL demands that we move beyond simply assigning grades and on to providing feedback that will guide students toward learning - which in turn leads to grades.


When AFL strategies are not present, students are more inclined to view a grade as something that a teacher assigns - instead of something that they have earned.  In other words, there is less ownership of a grade.  The grade is an external stimulus.  For some students - those internally motivated to do well - the external stimulus is a great reward.  But for those not internally motivated to excel, the external stimulus usually does not have the desired effect.   When AFL is practiced properly, students gain greater ownership over their grades because the focus becomes more internal as students are trained to guide their own learning.  Could this also apply to behavior?  


For many of our students - especially those inclined to misbehave - good behavior is something that the teacher makes happen by repeatedly requiring students to behave.  The stimulus or reinforcement for these students is completely external.  We tell them to do better, to sit still , to participate properly, to pay attention, to ask questions, and to behave.  We continue to apply external reinforcement and hope that eventually they comply.  This method is not without merit, but wouldn't it be better if we could somehow move from all external to at least some internal motivation?


The Salem High School freshman team of Emily Herndon, Mark Ingerson, Wes Lester, and Jason Sells is trying to do just that.  So far they are reporting a fairly high level of success.  Here's what they have done:

  • A student who is identified as having behavior problems in class meets with the team of teachers to discuss their behaviors.
  • Those students receive an Academic Self-Reporting Form and the team of teachers teaches the student how to use the form.
  • The student then begins rating him or herself in class each day with a possible high score each day of 24 points per class period.
  • The student shares his or her self-rating with the teacher on at least a weekly basis.


So can this actually work?  Is it actually possible to get students to assess themselves and then make behavioral decisions based on that assessment?  So far, it is working.  Here are a few anecdotes shared with me by the teachers on that team. (Note: student names have been changed.)

  •  John: All year, John has been one of the worst students in all of our classes. However, now that he uses the self-reporting form he has improved dramatically. He has the form on his desk and looks at it throughout class. One of the parts of the chart is participation in class. Prior to using the form, John NEVER participated in any classes, but now he looks for opportunities everyday to share or answer questions. He knows that he regularly fails quizzes in the class but he wants to be able to put a good grade on his form.  Now when he puts that quiz grade on the form he is really proud, and works hard to do even better on quizzes. He now comes outside of class to get help - which he never did before. We really stressed that he needs to be honest with himself and his scores and he takes it seriously. 
  • Jake: Jake exhibits very poor classroom behaviors. His mom met with us and we went over the chart with her and Jack. She loved it and asked us to send it back to her on Fridays. It helps her know how her son is truly behaving.  One day in English, Jake had a rough day. Mrs. Herndon had him fill out the chart. She reminded him, "Be honest." He ranked himself a 4 out of 24 possible points. He hung his head and said to Mrs. Herndon, "Tomorrow is going to be a better day."
  • Josh: Josh is a boy with whom we have had a lot of trouble this year.  Josh saw another student filling out a form and  said, "Hey, what is that sheet? I think that would help me." He has just started the sheet, but we were very excited that he knew it was something that could help him focus, an issue with which he has had trouble. 
We'll see how this goes as the year progresses, but my hunch is that it will have great success - especially since four teachers are reinforcing the practice.  Could you use a practice like this to help your students internalize their behavioral decisions?  Feedback is powerful.  It allows students to take ownership of their studies and increase learning.  It also allows students to take ownership of their behavior and improve their learning.
An example of the Academic Self-Reporting Form can be found below and a pdf version can be downloaded here:




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Ideas for AFL/SBL Exit Slips

One of the most common types of assessments used in the AFL classroom is the Exit Slip.  AFL teachers find this type of feedback helpful as they assess how successful their lessons are, as they gather data for differentiation purposes, and as they seek to better meet student needs.

The following picture is one used by a teacher at Salem High School.  She actually found it on Pinterest - one of the world's great educational resource depositories for sure!  Take a look at the exit slip and then scroll down to see more about how it is used.


Notice how this exit slip gives students very direct guidance as to what feedback they should leave.  Typically, this will lead to more productive and useful information than an open-ended question will.  Also, notice the Standards Based component of this specific exit slip.  Students are asked to rate/evaluate themselves on what is essentially a 1-4 scale.  This is helpful for moving students away from purely looking at progress in terms of the accumulation of points for the numerator and instead to thinking in terms of mastery.  However, you will need to train them on what the terms mean.  Below are descriptions of novice, apprentice, practitioner, and expert that need to be taught to students.  Once taught these terms, it would make sense for students to be asked to use them for many types of assessments.


Finally, here's an idea for how you could collect the Exit Slips.  Take a look at the picture below.  By having students place their Exit Slip into the appropriate folder, the teacher saves time gathering data on how the class as a whole is doing.

Note: The terms used on the Board below are different from those used on the Exit Slip above.  The pictures did not come from the same source.  However, the concepts align well.


So what do you think?  How could you apply these concepts and ideas to your classroom?  Are you already doing something similar?  What have you found works well or doesn't work well?  Have you made modifications to improve the practice?

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This past year I was asked to lead a workshop on the topic of Assessment FOR Learning for a school division's teachers.   

Teachers, tired from a long and full day of teaching/wrestling with children, filed into an auditorium for the "wonderful opportunity" of hearing me speak for about an hour and a half on the topic of formative assessment.  

The topic of grading came up - as it always does when talking about assessment - and a teacher asked a question about how she could get students to do work if grades weren't used as compensation.  It's hard to answer that question very completely in a short workshop, and frankly that really wasn't the point of the workshop.  The workshop's focus was on using assessment as a learning tool.  Grading is a related topic, though.

I invited the questioner to email me so that we could have a more detailed discussion.  She did just that.  Here was her email:

I don't feel like you really answered my friend's question about what to do with students who habitually turn in work late or not at all, if grades can't be used for enforcement.  You said you had lots of solutions for that, and I'd love to hear them. I follow you that grades should reflect learning, UNTIL you say that we can't deduct points for work not submitted. I don't have any idea how I'd get them to ever complete work at all if that were the case.  You mentioned using a day to make the slackers catch up while the rest of the class did something else.  If I started that, I will guarantee you that the kids would very quickly learn that there would be such a day, and NO ONE would complete work until the "catch-up day."  That's also not to mention the mountain of work that would create for the teacher, who would have to constantly grade make-up work.  Would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

This - or something like it - is a commonly asked question by teachers as they begin to explore the ramifications of formative assessment practices.  Below, in bold, is my response.  It's rather lengthy, but it's hard to answer a question like this in a few words.  

I'd love any feedback.  Got any ideas for things I should have added?

Dear ___________________,

Thanks for following up with an email.  While I don't pretend I can answer every question someone might have, I hate the thought of knowingly leaving people a little lost.
If, after reading this response, you'd like to talk more and in greater detail, let's have a phone conversation.  My number is 540-389-2610.  We could definitely schedule a time to talk.  I have given your email some thought and have embedded my replies in bold within it.
I don't feel like you really answered my friend's question about what to do with students who habitually turn in work late or not at all, if grades can't be used for enforcement.  You said you had lots of solutions for that, and I'd love to hear them.
I'm not sure if I said I had "solutions" for handling late work or not doing work.  That would ultimately involve solving some of the deeper problems of humanity :)  But I can suggest ways one can go about structuring a class to make sure that the grade represents learning even if students don't do all the assignments we ask them to do.  For more ideas, though, I would suggest reading The Power of ICU.
I follow you that grades should reflect learning,
Good - this is the key point.  All other ideas should be based off this.  It's what policy says and it's what right.  We're hired to teach kids and the assigned final grade for a course should reflect what they've learned.  Keep this in mind as well - the assigned final grade, if it reflects learning, also reflects how well we've taught.  In other words, if we're able to get a student to demonstrate "B" level learning (whatever that is exactly) but then report that they have a C, we're really downgrading ourselves.
UNTIL you say that we can't deduct points for work not submitted. 
If you heard me say you can't deduct points for work not submitted, then I didn't communicate clearly enough.  I would tell a teacher to deduct points for whatever he or she finds "point worthy."  However, the final grade assigned must represent learning - not lateness, neatness, etc.
Work not submitted - if the work is necessary to evaluate learning- should never be ignored.  A zero lets a student off the hook.  If the student cared about the zero he would have done the work to begin with.  The stricter or tougher stance - the one that actually teaches responsibility as opposed to just holding students accountable for irresponsibility - is to assign an I or incomplete and then require the student to do the work.
If you have children of your own, think about how you handle them when they don't do something you asked them to do.  You don't just "take off points" and move on or give them a zero.  That would let them off the hook.  Instead, you make them do what you asked them to do.  That's how one teaches responsibility.
Now, about responsibility.  I imagine that your school system hired you to teach a specific set of skills or content.  When it comes to instruction, assessment, and grading, your responsibility is to get kids to master that content or that instruction.  It's worth analyzing what we do in light of that mandate.  Are my steps and actions and decisions helping students learn the content and skills I was charged to teach?
That's what AFL is all about.  First and foremost, when we assess students it is to help them learn - not to collect points for determining a grade.
That leads us to the topic of students not doing the practice we assign.  The norm in education tends to be to grade that practice.  If students don't do it, they receive a zero. That zero is then averaged in with other assignments to determine a final grade.  One justification educators give for this practice is the desire to teach students responsibility.  Let's look at that a little closer:
  1. As stated earlier, this isn't how we teach our own children responsibility.  Why would it work any differently in the classroom?
  2. The fact that teachers across the country have been using this method for decades and yet the problem never seems to get better seems to be all the evidence we should need for determining that this practice does not teach responsibility.
  3. If the grade is supposed to reflect knowledge, then we know we are falsifying the final grade if we allow late points, zeros, and the like to be averaged in.  
  4. It's hard to justify knowingly falsifying a grade.  It really hurts our credibility when someone challenges the grade we assign.  We can say, "it's what they earned," but we know it's not really true.  It's what we decided to assign since we determined the rules, the points, the time frame, etc.  
It's really hard to justify a practice that we know doesn't work and that we know falsifies grades.
Another point to consider: We sometimes wrongly correlate DOING assigned work and COMPLYING with directions with LEARNING content.  Are there students who don't need to to do all the assignments we give in order to learn?  As educators, we get to make the rules of the class and set the expectations.  We sometimes then mistakenly decide that the only way to be responsible is to follow those rules.  If we're honest, though, in many cases the rules of responsibility are completely arbitrary.  They're aren't necessarily the same as other teachers of the same subject, they're made up by us, and they aren't required by some higher power.  
Sometimes it's as if we think our expectations came down from the mountain after being divinely chiseled in stone and forget that they're the rules we made up.  If those rules aren't working or if those rules don't work with all children or if those rules get in the way of our grades representing learning, then we need to consider changing them.
Many of the assignments we give and the corresponding grades really end up being grades for compliance.  Are we positive that the assignments we have given are the EXACT right assignments needed by each child in order to learn?  How can we be when the teacher next door who teaches the same content gives different assignments?
If we're completely honest, there are many cases when a student not doing the work we assign isn't really an issue of responsibility or of learning.  Instead, it is an issue of compliance with the way we think things should be.  (Or it is an issue of a family and personal circumstances that make completing certain assignments highly unlikely.)
I have never encountered a school division that asks teachers to assign final grades that represent a student's level of compliance.
I don't have any idea how I'd get them to ever complete work at all if that were the case.  You mentioned using a day to make the slackers catch up while the rest of the class did something else.  If I started that, I will guarantee you that the kids would very quickly learn that there would be such a day, and NO ONE would complete work until the "catch-up day."  That's also not to mention the mountain of work that would create for the teacher, who would have to constantly grade make-up work.
Really?  If given a choice between missing out on an exciting enriching activity - or maybe even a field day type experience - and sitting in a classroom doing school work that should have been done last week, your students would choose the latter?  That seems highly unlikely to me based on my experiences with young people around the country.  
I'd also ask you to describe what type of work we're talking about.  If it's classwork then they better be doing when you tell them to do it or it's a behavioral issue and it's time to involve parents and administration.  If it's homework, then perhaps they just won't get as much practice as the other students.
I'm not going to pretend that I know exactly how you should handle the situation.  I don't know what you teach; I don't know your students; I don't know what your schedule is like; I don't know what resources you have in your school - and I definitely do not know the answer to every question.  Here are some things to consider, though:
  1. Do deducted points and zeros - which definitely do provide parents and students with accurate feedback on how well a student is doing or what they have/haven't done - HAVE to count into an average at the end?  In other words, can you act as a detective looking for evidence as to what a child has mastered and then use all evidence gathered to determine how best to denote that level of mastery?  A student does or doesn't do X,Y,Z.  When it's all said and done, you could review all the evidence and then decide what helps you determine each individual student's level of mastery.  For some students, what they did on homework might really help you see what they know - maybe even better than the test does.  For others, the test might be the best indicator and the homework really doesn't tell you much.
  2. Are you assigning points to assignments in the best possible manner?  For example, if a test was worth 10,000 points while homework was worth 10 the issue of mastery (IF the test was the best indicator of mastery) would take care of itself.  I know that sounds crazy to suggest because we're so used to assignments not counting more than 100 points, but I think we can get outside the box a little.  Why do assignments not go over 100?  Who says that's the ceiling?  Let's make things worth whatever they need to be worth to result in a grade that represents mastery.
  3. Can weighting help?  Perhaps a category of formative assessments or practice assignments could be weighted a small percentage.  Daily assignments, homework, classwork - or whatever appropriate - could be added to this category, while assignments that better measure mastery could go into a summative category that had a very large percentage.  
  4. Can retakes and retests be built into the very fabric of the course instead of being something "extra" required of the teacher?  I know many teachers who assess on topic A, and then 2 weeks later assess it again, and then 4 weeks later assess it again, and then 8 weeks later assess it again.  This isn't "extra" - it's a vital part of the learning process.  Too often teachers teach something and then later in the year when they review it seems as though the students remember nothing.  People don't learn by covering something once and then months later - or longer - reviewing it.  We learn by repetition.  The beauty of the built-in retake/retest method is it allows you to let current progress outweigh or replace past scores AND it leads to better learning.
  5. Stop and think about the work we're asking students to complete.  Why are we asking them to complete it?  IF it's practice (and I realize not all of it is), AND they don't do it, doesn't it stand to reason that they won't do as well on the test or summative assessment?  If so, why would that be any less of a deterrent than taking off points on the practice assignments?  Does that make sense?  If we're trying to use points as a motivator, then why not use the points on the summative assessment as the motivator?  Then if someone wants to retake that you can say, "Sure, but first you have to go back and do all the practice."  Of course, if you have a built-in retake process you can say, "Do such and such to practice and you'll have a retake coming up next week."
  6. Could there be other rewards besides points?  If so, then you could perhaps find a better way to get students to do the work you want them to do.  I don't know your grade level or type of student, so it's hard to suggest a specific, but I have found something like a Blow Pop or candy bar often motivates students as much as points.
  7. I know you said a make up day of some sort wouldn't work - but are you positive?  If the work is that important, then making them do it might warrant altering your schedule.  After all, if doing the work will cause them to learn better then you'll be rewarded for doing so by increasing the learning of your students.  Of course, if the work doesn't help them learn then it's probably not worth it - and if the work doesn't help them learn, then it might not have been worth assigning.
  8. Can technology help you?  Could using Interactive Achievement, Moodle, Quia, IXL or some other electronic assessment tool make more frequent assessment a more successful and less stressful practice for you?
Do points serve as a motivator?  The answer is "yes" for some students and "no" for others.  
Using an external motivator for someone who is not motivated by the external motivator doesn't make a lot of sense.  Teachers have been frustrated forever by students not appreciating the fact that teachers are trying to motivate with points.  To keep doing something over and over again but expecting different results is a recipe for burnout.  
Other students are motivated by points - which makes many traditional practices work better. But.....  do we really want them to be motivated by points?  Learning content and skills is more important than collecting points to increase a numerator - right?  However, as long we stay in an "average-everything-together-world" we will continue to encourage kids to put points and grades over learning.  We have to be the brave ones who lead the migration away from the pedagogically-inappropriate practice of turning learning into point accumulation.
Grade books like PowerTeacher definitely make it difficult to leave this world of averaging behind, but we can't be satisfied to be ruled by the grade book.  The theoretical and potential end result warrants us playing with ways to manipulate a grade book in such a manner that learning is reflected and learning is encouraged.  
Would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.
An almost final thought - grades should be communication of learning not compensation for what was or wasn't done.  Grading is secondary to learning.  There is no need to inflate grades.  There is a need to inflate learning.  AFL practices will inflate learning.  The grade assigned should then be an accurate depiction of that learning.
A true final thought - don't forget - the real point is to use assessment to increase learning because the overall goal is to increase learning.  Let grading be secondary.  Don't go into a lesson plan thinking about how many points something will be worth.  Think, "How can I engage students with this content and then assess as to whether or not they 'got it?'"  IF learning is the primary focus - IF students are being regularly assessed - IF you're using assessment feedback to guide your instruction - IF students are being trained to use assessment feedback to guide their learning - and IF you desire for grades to reflect the final result of learning - THEN over time the details will begin to take care of themselves.  
I know I typed a ton, and I hope it was helpful.  Give me a call at the number I gave you above and we can discuss it in more detail.  I'd really like to help you work through this, and I'm very glad you took the time to ask me about it.
Take Care!
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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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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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Educators exploring ways to practice AFL in their classrooms will often find some parents and students a little confused as to exactly why teachers are doing what they're doing.  Unfortunately, over the years schools have conditioned people to view grades as summative in nature.  Many parents and students do not understand how to use feedback from a score or grade in part because they have not been given the opportunity to do so.  The feedback they received wasn't formative - it wasn't provided as a way to guide learning but as a way to determine a final grade.  The AFL practitioner, though, understands that students need to use feedback to guide and improve their learning.  Therefore, the AFL practitioner must be very explicit and intentional in how he or she trains students to use feedback and in how he or she communicates with parents about classroom expectations.


Recently, Jenn Shannon, a math teacher at Salem High School, shared with me an email she sent home to parents about one of her AFL practices.  I think it's a great example of intentional communication intended to educate parents about how AFL practices can help their children learn.  With her permission, here is a copy of that email:


Dear Parents/Guardians
I gave each student a rubric on Tuesday to help them self-evaluate how they are progressing in the given unit.  We have worked on filling in the rubric during class, but I encourage you to ask your student to see their rubric.  Students know that they should be striving to have mastery in each area on the rubric by Tuesday, November 1 (test day!) 
 I have attached a copy of what this rubric looks like and how they are assessing themselves. 
I hope that this rubric encourages the students to take responsibility for their learning, as well as provides them a tangible way to know whether or not they are really prepared for their test.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.



I believe that we all have something to learn from a simple email like this.  Let's not underestimate the potential benefits of involving parents by communicating with them very directly.


On top of being a great example of AFL communication, Mrs. Shannon's rubric is also a great example of how to get students to assess themselves.  It's very similar to Anika Armistead's use of a science review sheet as it lets students know up front what they will be required to know and then gives them a means to assess their progress.  Here is a copy of Jenn's rubric in case you would like to use it in your classroom as well:


PDF version of Rubric11148392473?profile=original

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Response to a Parent (from Rick Wormeli)

There's no other way to put it...  This is good stuff!

As schools and teachers adopt the philosophies of Assessment FOR Learning, it's only natural that grading practices will begin to change. (Click here for more info on grading as it relates to AFL.)  We need to realize that some of those changes will seem strange to some of the parents of our students.  It's important that we can articulate why we make the grading decisions we do.

Rick Wormeli has composed an excellent and thoughtful response to concerns a parent had about grading practices that reflect the philosophy of AFL and Standards Based Grading.  This response is recommended reading for all teachers. Not only will it prepare you to respond to people in your community who might question your practices, it might also help you explain to colleagues who are confused by such practices as well.

Click on the following link to read Rick's response:

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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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Rick Wormeli on Redos and Retakes

If you considering how to make (or if you should make) redos and retakes a part of your classroom, you really need to spend some time listening/reading Rick Wormeli's thoughts on the subject.  He has a knack for combining the philosophical and the practical.  Here are some of his thoughts copied from an article he wrote in Ed Leadership back in November 2011.  A link to the entire article is included at the end:

When it comes to deciding whether to allow a student to redo an assignment or assessment, consider the alternative—to let the student settle for work done poorly, ensuring that he or she doesn't learn the content. Is this really the life lesson we want to teach? Is it really academically better for the student to remain ignorant?

This practice is not acceptable. To be adequately prepared for college and career, students need to learn the content and skills that society identifies as important. Whether a student was initially irresponsible or responsible, moral or immoral, cognitively ready or not is irrelevant to the supreme goal: learning.

There are far more effective strategies for teaching responsibility than to simply label a student as immature and deny that student learning.

14 Practical Tips for Managing Redos in the Classroom

  1. Ask students who redo assignments to submit the original attempt with the new one and to write a brief letter comparing the two. What is different, and what did they learn as a result of redoing the work?
  2. Reserve the right to give alternative versions of the assessment if you think students will simply memorize a correct answer pattern or set of math answers. Don't be afraid to make the redone versions more demanding.
  3. Announce to students and parents that redos are permitted at teacher discretion. This means that students and parents may not take the redo option for granted.
  4. Require students to submit a plan of relearning and to provide evidence of that relearning before work can be redone. This includes creating a calendar in which students list day-by-day what they will do to prepare.
  5. If a student doesn't follow through on the relearning steps he or she promises to do, ask the student to write a letter of apology to you and to his or her family for breaking the trust.
  6. Require parents to sign the original, poorly done versions of assignments so they're aware that their children have required multiple attempts to achieve the standard. (If there is neglect or abuse in the home, of course, remove this requirement.)
  7. After two or three redo attempts, consider shelving the push for mastery of this content for a few weeks. Either the student is not ready to reach the standard, or we're not creative enough to figure out how to teach him or her. Take a break and pursue this content in a later unit of study.
  8. If the same student repeatedly asks for redos, something's wrong. The content is not developmentally appropriate, there are unseen issues at home, or perhaps there's an undiagnosed learning disability. Investigate.
  9. Choose your battles. Push hard for students to redo anything associated with the most important curriculum standards and less so with work associated with less important standards.
  10. Allow students who get Cs and Bs to redo work just as much as students who earn Ds and Fs. Why stand in the way of a student who wants to achieve excellence?
  11. If report cards are coming up and there's no time to redo something to change the grade, report the lower grade and assure the student that he or she can learn the material the next marking period. If the student demonstrates improved mastery, submit a grade change report reflecting the new, more accurate grade.
  12. For the sake of personal survival, you may choose not to allow any retakes or redos the last week of the marking period as you're closing down the grade book and doing report cards. For eight weeks, you're Mr. or Ms. Hopeful, but for that one week, it's OK to protect your sanity and personal life. You can allow students to learn the material and have their grade changed later.
  13. Replace the previous grade or mark with the most recent one; don't average the two attempts together. The A that a student earns on his fifth attempt at mastery is just as legitimate as the Aearned by his classmate on the first attempt.
  14. Unless an assessment is complex and interwoven, allow students to redo just the portions on which they performed poorly, not the entire assessment. (To assist with this, consider standards-based grading on your assessments; record the standards or outcomes being assessed at the top of the assessment and provide a separate score for each standard.) Separating standards in this way saves time for both the teacher and the students. Some redos can be a 10-minute interview at the teacher's desk while the rest of the class works on something else.

Source Article:

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A Sports Analogy for Assessment

On page 96 of the book "A Repair Kit for Grading", the author (Ken O'Connor) draws a useful
analogy between performance-based assessment and a band or a sports team:

"It is critical that both teachers and students recognize when assessment is primarily for learning (formative) and when it is primarily of learning (summative). Students understand this in band and in sports, when practice is clearly identified and separate from an actual performance or game."

If we follow this analogy, then the final exam for a unit and/or course becomes the big game for
the sports team. If you are training basketball players, don't you think that the best way to test their abilities is to have them play a game? In this way the coach sets out the big game as the final exam, and in the same way all of the activities that lead up to that game are meant to help the players prepare for that game.

The diagnostic assessment is an initial activity that puts students in a simulated game to see what their strengths and weaknesses are. Once they have been identified, the formative assessments are the practice sessions that help students refine specific technical skills, build leadership skills, raise stamina and work on team building, all necessary for each player to perform at his/her best and for the team to win.

Note that in this case,

• All of the players clearly understand what is expected of them by the time the big game comes

• All of them understand what their individual and collective strengths and weaknesses are and are motivated to improve their skills in order to support the team.

• The coach wants the players to do their best and pushes the players to practice hard so they can do so.

• The team knows that the practices don't give them points in the final game, and for that reason its the game that counts and not the practices, although the more they practice the better they will play in the game. After the big game, the team evaluates its performance, draws up new strategies to improve and starts practicing again.

Designing a multi-stage, complex performance task as the final exam allows teachers to identify
all of the discrete skills students will need to perform well at the end so they can be practiced in low-stakes situations, tried out in scrimmage games and practiced again so that everybody feels ready for the big game. This movement back and forth between instruction and applying, between drilling discrete skills and performance of the whole task is what helps students learn well. It also helps them learn to learn, which is a capacity that comes in handy as the students take on further personal and academic responsibilities.

Although teachers don't give the same or similar tests more than once as coaches do, we do teach more complex skills that build on what students had to learn for the previous exam. In this way the capacities teachers aim to develop in our students by the end of the semester or year are complex and broad.

This analogy has provided me with a variety of new perspectives on assessment as well as some criteria to evaluate my own assessment strategies. I have become a better teacher by practicing this concept and I hope it gives others some valuable insight too.

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Using a Review Sheet in an AFL Manner

Over the past several school years as our school and division have focused on Assessment FOR Learning as a primary professional development topic, I have consistently noticed the following:

When I witness or hear about an excellent and highly effective teaching practice, essential components of Assessment FOR Learning are present.

 I know that might sound like too absolute a claim to be true, and perhaps I've witnessed some exceptions that I am currently forgetting, but it really seems to be the case.  At least some amount of what I have dubbed "The Heart of AFL" - frequent assessments, teachers using feedback to guide instruction, students using feedback to guide learning, and grading systems that allow practice to count as practice - seems to show up in every excellent teaching practice I see.

Recently I was in a meeting in which a group of teachers and a counselor were talking about a student's progress with that student's parent.  The teachers were explaining to the parent how their classes worked and what the student could do to be successful.  Anika Armistead, a Science teacher at Salem High School, explained to the parent that at the beginning of each unit she gives her students a test review.  Throughout the course of the unit, she has students assess their progress.  At least theoretically, by the time the test finally rolls around the students should have a personalized study guide as a result of the feedback they have given themselves.

Here's an example of the type of study guide Mrs. Armistead gives her students:



You probably noticed that this test review looks pretty much like a typical test review that could be or has been used in classrooms for years.  If you noticed this, you are exactly right.  You might remember from earlier discussionson this Ning that AFL-ishness doesn't depend on what type of assignment you give.  AFL-ishness instead depends on how you use the assignments you give.  This is a perfect example of how something as ordinary as a test review can be used in an AFL-ish manner.  And when essential AFL components are present - in this case, students using feedback to guide their learning and a grading system that allows practice to be used as practice - excellent teaching takes place.

Read below for Mrs. Armistead's personal account of how and why she uses test reviews in this manner:


A few years ago, I decided to create review sheets for each test.  I taught the unit, then a day or two before the test, I handed out the review sheet for the students to complete, check their answers, and ask for clarification on topics they weren't sure about.  Some students caught on that the review sheets could really help them, but others didn't and still scored poorly.

 Last year while I was out on leave, I got to thinking about how I could make these review sheets more useful for my students.  My review sheets were designed to show my students exactly what I expected them to know for the final assessment.  So I decided that I shouldn't wait until test time to let them know my expectations.  This year, I'm giving each student a copy of the review sheet at the start of the chapter.

I remind my students that the review sheet will not be collected, nor will it be graded.  I have heard this comment several times, "Then why should I do it?"  I've found that students often decide not to complete an assignment unless there's a grade attached to it.  I tell my students that the review sheet is their time to practice and that they will get the chance to prove what they know on the test that will be graded.  I know that some students won't complete the review sheet, but I'm not going to change something good for the few who decide not to take advantage of the chance to tailor their studying. 

When I give out the review sheet, I remind my students to use this to their advantage.  I recommend reading over the questions to see what the students already know.  As we progress through the unit, I periodically ask the students to pull out the review sheet.  I ask that students complete a section in class (like a chart or diagram) as a way to review something covered the day before, or I write on the board the numbers to the questions the students should be able to answer at that point in the unit.  

I tell them to try to answer the questions without using any notes or outside help the first go round.  I tell them that if they can easily answer a question, then don't spend too much time studying something they already know.  I also tell them that if they don't know the answer to a question, then they need to circle or star that question as one that needs more of their attention.  

By using this process, I want my students to see that by tailoring the review sheet to their needs that they will find how to best use their time.  Overall, they need to focus on the stuff they don't know (the circled or starred items) and just do a quick review of the material that they already know.  

Students are welcome to ask questions about the review sheet at any time.  For these questions, I try to guide the students to the correct answer without giving them the answer directly.  As we near the end of the unit, I let the students know that they should have the review sheet completed by a particular date, usually a day or two before the test.  At that time, I go over the answers with the class to make sure everyone has the correct answers to study.  I remind them again to focus on any questions they got wrong or weren't sure about.  

On the day we go over the answers, I try to walk around to see who has completed the review sheet and who hasn't.  This gives me an opportunity to target those students who didn't use the review sheet as intended.  If a student doesn't do well on the test, I suggest they try completing the review sheet as we work through the next unit and not wait until the end to just copy down answers.

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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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My daughter's 7th grade English teacher at Andrew Lewis Middle School uses a time-tested easy-to-apply simple AFL strategy that motivates my daughter to work, helps her to learn, and ensures that her grade is an accurate reflection of that learning.


Every Monday the students are given a pre-test on that week's spelling words.  If the student spells 100% of the words correct on the pre-test, then the grade is recorded in the teacher's grade book, and the student does not have to take the post-test.  All other students will take a post-test on Friday of that week.


Simple but effective.  Students receive feedback on Monday.  They now have the rest of the week to work on improving.  More importantly, though, is that they know exactly what they need to do to improve.


I'm going to brag on my daughter, Kelsey, for just a moment.  She is a terrific speller, and almost always scores a 100 on the pre-test.  Knowing that she can get out of having to take the post-test is a wonderful incentive for her to prepare for the pre-test.  When she occasionally misses a word on the pre-test, she becomes a very focused and motivated studier when preparing for the post-test.


However, her teacher uses the pre-test in a more powerful way than just as a motivator.  Since Kelsey almost always scores a 100 on the pre-tests, the rest of the week's focus on spelling potentially could be a waste of time for her.  However, her teacher turns the better spellers into spelling tutors during the week.  This gives Kelsey a much-needed opportunity to be a leader.  It allows her to have fun serving her peers, and it helps her peers do better on their spelling by providing one-on-one assistance that a teacher would have a difficult time providing during a busy school day.


Most teachers in America have probably tried pre-tests.  This is not a ground-breaking strategy.  That's the beauty of AFL.  To be a good AFL teacher doesn't mean re-inventing the wheel.  It means taking the best of what you already do and focusing your purpose toward providing meaningful feedback that gets used by both the teacher and the students.


One word of warning: You can completely mess up the benefit of this AFL strategy by the way you grade.  Please do not ever average the pre- and post-tests together or allow the pre-test to factor into the grade at all unless the student reaches the desired benchmark on the pre-test.  Otherwise, allow the post-test score - the one that reflects the outcome of the teacher's instruction - to be the one that is recorded in the grade book.

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I would imagine that many Physical Education teachers must feel as though much of the professional development activities and workshops in schools do not apply to them. Typically, discussions of state standards and NCLB expectations dominate these discussions. While these apply to PE, they apply in a different manner than they do in a core area classroom. And let’s face it, PE is a very different world from the typical classroom. PE teachers are dealing with a completely different environment than most other teachers. They are dealing with a different set of behavior issues, a different set of classroom expectations/procedures, and a different set of skills than other teachers are. One reason that I have become a big fan of Assessment FOR Learning is the fact AFL principles are universal. Even though a PE classroom differs greatly from a regular classroom, AFL ideas still apply and can still help students learn in such a setting. I have spoken with PE teachers who can see how AFL could be used in teaching and assessing certain skills in PE – such as foul shooting (I’ll share such an example in a moment). Along with AFL comes the importance of accurate grading practices – grading that reflects mastery of content and skills. However, the trend in PE these days is to move away from grading based on the mastery of skill acquisition in favor of participation and effort. Therefore, one could conclude that AFL would not be appropriate to use in the PE environment. The trick is to separate assessment from grading. The purpose of AFL is to assess in a way that helps students learn. The purpose is not to assess to get a grade. While a grade may be an outcome, it is not the primary goal. Therefore, one can assess a student (create feedback that can be used to guide learning) and still not grade based on those assessments. Let me explain. I regularly work out in our school’s weight room. When the football players are there lifting weights, they each carry around a piece of paper with a chart on it. They use this chart to keep track of their lifting. They each have goals that they would like to reach for various lifts. The coaches let them know how much they should be lifting each week if they are going to reach their goals by “max out” day. The players make sure that their progress is matching the path that leads to their goal. While perhaps no one has called it this before, I think that the weight lifters are participating in an AFL activity. They are part of a “planned process in which assessment-elicited evidence of students’ status is used by… students to adjust their current learning tactics.” (James Popham) They are taking ownership of their progress. They are aware of what they need to do to achieve a goal, they are constantly assessing how they are doing, and they are adjusting their lifting patterns to make sure they reach the goal. No one is grading them based on how much they lift. However, because of the feedback they are receiving and the way they have been trained to use that feedback they are getting stronger and stronger This is an example of how AFL can be used to teach an athletic skill. So let’s say that the skill being taught is shooting foul shots in a PE class. The students could take a pre-assessment by shooting 10 foul shots. They could then set a goal for improvement. Then the teacher could demonstrate/teach/instruct the students on the various sub-skills necessary to shoot a foul shot – proper foot placement, bending knees, holding the ball properly, where to aim, arm extension, wrist/hand motion, ball rotation, arc of the ball, and follow through. Students could learn a sub-skill, practice it, assess how well they are able to use the skill, and chart the impact that it has on their foul shooting as they repeatedly apply their new skills to the act of shooting 10 foul shots. They could work to assess/critique each other as well. As someone who has never taught PE, I’m sure that the model I just described has some flaws. I’m sure it could be tweaked to be made more practical for a PE setting. However, it is an example of AFL. AFL isn’t always teachers using assessment data. In fact, AFL is probably at its most powerful when students are using the data themselves to guide their own learning. In a skill-based class like PE this is definitely possible. Now, here’s the kicker: the result of the self-assessment – in other words, how well the student can shoot a foul shot when the unit is finished – does not have to have any impact whatsoever on the student’s grade. Instead, the grade the student earns could come from how diligently the student completed the self-assessment process. A daily grade could be earned based on how completely the chart was filled out each day. A final unit grade could be assigned based on the completed chart. This would be a more objective way to grade than a perceived level of participation or simply dressing out. It would be an accurate grade of effort and achievable for all students. (Of course, I realize that does not mean all students will decide to achieve a good grade.) But again, the point is that the Assessment FOR Learning practices are there to help the student learn the skill, and the grade does not have to be based on the mastery of the skill. Assessing and grading are two very different things. Assessment in AFL is all about getting students to learn.
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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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As I have come to comprehend better what Assessment FOR Learning truly means and how its principles can be applied, I find myself regularly thinking about how I would do things differently if I were still in the classroom. After recently observing Paola Brinkley, one of our school’s Spanish teachers, I realized yet another former practice of mine that I would now change. It’s in the area of reviewing for a test or a quiz, and I think teachers of all content areas will benefit from creating their own version of Mrs. Brinkley’s practice for their classrooms. As a teacher, my methods of reviewing for quizzes and tests were fairly typical of many classrooms. I basically did one of two things: 1. Played a basketball review game: This game was always fun. The kids and I both enjoyed it. If a student paid careful attention to each question I asked then they would have heard almost every question on the upcoming test/quiz. While it definitely was possible for all students to get a decent review from this method, in hindsight it had some drawbacks: a. Because I asked one student at a time a question, there was almost never 100% participation – or anything even close to that. b. I was not able to precisely gauge who knew what or what overall problems students were having with the material. Yes, I knew that the kid who kept wanting to answer questions knew it all, and I could safely assume that certain kids knew very little. However, I would not have been able to say with certainty the areas of strengths and weaknesses that the class shared. c. The students left the room having enjoyed class, but they didn’t necessarily leave with a greater incentive to study or with a specific plan for studying. 2. Handed out a review sheet for students to complete: Some years I graded the review sheet. In hindsight I definitely would change that practice. It really doesn’t make sense now to me to grade a review sheet. I understand the point of view that says that the grade might be an incentive for doing the review, but grades should reflect mastery more than be used as incentives (or punishments for not doing work). If a student didn’t do the review that wouldn’t necessarily reflect on his or her level of mastery. These review sheets generally consisted of all the questions on the test. While some students definitely completed the review and thereby raised their test grade, I wonder how much of what I was doing was encouraging memorizing the answers to specific questions rather than truly mastering content. Also, this method of review didn’t let me know how my students were doing in time to help them prepare for the test/quiz since I collected the review on the day of the test/quiz. Finally, I wonder how many students viewed this as a study guide v. just another assignment that just has to be done. How many students simply copied answers from a book or notes rather than really tried to study? Or worse, how many students copied a friend’s review sheet? While the review game and the review sheet are practices with instructional value, I believe that their effectiveness pales in comparison to what I saw Paola Brinkley do in her Spanish 2 classroom recently. Mrs. Brinkley had a quiz coming up the next day. Her objective was to review the conjugation of certain types of verbs. Each student numbered a sheet of paper 1-25. Each student also had a small whiteboard (approx. 8” x 6”) and a dry erase marker. 25 verbs were shown 1 at a time on the overhead. The students would write their conjugation on their whiteboard and hold it up so that Mrs. Brinkley could see it. As she looked around the room she would nod to them as she saw their correct answers. Then she would go over each answer basing her explanation on the answers she had seen written on the whiteboards. Students would then write on their numbered paper the verb, whether or not they got it right, and any other information about its conjugation that they needed to remember. At the end of the class period and after having gone through all 25 verbs, Mrs. Brinkley reminded the students that their numbered sheet of paper was now their own personalized study guide for the next day’s quiz. I’m sure you can see the simplicity in this activity, and, hopefully, you can think of some ways to replicate it in your own classroom with your own content. As you do, I think it’s important that you remember the key AFL factors present in this review: 1. 100% Engagement – The students really appeared to enjoy writing on the whiteboards. This activity lends itself to a high level of engagement which means the teacher will get maximum feedback, as opposed to the one-at-a-time feedback I received during my basketball review or the not-at-all feedback I received from my review sheets. 2. Feedback for the Teacher - AFL is a process by which a teacher gains feedback that impacts his or her instruction. By seeing all of the answers at one time from each student, Paola was able to shape her review based on their needs. For example, several times throughout the class period she reminded the students that they would lose points the next day if they did not use accent marks. She knew to remind them of this from the fact that they were not using accents on their whiteboards. She also stopped several times and went into greater depth explaining verbs with which the students seemed to have the greatest difficulty. 3. Feedback for the Students - I think the most powerful aspect of AFL is when students themselves are given feedback that they can use to guide their own personal learning. Sometimes students are intimidated by the idea of studying because in their minds it means go back over every single thing they’ve learned. This seems like too large a task to complete, so many don’t even try to start it. It also wouldn’t be a very efficient way to study. After all, why spend time studying something you have truly mastered? Each student left the class that day with a personalized study guide – something that Mrs. Brinkley wisely reminded them. Whether or not the student chooses to use the study guide is one thing, but each student received the feedback they needed to know exactly how to focus their studying. Surely this will increase the odds that students will study, and most important, it should guide learning. Mrs. Brinkley's students (as the 6th of the 6 Key AFL Ideas states) knew what they needed to know so they could know if they knew it. This simple and easy-to-apply activity captured the essence of AFL – teachers and students basing teaching and learning on feedback that they are receiving from assessments. I wish I could go back and use a version of it in my World History classes. I would encourage you to consider how you might apply it to your content area. Any thoughts?
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