The Strategic Assessment Process

Think for a moment of the best unit you’ve ever taught. Your planning was likely perfect. Students were engaged throughout. Feedback on their practice was probably timely and frequent, and both you and your students were aware of their learning levels at multiple times throughout the unit. In all likelihood, students’ skills steadily increased and peaked at the culmination of the unit. Then came time for the summative assessment. Did all students display proficiency of the priority standards? Probably not. 

Even in the best unit we’ve taught in our entire careers, all students weren’t proficient on the essential knowledge and skills at the same time. But then again…of course they weren’t. That’s just not a realistic expectation of humans––regardless of their age or the quality of our teaching. So just consider the implications for every other unit we’ve taught––when we weren’t at our best––in terms of summative assessment.  

The point here is that we can’t realistically expect our students to reach a high level of learning at a particular point in time just because we planned it that way in our pacing guides. Humans learn at different rates. Students come to our class with different experiences and different levels of preparation. Further, things often happen to students outside of the classroom that affects them within the classroom. And of course kids don’t always make good decisions to maximize their learning during the learning process.  But we still want them all to learn at high levels––just like our school mission statements likely state. 

So simply allowing one opportunity for summative assessment isn’t enough. Assessment shouldn’t be an event. Rather, it should be a process. But an effective assessment process must be strategic.

A strategic assessment process takes into account the fact that there are multiple variables affecting students’ rate of learning––many of which are out of the control of the teacher. To address these issues as best as possible, the teacher can provide students with multiple opportunities, plenty of feedback, and a flexible timeline to reach proficiency in their learning of priority standards when the learning process becomes messier than drawn up in the unit map. Below is the assessment process that I use in my classroom. While it is by no means perfect and remains a work in progress, I’ve found it to help many of my students to embrace a growth mindset and reach proficiency well after a unit reaches a conclusion within the classroom.

Step 1: Initial Summative Assessment

My goal is for as many students as possible to reach proficiency on the first assessment, so my unit design aligns to this goal. The more students that do so the first time, the less additional work for my students and me. But regardless of my best efforts, I know all students won’t reach proficiency on the first try, so the subsequent six steps address this reality.

Step 2: Class Review of the Graded Assessment

The return of assessments is a major learning opportunity that shouldn’t be squandered. Although the end-of-the-unit assessment is intended to be summative, it becomes formative if a student requires a retake. Noting this dual purpose, I provide students with summative and formative resources when returning assessments to allow for continued learning when needed, including a grade, scored rubric, and purposeful feedback. 

The assessment grade displays the teacher’s summative evaluation of students’ learning at the end of the unit, while the scored rubric allows students to understand how they performed on each priority standard within the assessment and where additional learning is needed. By providing multiple scores by standard instead of a single holistic score, the teacher and student can focus remedial efforts only on the standards and skills that are below expectations––focusing their time and energy to maximize results. 

Feedback is essential to help students better understand their current level of learning and what they need to do to reach the next level. I provide two types of feedback when returning assessments, both of which align to the rubric: class-wide feedback and individualized feedback. Class-wide feedback consists of the top 3-5 positives and the top 3-5 concerns I see on assessments across all classes. This form of feedback provides students with context for interpreting their own assessment; further, it saves me time, as I can avoid repeating the same feedback on countless papers or in one-on-one conferences.

I provide also provide individualized feedback on student assessments. But instead of writing comments throughout student assessments, I highlight areas of concern or mark an M for missing. I do this for two reasons: 

  1. I’d rather spend the time required to write comments throughout a paper in a one-on-one conference, where I can be sure a student understands the feedback and can use it properly.
  2. I want students to play an active role in the process by making inferences about what the feedback means using their knowledge of the standard, the rubric, and the context of the task.

Step 3: Student Self Reflection of Learning

But just handing students the assessment with a grade, scored rubric, and purposeful feedback isn’t enough. Most teachers have experienced feelings of disappointment or perhaps even flashes of anger after witnessing students quickly stuff an assessment into their backpacks after glancing at their grade without even taking time to read the feedback or rubric that took hours to complete. To avoid this frustration, we need to be more strategic when returning assessments. It isn’t easy or enjoyable for students to read through feedback on their performance (especially if they didn’t do very well), so teachers shouldn’t be surprised when students don’t take the initiative to do so on their own. Further, even when students have the initiative, they may lack the skills to interpret and use the information they are provided. For these reasons, it can help to guide students in self-reflection of their assessment. 

I use the self reflection form shown below to focus student thinking on their learning, not their grade. I begin by asking students to read through their assessment and consider all of the resources they’ve been provided, including their grade, rubric, multiple forms of feedback, and the teaching that occurred throughout the unit. They are then asked to reflect on the learning they showed on their assessment and compare it to the level they aspire to achieve, using the reflection form as a guide. After doing so, I ask them to discuss with a partner so they have a chance to further develop their ideas. Finally, students are told to keep these forms and later use them as their “ticket” to their reassessment conference.

Step 4: The Reflection Conference

For most students, the self-reflection process alone isn’t enough to significantly improve their learning. Before reassessment, I require students to meet with me outside of class time for a five-minute one-on-one conference to discuss where they currently are in the learning process, where they need to be, and how they can get there. I ask them to start by sharing their learning reflections, and then we discuss the sub-proficient standards indicated on the rubric (although some students choose to reassess to achieve a level exceeding proficiency, and we discuss this accordingly). Afterward we mutually decide on next steps. Students who are on the cusp of proficiency may have the feedback necessary to reach their learning goal, and in these cases we schedule their reassessment. But in many cases, we agree that their learning isn’t yet where it needs to be and that additional practice is necessary.  

Step 5: Targeted Practice

When it is mutually decided at the end of the reflection conference that a student needs more practice to increase their learning, I immediately give them a task to practice the targeted standards with a similar format to the assessment. Students are asked to complete it as soon as they can so that we can continue any momentum they have in the learning process. They then bring the completed practice along with any additional questions to the follow-up conference.

Step 6: The Follow-up Conference

The purpose of the follow-up conference is to review the student’s completed practice, provide additional feedback as necessary, and determine the student’s current level of learning, thereby gauging the student’s readiness for reassessment. At this point, I again make a mutual decision with the student about the next steps. Usually, the decision is that the student is ready for reassessment, but in some cases, the student requires additional practice, so Steps 5 and 6 are repeated.

Step 7: Reassessment 

By the final step of the process, the goal is for the student to achieve proficiency or above on the remediated standard(s). For many students, Steps 2-6 are enough to make this happen. I find that when the process is voluntary and its students’ own time that is being used, the process is efficient and the learning process becomes much more focused. 

But for some, various factors (time, issues outside of the classroom, poor decisions, etc.) still prevent students from reaching proficiency. This is not out of the ordinary, and Steps 2-6 should be repeated with a focus on the most recent evidence of learning. An emphasis must be made on learning from mistakes, and for some students, even the smallest learning gains must be celebrated in order to encourage further work towards proficiency.

And many will question how long this process should go on. In my classroom, the reassessment window remains open for as long as I can reasonably do so––until the end of the semester. I feel this allows for a lenient timeline for the learning process, while still providing a definitive deadline.

Bottom Line

A strategic assessment process is crucial for ensuring that all of our students reach proficiency on our priority standards. While the particular process presented in this post may not meet the needs of every classroom, educators need to leave the one-and-done summative assessment model in the past and move to a process that provides additional time, practice, and feedback for students who don’t quite learn as it’s drawn up in our pacing guides.

What assessment process do you use? What methods do you use to get all kids to proficiency? Please share!

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