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  • Writer's pictureAllan J. Mucerino


Updated: Mar 21, 2018

At the classroom level, collecting and documenting evidence of students’ classroom performance is a fundamental component of formative instructional practices.

Feedback includes both feedback about instruction and feedback students receive. The entire process is essential to ensure student success. Multiple methods of collecting and documenting evidence should be practiced, including direct behavioral observations, evaluation rubrics, recording devices, general curriculum-based outcome measures, goal attainment scaling, and graphing performance.  Using the evidence to influence instructional decisions is the foundation of a culture of assessment.

Building a culture of assessment requires using data as a natural part of every teacher’s professional repertoire. Assessing performance on the standards means assessing the depth of each student’s conceptual understanding as well as knowledge and skills. Not an easy task.

Institutionalizing a continuum of formative assessment options as part of an assessment plan serves multiple purposes. While many teachers utilize a variety of assessment methods, until the results of their assessments are used to make decisions for improving student achievement they are rendered meaningless. Teachers must challenge themselves to lay out the data from daily assessments in a way that shows clearly who is excelling and needing enrichment, who is performing on target, and who needs help. Then, the challenge becomes collaborative to find solutions to support students at each level.

Another foundational element of a culture of assessment is to utilize grade books in a more meaningful way than warehousing grades. Grade books could serve as powerful tools for charting useful information for data-driven decision making.  

Questions leaders should be asking of teachers: Is every lesson and unit plan based on assessment data?  Is the assessment data recorded in the grade book? Is the data charted and displayed with students? Is the data organized in portfolios or electronic decision-support systems? Are students knowledgeable about their results?  

A bigger question that leaders should ask is whether a high functioning PLC culture exists. If it does indeed exist than it’s likely that the answers to the questions above are yes.

A comprehensive assessment system also includes periodic benchmark assessments usually administered districtwide. These assessments can efficiently provide immediate results of student performance on key standards-based skills in a content area and grade level. Administered at various times during the school year, these periodic assessments can serve to establish entrance-level performances of students when the school year begins, to monitor students’ progress and their strengths and weaknesses throughout the year, to create grouping of students based on their changing skill needs, and to identify interventions for enrichment or additional support.

These assessments should be embedded within instruction. Periodic assessment data should be collected and used during the school year so that it eventually can be incorporated into the school improvement cycle. This level of assessment data impacts the reflective collaboration process of PLC teams. High functioning PLC teams use these periodic results to discuss progress, consequences, and actions with a focus on what actions were taken for students with specific needs. High functioning teams also attribute students success and failure to their behaviors (Attribution theory).

On a larger scale and even further removed from the classroom are annual state assessments. Designed primarily for accountability purposes, they serve to report to external members of the school community a 10,000-foot view of the district’s achievement levels. This data helps curriculum leaders evaluate the effectiveness of the curriculum. It is often used by parents to choose schools. Limited by design since annual state assessments sample broad domains of student knowledge at one point in time, they can be useful as a broad indicator of the school’s effectiveness.

On the largest scale are national and international assessments such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). While the results of such assessments do not typically trigger any change in education policy they may impact practice. John Hattie, the Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne where he directs the Science of Learning Research Centre, has gained an international audience dissecting PISA and utilizing its results to influence district, school, and classroom practices.

By aiming to standardize content and learning goals, the US moved towards resembling international educational systems by implementing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) fifteen years ago. PISA results proved NCLB an abject failure. Now a new era of assessment is on the forefront of education reform and it features formative, not summative assessment as its centerpiece.


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