How to Solve the Biggest Problems in Assessing Students: Part 1

How do you really know if your students are learning? This is the burning question that all

administrators and teachers are struggling with right now. Are the letter grades that students earn an indicator of learning? Is it the amount of growth a student has an indication of learning? There are many questions surrounding if students are learning and therefore growing. Many educators and schools are still going down the same path of grades as they have done for the past several decades, letter grades. Is this the best way to measure student learning?


When I first began my teaching career in 1998 I was one of those teachers that used points to assess my students. Students received points for every assignment, and those points resulted in letter grades. I gave points for everything including extra credit. And this is where the problem came in. Years after giving points for bringing in canned food, Kleenex, supplies, etc. I thought, are my students really learning anything about my content? Instead students can do poorly academically for me but bring in a ton of extra credit and still get an A. So what did that A really represent? Did my students really learn anything? It wasn’t until about 9 years ago that the light bulb went off in my head. This is when my district, a pioneer in education, made a change.


It was the school district that decided to change the way we assess students. We made the shift to assess students based upon learning standards. We spent years and continue to this day refining our standards in order for students to provide their maximum potential. By looking at assessing students based on standards we begin the discussion of meaningful assessment. This leads to what many schools across the United States are doing, creating PLC or Professional Learning Communities.


Professional Learning Communities begin to ask four main essential questions:

  • What do we expect our students to learn?

  • How will we know they are learning?

  • How will we respond when they don’t learn?

  • How will we respond if they already know it?

As I dove more into this I was able to change my teaching practices to better help all of my students. This change takes time and is still a work in progress as the teaching profession is constantly evolving. With this evolution brought a change of teaching habits.


Gone are the days of giving extra credit points and fluffing grades. Now I am assessing students based on if a student has met the specific learning targets for each unit. A rubric with the expected learning targets are given prior to each lesson or activity showing what I want each student to get out of that day or activity. My goal is for every student to meet each learning target. This includes all students that have IEP’s, 504 plans, English Language Learners, etc. Those students that are meeting the goal well, I am trying to stretch their minds by having them extend their learning or going more into a specific concept.


Let’s face it, in the real world are we given letter grades for our jobs? Sure many people might give out grades based on performance such as in sports when we rate our teams draft picks. Other than that we are evaluated using a performance model or rubric. We either meet the

requirements of that rubric, fall below the requirements or sometime exceed those requirements. I don’t get any extra credit points for coaching three sports or for taking on additional clubs. So then if this is the case in the real world and we are preparing students for the real world then why are we still using an outdated model to assess students?


Join us as we take a look at how we know if students are learning and what we do if they aren’t in our next blog.



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