Category Archives: formative assessment

Standards Based Learning and Standards Based Grading from the trenches – part 6

This is the sixth post in a series about my journey with Standards Based Learning and Grading.

Assessing to learn


Assessment was a fearful term when I was in school. It was and still can be associated with standardized testing, high stakes learning, and a competitive environment. Assessment can create fear of failure and bad grades. It can signify an endpoint to learning, a time to move on and start something new regardless of what has been learned or mastered previously. Assessment is something that many times is done to students, as a rite of passage to the next topic to be covered.

For assessment to be meaningful, it must have purpose in the learning process. If it is treated as above, it has no link to growth, improvement or increased proficiency. Assessment must take on a completely different role to add to and become an integral piece in student learning. The role of assessment is one FOR learning. Assessment guides the learning process, facilitates decisions about instruction for teachers, informs students about practice and levels of proficiency, and ultimately shows us when learners have demonstrated mastery and are ready to move on to new standards.

Feedback and assessment go hand in hand. If an assessment is not paired with feedback for growth, an opportunity for learning is missed. Formative and summative assessments should be learning experiences for our students. In my classroom, formative work is practice, never scored, and given feedback for further study and assessment. Summative assessments are larger, more in depth and focused on my standards. Summative assessments are performance based, applying the knowledge, understandings, and skills my students have practiced and honed throughout the unit of study. I score summative assessments, but students are able to continue to show improved proficiency of standards through reassessment.

“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?”
-Rick Wormeli

It doesn’t matter whether all students achieve mastery at the same moment, in fact, it shouldn’t happen that way. I respect the fact that my students are individuals. It is exceptionally difficult to accurately predict when a student will have completed enough practice to demonstrate mastery on a summative assessment. We may have a good idea of about how long it will take for our students, particularly if we have delved into the unit of study in previous years. But to determine when a summative assessment is appropriate for each of our students – formative practice, feedback, and open communication among all the learners in the classroom is necessary.

It is time to change the face of assessment for our students. We must support them to be courageous and show us their proficiency at frequent checkpoints. If we can accomplish this, we will move beyond fear of assessment to maximize learning.

Standards Based Learning and Standards Based Grading from the trenches – part 5

This is the fifth post in a series about my journey with Standards Based Learning and Grading.



It’s all about learning…standards based learning



Standards set? Ready to jump in? Awesome…bring on the learning!

Once learning standards have been established, they must be unpacked for all stakeholders. This involves breaking them down into manageable pieces that relate to instruction, knowledge, skills, and understandings. For me, know, understand, and do statements create meaning out of standards that can seem a little overwhelming to students. These statements are easily adaptable for entire units of study or particular standards. I use them to guide instruction and learning experiences in my classroom. My students use them to inform decisions regarding formative practice and pacing. The know, understand, and do statements serve as checkpoints along the journey to mastery.

Once these statements are derived and communicated, standards based learning can become the primary focus. Standards frame the learning experience, but formative practice is crucial to growth and improvement. Students and teachers work together to accomplish the common mission – mastery. Learning is a messy experience with forward progress moving at different rates for all students. Standards based classrooms allow for risk taking, embrace failure as an opportunity for learning, and model recovery from that failure. Success is not a venture of if, but rather when.

Differentiation is made easier and more seamless by opening the lines of communication regarding expectations for learning. Students can manage their own formative practice once standards are clearly unpacked. The ownership of learning and responsibility for it can be placed where it most certainly belongs – with our learners. The role of the instructor changes to a facilitator and supporter of learning rather than someone who dictates every moment of the experience.

Growth is a natural part of standards based culture. It is inherent in what students do each day with formative work and feedback loops. By removing the grades from formative practice and replacing them with meaningful feedback, learning never stops, and continual improvement is the norm. Another essential component in a standards based learning environment is the respectful task. Students become apathetic, bored, and fearful when formative work is not at the appropriate level. Open communication allows for students and teachers to create and choose the tasks best suited for learning.


The standards based classroom climate is collaborative and positive. The ‘gotcha’ mentality is removed and the door is swung open to learning. Proficiency, mastery, and success are pursued by everyone. Collaborative learners are a powerful force in an environment where they help, guide, and support each other throughout the process. Student leaders emerge and are unleashed to assist others and hone their leadership skills. Too many students come into our schools with a fixed mindset. They are either smart or not, successful at school or failures. Standards based culture shows students that growth is not only available but accessible and attainable for everyone.  

Bottom line in a standards based learning environment…Students are empowered to learn.

Standards Based Learning and Standards Based Grading from the trenches – part 1

This post is the first in a series about my journey with Standards Based Learning and Grading.  


My journey of positive deviance

Positive deviance…the way I see it, I will do anything to help my students learn.  I don’t care whether it will make me popular or well liked among my peers.  I am driven, passionate about education, and willing to work as hard as possible to reach every student.  I want to create passionate lifelong learners.
That being said, at times I am not the most popular in the building.  I am seen as the one who is always pushing the barrier, always innovating my instructional practices.  I have been told to my face several times, “Oh, well, that works in your classroom, but it could never work in mine.”  How do you know unless you try?  I understand that no two teacher’s classrooms will or should look exactly the same.  But to keep with old methods just because that is the way it has always been done or because it is the way you were taught is a ridiculous notion.  Times change, people evolve, research continues, learning happens, and we cannot in good faith sit idle and expect our profession to stagnate.  If we stagnate, our kids stagnate.  If we don’t work to improve and learn ourselves, what kind of example are we setting for our kids?  We must be the lead learners in our environments.  We must model what we expect and lead our students to seek knowledge.
Standards based learning and grading were an easy fit for me.  I needed to be learner focused.  I wanted a system that clearly communicated proficiency and mastery levels to my students and parents.  I desired to be criterion referenced rather than norm referenced.  As good of a fit as standards based learning and grading are for me, they are still finding their way into my school and district.  It is a tough road to be one of only a few charting this course, but it is well worth it to see the positive change in my students.  The culture of learning that is present in my classroom is a testament to the value of standards based learning, assessment, and grading.  My students are performing at higher levels and are more engaged in the learning process than ever before.
At the beginning of my teaching career, I was a traditional grader.  I had been taught in my undergraduate work and throughout student teaching how to assign points to assignments and assessments, grade behaviors like participation, and was encouraged to have a ‘no tolerance’ approach to late work.  I followed these practices and maintained the status quo in the educational world.  My students learned information, but did they excel?  No, they maintained the status quo as well in an system based on one size fits all standardized instruction and assessment.  Every student was supposed to be treated exactly the same in order to be fair.
After 10 years of teaching, I needed a paradigm shift.  I had finally recognized that my students were individuals and had very different needs in the classroom.  Being fair to my students meant that I not only needed to understand them as learners and people, but also that they required a variety of instructional methods, assessments, and practice.  I reflected, studied, read, and evaluated my methods.  I began to differentiate my instruction and felt like my students were changing along with me.  Relationships were formed, trust was established, and a learning environment conducive to growth was created. 

Once I had successfully implemented differentiated instruction, I still felt like I was missing something.  I started to reflect on my assessment and grading practices.  Why was I still demanding points, due dates, and compliant behaviors in my grading policies?  Back to researching, planning, and implementing new strategies all over again.  Now standards based learning, assessment, and grading drives my classroom experience and my students excel.  Students go above and beyond my expectations on a daily basis.  They are learners first and foremost.  They seek knowledge, understanding, and new skills over points, scores, and grades.

Assess for the sake of learning

After several engaging discussions with my PLN on the roles of formative and summative assessment, I felt the need to get some ideas down on pap…well, get some ideas down.

Practice FOR learning

The nature of formative assessment is that it is FOR learning.  I prefer the term formative practice, because to me that is the heart of formative assessment.  I use a sports analogy to explain to students how our classroom works.  Formative practice is just like training for any athlete.  Formative work is low stakes when taking a risk to learn something new.  Failure at first is expected, but equally expected is a rise from it to find success.  If an athlete doesn’t do the work to improve and get better, they are not going to perform when it is game time. The same is true of the learners in my classroom.  If they have not practiced their speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills in Spanish, the summative assessments will not show proficiency or growth.  Feedback is the key to learning during formative practice.  Scores, numbers, and letters are not necessary and can be in fact detrimental during the practice phase.

Show me the learning!

Summative assessments ‘sum up’ the learning and put it all together.  In the sports reference, the summative assessment is the game, meet, or competition.  Time to show what you can do and what you have been working toward.  There are those that argue that if you have been collecting evidence with the formative work that a summative is not necessary.  I disagree with this for several reasons.  I feel that the summative assessment is the time to synthesize concepts, ideas, and understandings and apply them.  A summative assessment also gives additional evidence of what the final score, rating, or grade should be.  Evidence tells the story of a student’s growth and achievement and eventually drives grades.  The more evidence, the better in my opinion.

Chatting about standards based learning and grading ignites my passion as an educator.  I want to create the best learning environment possible for my students and I love the way my PLN challenges me to ‘bring it’ each day.  October is Connected Educator’s Month, and I would not be the teacher I am today without so many of the inspiring people I have met on Twitter.

How do you use formative and summative assessment in your classroom?  Leave a comment and keep the discussion going!

Moving toward September

As I work through my third week of school, I finally feel like things are settling down a bit.  From the whirlwind first three days, to the introduction of genius hour, and time spent getting to know my kids, we are ready to get into a bit of a routine.  This week, I am introducing my learning contract for our first thematic unit.  I enjoy giving my kids a contract for each theme to allow them to drive their learning experience, find good practice and resources, and gain essential feedback prior to our summative assessments.

I love to see the student responses once I show them that the ownership is theirs.  Fear and anxiety always appear – concerned that they won’t make the right decisions about practice or pacing.  I remind them that this is my role.  I will help them when they feel stuck, guide them when they feel lost, encourage redos and retakes whenever necessary, and further them on the road to autonomy in their learning.  That is our job in high school, is it not?  Before we send our kids on to colleges, universities, the military, trade school, or the workforce, don’t we want to make sure they know how to learn on their own?

The first theme/contract is always a precarious one.  I need to give them autonomy and control while showing them all the resources, practice, and feedback available.  What I usually end up doing is meeting with small groups of kids to offer suggestions and give some feedback not only about their Spanish, but also their decisions on practice and assessment.  I talk to them about practicing until they feel ready for an assessment, and remind them they should be retaken until they reach the level of proficient or distinguished.

I also want to make sure that I infuse some incredible learning experiences for my kids this year.  Experiences that we share together no matter where each individual student is on their journey.  This is something I struggle with as I need to let my kids grow, improve, and learn at their own pace, yet want collective experiences as well.  I do have deadlines for my assessments each theme (although they can retake after the deadline to improve their mastery) so I am thinking I could capitalize on the days following those deadlines to create some unique adventures where we apply what we have learned.  Stay tuned for those, creative ideas take time to develop!

Here’s to a routine, but holding a few tricks up my sleeve to keep them on their toes!