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What Are the Best Ways to Measure Student Learning?

What Are the Best Ways to Measure Student Learning?

Today's school-reform initiatives often center on using measures of student learning to gauge school and teacher effectiveness. This focus on accountability has in some ways taken away from the more basic purpose of assessment: to figure out what students know and need to learn.

Many schools deal with this gap by instituting benchmark or interim tests, which often mimic the final standardized tests, or tracking specific skills through progress monitoring. Teachers also design their own formative assessments, including anything from informal class questioning to written tests to performance-based tasks.

How do you assess what your students know and are able to do? What tools or methods do you find most helpful in measuring student learning? Are you in favor of school-wide benchmark testing? How can schools and districts support teachers' efforts to reliably gauge student learning? How must assessments evolve in order to measure the knowledge and skills needed for 21st-century success?

Follow-Up: Why Measure Student Learning?

Bill Farmer In my initial post I posed the question, why measure student learning? The answer to this question inevitably varies depending upon who you ask. Even more complicated than addressing the purpose behind measuring student learning is figuring out how student learning should even be measured. Learning is an infinitely complex process, yet as a society we seem determined to relegate learning to a single letter grade or percentage score aimed at sorting and ranking students. There can be some useful information captured by a well-written high stakes exam. It provides a snapshot of isolated and specific aspects of ...


Follow-Up: It's Time to Take Back Assessment

Jessica Hahn Reading all of the posts, and particularly Rebecca's about standardized testing, made me reflect on my own post. I realize that when I thought of an effective measurement tool, I thought of a completely open-ended math test. When I had a critique of a test, it was of a multiple-choice, standardized reading test. I believe that reading testing is extremely problematic. For example, kindergarten through 2nd grade students in my school have historically read on or above grade level, as measured by the Fountas and Pinnell benchmark assessment. This assessment relies on running records and miscue analysis. And ...


Follow-Up: Risk and the Power of Reflection

Sarah Henchey In my first post, I described the process that my 6th grade English Language Arts PLC used to establish a strong foundation of knowledge and skills this year. Namely, we began our planning with a focus on how to best assess and achieve student learning. Commenter Megan Allen asked, "How did your PLC decide on these particular steps? What advice do you have for other PLCs to 'get their legs' and get started on this journey?" The evolution of my PLC has been a process. This is only our second year working together, but each year has strengthened ...


Follow-Up: At the End, What Do Students Know and What's the Best Way to Measure It?

Marsha Ratzel In my first post, I wrote about how assessments inform my instruction as I teach a unit. The companion to "as I teach" are the assessments that tell me how well my students learned what I set out to teach them. Summative assessments at the end of the unit are important too, providing me with a reliable picture of how well students have mastered the unit's objectives. Frankly, I think that multiple-choice questions are insufficient as end-of-unit measurement tools. I do use multiple-choice tests to make sure students know the basic facts, but these are only a precursor ...


Follow-Up: Looking for Data in All the Wrong Places

Dan Brown Last Friday, my students didn't come to school. Instead, all staff members gathered in grade-level teams to measure their achievement in the second our of three-per-year "Data Days." During the preceding week the kids took two 105-minute interim assessment tests (English and math practice SAT or released state exams) with Scantron and open-response sections. Then the adults spent all day breaking down the data, talking standards, identifying students of concerns, and writing action plans. This has become common practice in American schools. The structure is great; the opportunity to talk with a horizontal cohort of educators about students ...


Follow-Up: A Call for Reading-Test Reform

Rebecca Schmidt I agree with many of the comments saying that our students are over-tested. Yes, 16 days of testing each year is far too many, and too many resources are devoted to testing at the expense of more important ones in elementary school. However, I have to disagree with the position that we discard assessment altogether. I view my students' reading and math abilities as their human rights—and my job is to empower them to be productive changemakers in their communities by accessing these rights. Without assessment, I would not know if my teaching strategies were effective. I want...


Follow-Up: Who Has Time to Assess?

Ryan Kinser After reading the posts of my fellow bloggers and engaging in an idea-rich Twitter chat with colleagues over the past week, I've discovered some common concerns among teachers regarding assessment and student learning. Some pressing questions surfaced, one of which I still struggle with: How do we find the time to provide detailed, accurate, and useful assessment feedback to students? I suspect thousands of teachers feel like Bill Ferriter, who in his recent blog entry, "Is Real Formative Assessment Even Possible?" describes the utter exhaustion that comes from constantly assessing hundreds of students and then improving his teaching ...


What Do Standardized Reading Tests Really Measure?

Rebecca Schmidt Each April, all 3rd through 5th graders in my school take the DC-CAS—a standardized, summative assessment of grade-level skills in reading and math. It is a grueling eight-day test paralyzing the entire PK-5 community—limiting movement, resource classes, even recess. DC Public Schools uses the results (and administrative evaluations) to determine if our students are learning and if we are effectively teaching. Assessing student learning and progress each year is important: All students should have the same opportunities to learn and succeed and we educators need to know if our teaching is helping our students develop ...


Visible Learning: John Hattie and Student-Directed Projects

Dan Brown The cover of John Hattie's Visible Learning boasts the blurb "Reveals teaching's Holy Grail." Everybody in education needs to get it. If Hattie's subtitle, A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement, gives you pause, I can assure you it isn't as scary as it sounds. In fact, Hattie's exhaustive research into what quality teaching and learning looks like is the best road map I've ever seen for how to get the most out of students. I hope my two-year-old daughter's future teachers have read it; if not I just might be foisting copies on them at ...


Why Measure Student Learning?

Bill Farmer Each day, as students enter my biology classroom, someone will inevitably ask the question, "What are we doing today?" My response always attempts to shift their frame of thought from the instructional exercises that they will be engaging in on that particular day to the objectives that I hope they will be learning by the end of the class period. While tracking student learning has long been an integral component of our professional practice as teachers, it has recently received heightened national attention within the educational policy arena. For politicians and policy makers, learning has been rebranded as ...


Let's Teach to Better Tests

Ryan Kinser I don't want to teach to the test. Great educators say this all the time. I used to agree. As an idealistic young English teacher, I thought, "Amen! Let's give students real-world skills, help them become better people who can find their passions and contribute to democracy." When I looked over my state-test results after my first year, none of these ideals revealed themselves in the scores, nor did any useful data to improve my teaching. Now I'm a little older, a smidge more veteran, and my values haven't changed. But I have a confession: Now I think ...


Aligning Visions of Student Learning With the Tools To Measure It

Jessica Hahn I believe that effective measurement of student learning is about consistency and complexity. I am always measuring student learning in a variety of ways. I'm assessing during lessons as I listen in to a "turn and talk" or respond to a raised hand. The moment students go off to work on math, my co-teacher and I are scanning the room, checking for similar difficulties, and then grabbing those five or six students to work within a small group. Sometimes we use a checklist or other tracking template, noting their strengths and weaknesses. We use running records throughout the ...


What's the Next Step? Using Assessment as a Classroom Guide

Marsha Ratzel Student learning is the result of a dynamic interaction between assessment and instruction. Effective teachers use assessment to inform the design and use of classroom lessons. This interaction reminds me of assembling a huge jigsaw puzzle: I know what the final picture looks like but there are many, many pieces that have to fit together. I have to know each piece—its unique characteristics and how it might fit with the others. Similarly, each student has a complex set of individual needs—emotional and intellectual—that I must understand to build the trust that will make learning...


Assessment: The Neglected Priority

Sarah Henchey I remember listening to my undergraduate professors as they emphasized the importance of assessment in the learning cycle. There was mention of formative and summative assessments, checks for understanding, rubrics versus checklists, and more. Although I paid attention and took away what I could, it didn't click until I was faced with more authentic circumstances. Somehow, in my first year as an English language arts teacher, I lost sight of the role assessment plays and thought my "grading" could wait until the weekend. This led to many moments of frustration as I could not accurately gauge my students' ...


The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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About the Contributors

  • Jessica Shyu

    Jessica Shyu

    Jessica Shyu is vice president of teacher excellence and leadership at Teach For China where she leads teams to train and develop more than 300 fir...

  • David B. Cohen

    David B. Cohen

    David B. Cohen is associate director of Accomplished California Teachers, and a National Board-certified English teacher at Palo Alto High School (...

  • Patrick Ledesma

    Patrick Ledesma

    Patrick Ledesma is a middle school technology specialist and special education department chair with Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. A N...

  • Marilyn Rhames

    Marilyn Rhames

    Marilyn Rhames is a middle grades teacher at a charter school in Chicago and runs a nonprofit called Teachers Who Pray. Her Ed Week blog called "Ch...

  • Larry Ferlazzo

    Larry Ferlazzo

    An award-winning English and Social Studies teacher at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, Calif., Larry Ferlazzo is the author of Helping St...

  • Lori Nazareno

    Lori Nazareno

    Lori Nazareno is a dually certified National Board Certified Teacher who is serving as teacher-in residence for the Center for Teaching Quality. A ...

  • Renee Moore

    Renee Moore

    Renee has taught English and journalism for 20 years in the Mississippi Delta region at both high school and community college levels. She is Natio...

  • Carrie Kamm

    Carrie Kamm

    Carrie Kamm is a mentor-resident coach with the Academy for Urban School Leadership's Chicago Teacher Residency Program. She is also a co-author o...

  • Dave Orphal

    Dave Orphal

    Dave Orphal is a teacher and small learning communities coordinator at Skyline High School in Oakland, Calif. In his free time, he serves as a mem...

  • Noah Zeichner

    Noah Zeichner

    Noah Zeichner is a National Board-certified teacher at Chief Sealth International School in Seattle, Wash. He also spends part of his day supportin...

  • Noah Patel

    Noah Patel

    Noah Patel is a 7th-year middle school math teacher in the Boston Public School District and a National Board-certified teacher. He received his ba...

  • Jessica Hahn

    Jessica Hahn

    Jessica Hahn has taught elementary grade children for six years in Phoenix and New York City. She has a master's degree in literacy from Teachers C...

  • Rebecca Schmidt

    Rebecca Schmidt

    Rebecca Schmidt is in her fifth year of teaching in D.C. Public Schools. She is team leader of the 3rd grade at Bancroft Elementary, and also runs ...

  • Bill Farmer

    Bill Farmer

    Bill Farmer has been teaching biology and chemistry for nine years at Evanston Township High School in Evanston, Ill. He is currently serving his t...

  • Ryan Kinser

    Ryan Kinser

    Ryan Kinser is a 2012-13 teacherpreneur at the Center for Teaching Quality. He divides his time between teaching English to sixth graders at Walker...

  • Dan Brown

    Dan Brown

    Dan Brown teaches high school English in Washington, D.C. He is the author of The Great Expectations School: A Rookie Year in the New Blackboard Ju...

  • Sarah Henchey

    Sarah Henchey

    Sarah Henchey is a National Board Certified Teacher and a 2012-13 Teacher in Residence at the Center for Teaching Quality. Sarah has taught middle ...

  • Marsha Ratzel

    Marsha Ratzel

    Marsha Ratzel is a National Board-certified teacher in the Blue Valley School District in Kansas, where she teaches middle school math and science....

  • Jessica Keigan

    Jessica Keigan

    As a teacherpreneur, Jessica divides her time evenly between teaching English at Horizon High School in Denver and supporting results-oriented effo...

  • Michael Moran

    Michael Moran

    Michael Moran is a former sixth grade teacher currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree at the University of Washington's Evans S...

  • Ryan Niman

    Ryan Niman

    Ryan Niman teaches English and Social Studies in the Edmonds School District north of Seattle, Washington. Ryan is a member of the Washington New M...

  • Megan Allen

    Megan Allen

    Megan M. Allen is a National Board-certified Teacher in Tampa, Fla. As a 2012-13 teacherpreneur, Megan spends half of her week teaching 5th graders...

  • Ilana Garon

    Ilana Garon

    Ilana Garon has been teaching high school English in the Bronx since she graduated from Barnard College in 2003. Her writing has appeared in The Gu...

  • Anna Martin

    Anna Martin

    Anna L. Martin is the resource teacher at Lee Mathson Middle School, a public school in an urban high-needs district in San Jose, Calif. A National...

  • Kate Mulcahy

    Kate Mulcahy

    Kate Mulcahy, a Boettcher Teachers Program graduate, has taught for five years as an English & English Language Learner teacher at Northglenn High ...

  • Ariel Sacks

    Ariel Sacks

    Ariel Sacks teaches 8th grade English at a middle school in Brooklyn, N.Y. An alumna of Bank Street College of Education, she is a co-author of TEA...

  • Linda Yaron

    Linda Yaron

    As an English teacher in an inner-city high school in Los Angeles, Linda Yaron has spent the last nine years working to increase opportunities for ...

  • Bill Ferriter

    Bill Ferriter

    Bill Ferriter (@plugusin on Twitter) carries about a dozen different titles around with him each day. He's a member of the Teacher Leaders Network,...

  • Robert Pronovost

    Robert Pronovost

    Robert Pronovost is a 2nd grade teacher and MOUSE Squad student tech advisor at Belle Haven Elementary in Menlo Park, CA. Robert has been a teacher...

  • Nancy S. Gardner

    Nancy S. Gardner

    A renewed National Board Certified Teacher, Nancy Gardner teaches senior English at Mooresville High School in Mooresville, N.C. She is also chair ...

  • Karl Ochsner

    Karl Ochsner

    Karl Ochsner is a 7th and 8th grade science teacher at Blessed Pope John XXIII Catholic School in Scottsdale, Arizona, and teaches classes on K-12 ...

  • Joel Malley

    Joel Malley

    Joel Malley teaches AP literature, along with mass media and film production, at Cheektowaga Central High School outside Buffalo, NY. He is an acti...

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    Jennie Magiera

    Jennie Magiera is a 4th and 5th grade math teacher and a technology and mathematics curriculum coach in Chicago Public Schools. A Teacher Leaders N...

  • Lauren Hill

    Lauren Hill

    Lauren Hill teaches AP Language and Composition and 9th grade English at Western Hills High School in Frankfort, Kentucky. A National Board Certif...

  • Todd Rackowitz

    Todd Rackowitz

    Todd Rackowitz has been teaching math for 21 years in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system in North Carolina. A National Board-certified teacher...

  • Alison Wright

    Alison Wright

    Ali Wright teaches Algebra 2 and AP Calculus at Lafayette High School in Lexington, Ky. A National Board-certified teacher with 11 years of experie...

  • David Ruenzel

    David Ruenzel

    David Ruenzel is an English teacher at the Athenian School in Danville, Calif. From 1992-2001 he was a senior writer at Teacher Magazine and contri...

  • Bill Ivey

    Bill Ivey

    Bill Ivey teaches 7th grade Humanities, French, and music at Stoneleigh-Burnham School in Western Massachusetts. He is a member of the Teacher Lead...

  • Cheryl Suliteanu

    Cheryl Suliteanu

    Cheryl Suliteanu has taught elementary school students in Oceanside, Calif. for 15 years. She is a National Board-certified teacher with certificat...

  • José Vilson

    José Vilson

    Jos Vilson is a math teacher, coach, and data analyst for a middle school in the Inwood/Washington Heights neighborhood of New York. A poet, web d...

  • Jennifer Barnett

    Jennifer Barnett

    Jennifer Barnett is an English and social studies teacher and technology specialist in Talladega County, Ala. She is a co-author of Teaching 2030: ...

  • Delonna Halliday

    Delonna Halliday

    Delonna Halliday is a Literacy Coach at First Creek Middle School in Tacoma, Wash. She has a background in TV/movie production, spent a year teachi...

  • Meenoo Rami

    Meenoo Rami

    Meenoo Rami, founder of the #engchat weekly Twitter chat for English teachers, teaches her students English at Science Leadership Academy in Philad...

  • Sarah Brown Wessling

    Sarah Brown Wessling

    Sarah Brown Wessling is a high school English teacher at Johnston High School in Johnston, Iowa. She is also serving as TCHr Laureate for the Teac...

  • Paul Barnwell

    Paul Barnwell

    Paul Barnwell teaches English and digital media at Fern Creek Traditional High School in Louisville, Ky. In his spare time, he enjoys bow hunting, ...

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    Dedy Fauntleroy

    Dedy Fauntleroy is an ELL instructional coach in Seattle Public Schools. In her previous life, she served as an ELD specialist, mentor teacher, and...

  • Shannon C'de Baca

    Shannon C'de Baca

    Shannon C'de Baca has been a science teacher for the last 34 years. She currently teaches a blended online chemistry course. Shannon has written le...

  • Mark Sass

    Mark Sass

    Mark Sass has been teaching high school social sciences for 16 years, for the past 12 years at Legacy High School in Broomfield, Colorado. Mark is ...

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    Brooke Peters

    Brooke Peters has taught kindergarten and 1st grade in Los Angeles and New York City for 10 years. As co-founder of The Odyssey Initiative, Brooke ...

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    Lillie Marshall

    Lillie Marshall (@WorldLillie on Twitter) has been a teacher in the Boston Public Schools since 2003, and is passionate about creative forms of tea...

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    Jessica Cuthbertson

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    Justin Minkel

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    Silvestre Arcos

    Silvestre Arcos is the founding 5th grade math teacher at KIPP: Washington Heights Middle School in New York City. He studied human development and...

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    Matthew Holland

    Matthew Holland is a native of Alexandria, Va., and a product of the city's public school system, where he is currently an elementary school teache...

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    Jody Passanisi

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    Bud Hunt

    Bud Hunt is an instructional technology coordinator for the St. Vrain Valley Schools in northern Colorado. He works with teachers and technologists...

  • Elizabeth Duffey

    Elizabeth Duffey

    After 37 years as a high school English teacher, Elizabeth Duffey took a position as facilitator of instruction in literacy in the Tacoma Public Sc...

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    Lhisa Almashy

    Lhisa Almashy is an ESOL teacher at Park Vista High School in Lake Worth, Fla. A 2012 winner of Teaching Tolerance's Cultural Responsive Teaching A...

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    Darnell Fine is a multicultural thinker who facilitates education and creative writing seminars, as well as social justice workshops, around the co...

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    Ben Curran is a K-5 instructional coach at a charter school in Detroit. He is also co-founder of Engaging Educators, co-author of Learning in the 2...

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    Jennifer Martin is an English teacher at Wootton High School in Rockville, Md. During her 12 years in the classroom, Jennifer has taught nearly eve...

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    Elizabeth Stein has been teaching more than 20 years and is currently a middle school special education teacher and mentor-teacher program coordina...

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    Margit Timakov

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    Meredith Kohl

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