Education Week - November 11, 2015 - Special Report - (Page S12)
November 11, 2015
Understanding Formative Assessment > www.edweek.org/go/formativeassessment-digital
Nathan Armes for Education Week
Pu t t i n g S t u den t s
I n C harg e of Thei r
O wn L earn i n g
C an st u d en t s lear n m o r e b y
assessin g t heir p r o g r ess?
By J aclyn Z u b r z yck i
ifth grader Tacyana Thomas
had put the finishing
touches on a short paragraph. Now, she held her
paper next to a model essay and
compared her writing with her
teacher's. Had she used evidence
to back up her argument? Had she
restated the thesis?
This was among the first of many
times this school year that Tacyana
will be asked to determine how her
own work stacks up to a model. But
she wasn't left to do so on her own.
Tacyana and the rest of Maggie
Martin's literacy class here at Gust
Elementary School had just spent
an entire lesson learning how to
assess their own work using a rubric, a scoring guide that lays out
what is expected of students.
Gust is one of a growing number of schools across the country
where student self-assessment is
one type of formative assessment
that is woven into the school day.
The idea is that just as teachers
can teach more effectively if they
check students' progress along the
way, students can learn more effectively if they understand what
they're working toward and where
"You've heard lots about wanting
student learning to rise," said Susan
Brookhart, a Montana-based consultant and the coordinator of assessment and evaluation for the school of
education at Duquesne University in
Pennsylvania. "At some point, people
said, 'Hey, wait a minute, kids have
to be involved, too.'"
"Students aren't just empty heads
to fill," Brookhart said. "They need
to be aiming to learn something, not
just aiming to comply with teachers'
directions. Learning is much deeper
if the student is thinking, 'I am doing
this because it will help me learn
At its core, student self-assessment is driven by three basic questions, she said. Students are taught
to ask themselves, "Where am I
going, where am I now, and where
But equipping students with the
tools to accurately answer those
questions, and providing teachers
with the tools to teach students how
to answer them, is a more complex
Advocates of student self-assessment are careful to say what it is
not. Students are not filling out
their own report cards. Nor are they
passively reflecting on their work.
Ideally, they are in between; actively judging their work and progress toward a goal, and determining
what steps to take to reach it.
Many of the tools of self-assessment are by now familiar to most
teachers: Rubrics that clarify what
level of work will earn which score,
and objectives at the start of lessons
that remind students what they're
aiming to learn.
Choosing the Goals
But there is an art to creating
just the right goals and models.
Content standards are written for
teachers, not students, so teachers
must translate the content goals
of a course into student-friendly
Perfecting that translation has
been a focus of EL, formerly known
as Expeditionary Learning, a schooldesign network that partners with
120 district and charter schools
around the country, including Gust.
The network refers to the goals as
For instance, a standard that requires students to "understand the
monetary value of coinage" might
be translated into a learning target
that says, "I can make change for a
dollar using nickels, dimes, quarters,
and pennies." That target is in more
kid-friendly language and contains
within it the content laid out in the
Ron Berger, the chief academic officer of EL, said that those targets
must be accompanied by models of
high-quality work. He gives the example of a ballet dancer. A student
studying ballet has, ideally, seen
excellent ballet dancers perform. As
the student is working on skills and
routines, the excellent dancer is a
model and inspiration.
Berger said that in this way, a
model doesn't have to stifle creative or innovative work.
"The most important assessment
that happens in any building is not
the state assessment," Berger said.
"It's the assessment that's going on
in a student's head every day, before
she turns in work, when she thinks:
Is this good enough?"
Heidi Andrade, an associate education dean at the University of Albany in New York, said that student
self-assessment can help improve
"When you ask students to monitor the quality of their work on standards and criteria, not surprisingly,
they do better," Andrade said.
There is some debate about
whether students' self-assessments
need to be accurate. Some believe
it's critical for students to be able
to accurately mark their progress,
while others believe the process of
reflecting, thinking carefully, and
revising is more important, said
Andrade, who is in the latter camp.
The idea is that students are being
taught how to be metacognitive-
to reflect on their own thinking-
and to approach learning with the
attitude that they can grow.
Andrade, who helped develop and
popularize the use of the rubric in
K-12 schools, said that she is concerned that some rubrics are either
too vague or too hard to understand.
She said it is also crucial that selfassessment is followed up with a
chance for students to revise and
improve their work. "Otherwise," she
added, "what's the point?"
Student self-assessment has
gained traction at the same time
that new technology and new assessments have provided teachers
and schools with access to previously
unimaginable amounts of data about
students' performance, attendance,
behavior, and more.
At many schools, students are
given access to much of the same
data as their teachers.
At Gust, Julia Padilla, a 5th grade
math teacher, said she has seen a
shift in the school's approach over
her eight years there. "Students
haven't always been aware of their
progress," she said. "But now, they
aren't surprised by the end result,
Sony Gomez, a 4th grade
student at Gust
Elementary School in
Denver, uses a red pen
and a rubric, or scoring
guide, to assess a
and they feel they're more in control
"The expectation is that not only
are teachers using data, students
are owning data," said Padilla. In
her class, she said, students track
their progress as they learn the
multiplication tables and see their
scores on standardized tests. She
said students can even use behaviortracking programs like Class Dojo to
assess their own behaviors.
In Ms. Martin's class, Tacyana
said the rubric "helps us understand more about what we're
Principal Jamie Roybal said the
idea of encouraging students to assess their own learning has become
part of the school's culture. Selfassessment goes hand in hand with
the idea that students can learn and
grow, she said.
"It gives ownership and control of
learning and growth back to students,"
Roybal said. At a staff meeting, Gust
recently self-assessed its own performance in making time for student
self-assessment, she said. "That's how
much we're focusing on it."
That's not by chance. One component of the Denver district's
framework for evaluating teachers
is whether their students have the
opportunity to self-assess.
Padilla said it takes time to teach
students how to read rubrics or use
systems to track their progress.
But, she said, the shift is worth it.
"I think students tracking their own
data is key to getting students invested in their education," she said.
"If they don't see the direct results
in that moment, it's hard for them to
know where to go." ■
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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - November 11, 2015 - Special Report
Education Week - November 11, 2015 - Special Report
Table of Contents
Bringing Clarity to a Cloudy Idea
Should Formative Assessments Be Graded?
Common Core: Tools to Check Students’ Grasp
Putting Students in Charge of Their Own Learning
An Arizona Initiative Sets Sights on Teachers
Learning Progressions: Road Maps for Teaching
Tech-Powered Teacher Tools
Education Week - November 11, 2015 - Special Report