All Things Assessment (Solution Tree)

I’m very excited to announce that all of my assessment blogs are moving to the newly updated and relaunched Solution Tree All Things Assessment website. You can find the blog  here. You can find the homepage for the website here.

This website is part of a much larger assessment center at Solution Tree. The center itself is still in development so more information will be shared as it unfolds later this year, but for now, the All Things Assessment site is live, active, and full of great assessment information shared by an array of assessment experts.

For now, this website will remain active as an information page and a way of connecting with me.



Accurate Grading with a Standards-Based Mindset (WEBINAR)

On Monday, December 16, 2013 I conducted a webinar entitled Accurate Grading with a Standards-Based Mindset. The archived copy of the webinar can be viewed here. (It’s just under 80 min, including questions at the end.)

Please note: This webinar was presented by Pearson Education. When you click on the link above you will first be asked to provide contact information before the webinar will play. While it says “the author has requested the information” please know that it is Pearson (not me) who requires this…just wanted you to know.

Below is a brief blog post that encapsulates (but by no means covers) the essence of the webinar:

While the standards-based grading movement is in full swing, not every school, district, or state is in exactly the same place. The difference is attributable to a variety of factors including the level of the school within which a standards-based approach to grading is being implemented. Elementary school standards-based report cards often look very different from middle or even high school standards-based report cards; that’s not a bad thing as the application of standards-based reporting at each level needs to be suitable for that level. The point is that schools and districts across the country are at various places along the standards-based grading continuum. While some have implemented fully, others are still exploring.

Despite this variation, the common link for all along the standards-based grading continuum is how we think about grading; what I call the standards-based mindset. This mindset represents the heavy lifting of the grading conversation. Once we shift how we think about grading, the implementation of standards-based reporting is easy, or at least easier, since the way we think about grades, how we organize evidence, and what is most heavily emphasized is different. We become more thoughtful about ensuring that a student’s grade represents their full level of proficiency and not just the average of where they were and where they are now.

Adults are rarely mean averaged and certainly, it is irrelevant to an adult that they used to not know how to do something. Yet for a student, these two factors are dominant in their school experience. A student’s grade (at least traditionally) is almost always a function of the mean average and a failed quiz or assignment early in the learning almost always counts against them; remember, every 40 needs an 80 just to get a 60.

The standards-based mindset shifts this conversation to a more accurate way of reporting a student’s level of proficiency. Like any idea, there are always detractors who’ll try to hijack the conversation by suggesting that standards-based grading is about lowering standards, making it easier for students, and letting them off-the-hook; none of that is true. Standards-based grading is about accurately reporting a student’s true level of proficiency. As students learn and grow through the curriculum they should be given full credit for their achievement. When they don’t receive full credit we are sending the not so subtle message that you should have learned faster!

A standards-based mindset is separate from how we report grades. With a standards-based mindset you can still report traditional grades, it’s just that how you determine grades is significantly different. Teachers with a standards-based mindset eliminate the influence of non-learning factors from their gradebooks. Whether it’s extra credit or late penalties, a standards-based mindset is about accurately reporting a student’s level of proficiency. Another misrule about standards-based grading is that meeting deadlines, completing work, etc. are not important; they are, however, they’re different. A student isn’t less proficient in math because the work was handed in two days late. Attributes, habits, and college/career skills are important and with a standards-based approach they remain important, but separate.

The standards-based mindset is about emphasizing the most recent evidence of learning by allowing students to receive full credit for their accomplishments. Reassessment is not about hitting the reset button or developing a do-over generation; it’s about recognizing that students have surpassed their previous levels of proficiency and giving students the opportunity to demonstrate those higher levels…and then giving them full credit for their learning. Students are still held accountable – for the learning – and not punished when they fall short of expectations. We don’t need to use the gradebook to teach students to be responsible; when we do it leads to grades that are inaccurate.

Standards-based grading and reporting is about levels of proficiency, accurate information, and a reorganization of evidence. Before we can fully implement standards-based reporting we need to develop a new way of thinking about grading; we need a standards-based mindset. Whether you still report traditional letter grades derived from predetermined percentage scales or are somewhere in the midst of developing a standards-based way of reporting, the standards-based mindset is the necessary first step toward more thoughtful and meaningful ways of reporting. With a standards-based mindset, if a student used to be a 40, but now is an 80, she should get an 80, not a 60!

Most Recent? Most Frequent? Most Accurate?

accuracyOne of the fundamental tenants of standards-based grading is that greater (if not exclusive) emphasis is placed on the most recent evidence of learning. As students move through their natural learning trajectory it is important that students be credited with their actual levels of achievement. That is, when students reach a certain level of proficiency it is important that what is reported accurately reflects that level. To average, for example, the new evidence with the old evidence is to distort the accuracy of the grade; the grade is then reflective of where the student used to be as the student was, at some point, likely at the level the average represents.

What we have collectively realized is that the speed at which a student achieves has inadvertently become a significant factor in determining a student’s grade, especially when determined within a traditional grading paradigm. When averaging is the main (or sole) method for grade determination, success is contingent upon early success or the average of what was and what is will continue to distort the accuracy of the students’ grades. Never forget that every 40 needs an 80, just to get a 60. That’s pure mathematics; the lower the initial level, the more a student has to outperform his/herself in order to achieve even a minimal level of proficiency.

More often than not, the most recent evidence of learning is the most accurate. This is especially true when our standards, targets, or performance underpinnings represent foundational knowledge and skills. Foundational knowledge and skills are typically elements of the curriculum that have a fairly linear progression and slip back is highly unlikely; once students truly know or can do something it is unlikely that they will, even after an extended period of time, suddenly not know or know how. That doesn’t mean mistakes won’t occur. Even the most proficient students make mistakes. That also doesn’t mean they’ve suddenly lost proficiency; errors are an eventual occurrence. But does that mean the most recent evidence is always the most accurate? Not always.

Sometimes the most frequent evidence is the most accurate. Generally, the more complex the standards or the demonstration of proficiency is, the more likely it is that a teacher will need to consider the most frequent evidence as the most accurate. Take, for example, writing. Students are often asked to write in a variety of styles and/or genres. As such, taking the most recent writing sample may be misguided since the expected style/genre could be the student’s weakest. For example, if a teacher asked the students to write an argumentative paper as their final paper, and that is the student’s weakest form of writing, then the potentially poorer result may give the appearance that the student’s writing skills have declined. However, if the teacher had simply chosen to reorder the assignments and make argumentative writing the first paper, then the optics would reveal a very different trajectory. With complex standards/outcomes like writing, accuracy is more effectively achieved when the teacher examines all of the writing samples and looks for the most frequent results as they relate to the intended standards.

Staying with the writing thread, the most recent writing samples may be the most accurate within a particular style; if a student writes multiple argumentative papers then it’s likely the most recent is the most accurate. However, as the styles change, most frequent may be more accurate. The point is that we need to be more thoughtful about how we apply the concepts of most recent versus most frequent. This is more art than science and teachers must become comfortable with using their professional judgment. Remember, the goal is accurate grading and reporting. The art of grading is about the teacher using his/her professional judgment to determine a student’s level of proficiency. Teachers are more than data-entry clerks who enter numbers into an electronic gradebook; they are professionals who understand what quality work looks like, who know what is needed for students to continue to improve, and know when the numbers don’t tell the full story.

I am looking forward to sharing more on this topic at the Pearson-ATI Sound Grading Practices Conference (Dec. 5-6, 2013) in my session titled Most Recent? Most Frequent? Other sessions I will be leading include Zero Influence-Zero Gained, which examines the misguided logic behind punitive grading and Effective Leadership for Sound Grading and Reporting for administrators and teacher-leaders looking to implement more sound, fair, reasonable, and accurate grading practices in their department, school, and/or district.

As well, I will be presenting a keynote session entitled Accurate Grading with a Standards-Based Mindset where I will outline the mindset necessary to begin the shift away from traditional grading toward a more accurate, standards-based approach that maintains student confidence and focuses on learning rather than the simple accumulation of the requisite number of points.

If you’re unable to attend the conference, please take some time to follow the hashtag #ATIcon on Twitter.

AMLE 2013

AMLEI’m really looking forward to my sessions at the American Middle Level Educators Conference next week in Minneapolis, MN. Here are my session descriptions, times, and rooms in case you’re attending; would look forward to your participation. Also, If you know of anyone attending please feel free to share this link with them. Thanks!

Friday, November 8, 2013

5 Guidelines for Effective School-Wide Discipline (Roundtable Session)
10:00-11:15 am CT (Room 208 A-D)
Every school’s approach to student discipline needs to be grounded on the fundamentals of support and inclusion, not on removal and isolation. This session focuses on the five important guidelines for developing an effective, proactive approach to student discipline. As well, participants will explore a working example to understand how to develop and implement a student discipline plan. This session will also focus on suspension and why it has a limited impact on changing student behaviours.

Ten Things that Matter from Assessment to Grading (Ticketed Session)
2:00-5:00 pm CT (Room L100C)
Based on the content of his book with the same title, this session will describe the ten pedagogical priorities teachers should hold when implementing sound assessment and grading practices. While all ten priorities will be highlighted, specific emphasis will be placed on formative assessment, effective feedback, accurate grading, and the instructional practices that lead to greater student success. In addition, the topics of building student confidence and student ownership will be explored.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Accurate Grading with a Standards-Based Mindset (Concurrent Session)
8:00 – 9:15 am (Room 101F)
Before moving to standards-based grading, educators must first develop a standards-based mindset. This session is focused on developing that mindset by first examining the ways in which some of our more traditional and/or punitive grading practices have led to inaccurate and meaningless grades. The focus then shifts to how teachers can collect and examine student evidence of learning that’s anchored on the achievement of standards and the accurate reporting of students’ levels of proficiency.

Everything is Assessment (Concurrent Session)
9:45 – 11:00 am (Room 101F)
This session will focus on the two key attributes that can turn any activity into an assessment for learning. Rather than creating assessment “events”, this session focuses on the process of infusing our assessment for learning strategies into our instructional practices. Highlighting both assessment for learning and feedback, this session will present participants with a number of practical strategies that can yield real-time assessment information in order to determine what comes next.

NEW Facebook Page

FBJust last week I started a brand new Facebook Page; I thought I would bring this to your attention. For me, the goal was to create another space where I could connect with educators throughout the world. It’s not meant to replace any other platform, including this blog.

I will still be using Twitter for short/frequent posts and interactions; I will still be using this blog for longer, more thoughtful posts. My Facebook Page is meant to find the sweet spot between the two: Longer posts than twitter, shorter posts than my blog. As well, my Facebook Page will include a much wider scope of content, although it will still be primarily focused on education.

So, if you are on Facebook, please take a moment to check out (maybe even like?) my Facebook Page.

You can still find me on Twitter: @TomSchimmer

Thanks for subscribing to my blog. I look forward to our continued connection!


Points over Practice?

This post is written as a precursor to my session on homework at next week’s Pearson-ATI Summer Conference

practiceYou’d think by now we’d have the whole homework thing figured out. Should it be assigned? What is the purpose of homework? How much is too much? How much is too little? Should it be graded? Is it formative? What if my students don’t do it? What if only half of my students do it? Why do we continue to act surprised by the fact that some students don’t master the intended learning the first time they practice it? These (and so many other questions) fuel a continual debate over where the actual sweet spot of our homework routines is.

Is homework the means or the end? In other words, does homework present students with an opportunity to further advance their proficiency with regards to specific curricular standards or is it an event all unto itself? While some might be tempted to answer both, it is challenging to come up the middle on the means vs end discussion.

As a means, homework tends to be about practice. Inherent in this practice paradigm is the elimination of points and their contribution to an overall grade. In other words, as practice, homework is formative. As an end, homework is just the opposite; it tends to be an event that independently contributes (even in a small way) to a report grade. While subsequent new evidence of learning may emerge, homework as an end remains a contributor to what could eventually be an inaccurate grade. And that is the bigger point. Whatever we report about student learning – and however we determine the substance of what we report – must be as accurate as possible. Previous evidence (homework) that no longer reflects a student’s current level of proficiency has the potential to misinform parents and others. When homework counts, we are emphasizing points over practice.

“…but it only counts for a small percentage of a student’s final grade,” some might argue, “so it doesn’t really matter.” I suppose on one level that might be true, however, consider a scenario where someone steals a five dollars from you and then asks you to dismiss it since they didn’t steal a lot of money. Now, I do understand that making the connection between stealing and counting homework is a stretch, but my point is that if learning (and the accurate reporting of a student’s achievement) is our priority, then emphasizing points clearly misses the mark. It’s not how much the inclusion of homework impacts the student’s final grade; it’s that it does in the first-place.

Still, others may proclaim (and wholeheartedly believe) that, “…if I don’t grade it, they won’t do it.” Again, while that might be the paradigm in a classroom, we have to ask ourselves who is responsible for creating that paradigm. We must recognize that students don’t enter school in Kindergarten with a point accumulation mindset; the K student never asks her teacher if the painting is for points! So where do they learn that? Somewhere in their experience points (and grades) become a priority for the adults…so they become a priority for students. Parents and students also contribute to this mindset, but we have to acknowledge our role as well. Also, if the only thing motivating students to complete any assignment is the promise of points then we really have to consider whether the assignment is truly worth completing in the first place. Again, is homework a means or an end?

I am looking forward to sharing more on the topic of homework, practice, and assessment at Pearson-ATI’s 20th Annual Summer Conference next week (July 8-10, 2013) in Portland, OR. The session on homework entitled Practice without Points will explore the biggest hurdles that prevent some teachers from eliminating the points attached to practice work, the reasons we assign homework and how those reasons fit within a balanced assessment system, and how teachers can thoughtfully respond to the trends they see between initial homework results and subsequent assessment data. You can read more on why I believe homework should be for practice and used formatively (here) rather than being used as part of a summative reporting process.

I will also be leading a session on Effective Leadership in Assessment specifically suited for those responsible for taking assessment literacy to scale and a session entitled Infused Assessment that takes participants back to the core fundamentals of formative assessment by infusing it into already existing instructional practices rather than creating  summative-events-that-don’t-count. 

If you’re unable to attend the conference, please take some time to follow the hashtag #ATIcon on Twitter.

How curious are your students?

Image courtesy of Master isolated images at
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In her recent article The Case for Curiosity (Educational Leadership, February 2013), Susan Engel asserts that “curiosity is essential to learning, but in scarce supply in most schools.” One of the major points of the article is that students should be encouraged to ask as many questions as possible. While this might first appear to be a rather pedestrian outcome, we should reflect on whether our instructional choices foster curiosity within our students. Engel wants us to make questioning a goal:

Think of question asking as the goal of an educational activity, rather than a happy by-product. Develop activities that invite or require students to figure out what they want to know and then seek answers.

Unfortunately, sometimes questions are seen as, at-best, an accidental outcome; at worst, they are a disruption to the teacher’s flow. Like most things, curiosity within our students will only be nurtured and developed through purposeful thought & action. What would the outcome be if we examined each lesson through the lens of curiosity? That is, what if we asked ourselves how curious will my students become as a result of this lesson? 

There is no question that this is easier said then done. Undoubtedly the pressures to cover content, meet outcomes and standards, and prepare students for year-end exams leaves many of us wondering about where we might find the time. That said, why do we always try to leave time for questions or squeeze a few questions in at the end. Why don’t we start with questions?

Why don’t we ask our students what they’re curious about? Would it change anything for you if your students told you what they wondered about the solar system, the industrial revolution, statistics, or poetry? Would your students develop a deeper level of engagement if you paused for one moment, right in the middle of a lesson, and asked the students what they’re thinking. When we pause and ask, are there any questions, we’re usually are met with silence; follow that with now, what are you thinking and you’re likely to be surprised at how much is on their minds.

Your move to emphasizing curiosity doesn’t have to be epic. Just begin by keeping curiosity at the forefront of your mind as you develop your usual lesson sequences. Eventually, it will become a natural routine; then a habit.

Fostering curiosity will take some time; time for you to shift your focus and time for the students to develop new, habitual ways of reflection. However, by shifting our instructional mindset to one that makes nurturing curiosity a priority, the same content you’ve taught for years can be transformed into the means that drives an unprecedented level of motivation and engagement.