The Assessment Swiss Army Knife: 9 Student Assessment Tools to Help Teachers Achieve 6 Critical Learning Goals - Bakpax
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The Assessment Swiss Army Knife: 9 Student Assessment Tools to Help Teachers Achieve 6 Critical Learning Goals

One of the greatest challenges the educational community faces is how to move forward from the instruction and assessment status quo. Specifically, a student assessment model intended to sort students for industrial age employment opportunities to a model that supports skills for today’s rapidly changing society, such as communication, problem solving, collaboration, and critical thinking.

While the vast majority of educators agree with the need for change, progress can stall when processes divert away from traditional methods that most educators find convenient, systematic, and cost-effective. One and done test opportunities, for example, are systematically easier to manage than newer practices that call for student revision opportunities. It’s clear however that if we are interested in supporting students’ acquisition of a modernized skill set, we educators need student assessment methods that align with the new outcomes.

I recently presented at a professional development day that focused on “how” educators can effectively make the transition. While preparing for the day, my colleagues and I realized that a number of the student assessment  “tools” we planned to feature could be used to support multiple assessment goals. These assessment “multi-tools” can work to support educators who are searching for time effective systems and practical support in order to modernize their assessment practices.

6 critical student assessment goals:

Goal 1: Assessment that is standards-based and reflects what students know and are able to do

Educational standards are the learning goals for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. To meet this goal, teachers determine grades based on mastery of standards using a variety of developmentally appropriate methods and tools to assess learning. Like aiming at a target,  it’s critical that students know which learning standards and goals they are working on so that they know what they are aiming toward.

Tools that support Assessment Goal 1:


Goal 2: Assessment that checks for understanding, provides feedback, and prepares students for summative assessment

This goal highlights the importance of breaking down the steps of learning into clearly communicated learning targets. In order to meet the goal teachers use formative assessment during the learning process to guide instruction. Any student data collected during this phase of learning is used to provide feedback or differentiate instruction in order to support students while they are progressing toward meeting the class objectives.

Tools that support Assessment Goal 2:

Goal 3: Assessment and grading that guides continuous learning

While this goal plays a critical role in supporting student learning, it can be incredibly challenging to manage. To meet the goal, teachers provide opportunities for practice, retakes, and revision. Students are given opportunities to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways and only the most recent attempts are considered when analyzing what the student has accomplished or learned.

Tools that support Assessment Goal 3:

Goal 4: Assessment that is transparent and promotes common understanding between students, parents, teachers and schools

This goal calls for teachers and school communities to ensure that grading practices are valid, accurate and consistent. Digital grade books, clearly communicating learning targets and continuous communication with students and families all support the idea that assessments are aligned with what the student is able to accomplish in respect to the learning goals and objectives of the class.

Tools that support Assessment Goal 4:

  • Work Product Exemplars
  • Rubrics
  • Proficiency Scales
  • Learning Portfolios

Goal 5: Assessment that supports a growth mindset

This goal is highlighted through the work of Carol Dweck professor of psychology at Stanford University and the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Her research demonstrates the difference between a fixed mindset, one that focuses basic qualities, like intelligence or talent, as being fixed traits and a growth mindset, the understanding that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. For example, studies on different kinds of praise have shown that telling children they are smart encourages a fixed mindset, whereas praising hard work and effort cultivates a growth mindset.

Tools that support Assessment Goal 5:

Goal 6: Assessment that reflects student achievement

Summative assessments that come at the end of learning are focused on achievement and are used to determine grades or final evaluations. These assessment come after students have completed formative work, adjusted their understandings based on feedback, and are ready to demonstrate what they know and are able to do in response to the learning goal(s).

Tools that support Assessment Goal 6:

  • Self-Reflection Tools
  • Goal Setting Protocols
  • Learning Portfolios


a closer look at the 9 student assessment tools:

1. Continuous Feedback

These tools create a dialogue between students and teachers in order to improve student learning. By using them throughout instruction, teachers are able to identify student misunderstandings and help them correct their errors. This type of feedback is crucial for improving knowledge, skills, and understanding, and is also a significant factor in motivating student learning.

2. Data Tracking Sheets for Differentiation

A simple spreadsheet that is easy to create and can be shared either digitally or printed for each student. Typically the learning standards are listed and can be marked off by either the teacher or student to track progress. Sheets can be kept digitally in an online folder shared through google docs. On paper, teachers may create a binder or file system where student data can be tracked and analyzed.

In order to differentiate instruction the classroom teacher must have a clear idea what students need to know or do to meet the learning targets or standards. KUD which stands for Know (K), Understand (U), and Do (D) provides a framework for teachers to define for themselves the outcomes they expect from students. Teachers then tier assignments, adjusting within the same lesson to meet the needs of students. While all students learn the same fundamental skills and concepts they may do it through varying modes and activities.

3. Portfolios

A digital portfolio is a digital collection of student products over time. Portfolios create a window into classroom learning for everyone within the school community including parents because they showcase student learning. A portfolio can include work samples that highlight student achievement, as well as,  student learning from the start to the end of a class or a multi year program.

4. Self-Assessment Tools

When students know and understand the learning targets they can take an active role in self-reporting where they are in meeting them. Typically that are able to identify their own skill gaps including where their knowledge is weak. This can help them to identify where they need to focus their attention within the learning process.  It can also help them set goals, revise their work and decide when they are ready for a summative or end of learning assessment. Most importantly, the process helps students stay involved and motivated to take responsibility for their learning.

5. Self-Reflection Tools

Similar to self-assessment tools, reflection tools help students think about their own learning. While self-assessment is typically used during the learning process, reflection is used post learning. The goal is that students recognize how they learn the best and are able to continue learning independently. Through reflection, students become clear about: what they have learnt, which learning strategies were successful, what they need to focus on next, and why it is important.

6. Work Product Exemplars

Exemplars are powerful tools that can enable students to discuss a work before attempting to do it themselves. They are not necessarily an examples of perfect work, but instead ones that represent a strength or milestone within the learning process. To be effective, teachers share collections of example work in order to generate conversation about what the students are going to learn and do as they start or work through a standard or objective.

7. Rubrics

A rubric provides criteria for students’ work that includes descriptions of levels of performance. When learning outcomes require that students be able to do or perform a skill then rubrics provide a way to assess them. They are a tool that helps teachers and students match observations to descriptions of milestones along the learning pathway. They are not used to judge a performance, but instead provide a description that provides useful feedback for next steps.

8. Proficiency Scales

A proficiency scale outlines what students are expected to know and be able to do at four different levels of achievement that can be converted into a score or grade. For example, a student at level 1 is unable to fulfill the grade-level learning goal, even with assistance. A student at level 2 is able to partially fulfill the the grade-level learning goal, or is able to meet the goal with assistance. A student at level 3 is able to fulfill the grade-level learning goal independently. In other words, they meet the learning standard. Finally, students at level 4 are able to demonstrate a higher-level understanding of the learning goal. Proficiency scales can provide a way for students to analyze the standards and clearly see where they are within the learning process.

9. Goal Setting Protocols

Students set goals in order to increase their stake in the learning process. By articulating what they will do and when they will have it completed students are able to take responsibility for their own learning. The other listed assessment tools help students to understand what they need to know and do or where they are within that process. In contrast, student goal setting engages students in making a commitment to learn or demonstrate what is outlined in the learning standard.

Each assessment goal articulates a feature of assessment aimed to meet the needs of today’s learners. Educators challenged to adopt these goals may initially wrestle with the ways that these goals challenge the mental models of the past. However, for teachers actively engaged in meeting the challenges outlined within each goal frustration may come when they try to figure out how to meet the changing needs of students. The nine “multi-tools” outlined are highly effective ways to start implementation as overlap to dynamically support student learning.


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