Q&A with Jan Chappuis, author of Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning

ChappuisQ: This is the 23rd annual ATI Summer Conference. Can you tell us how the conference got started?

Jan Chappuis (JC): Rick Stiggins and his wife, Nancy Bridgeford, had recently founded the Assessment Training Institute here in Portland, Oregon to address a major gap in preservice education programs: teachers were generally not prepared to engage in effective assessment practices. The summer conference began as a way to bring together like-minded professionals to further ATI’s mission—to develop understanding of how day-to-day classroom assessment can and should serve learning. Today, 23 years later, “going to Portland” has been a transformational experience for thousands of educators in the US and around the world.

Q: What did you see in your experience that inspired you to develop Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning?

JC: As a beginning classroom teacher, I was not a fan of traditional assessment, so I looked for ways to make it more learner-centric. Like many teachers before me, I discovered that getting students to think like assessors caused them to actively engage in their own learning. Through trial and error I found that students needed first to understand what they were supposed to be learning (Strategy 1) before I could ask them to critique their own and others’ work (Strategy 4), which was my initial goal.

Through teaching the writing process, I became interested in working out how to offer effective feedback so students could and would act on it (Strategy 3). Using samples illustrating a range of quality (Strategy 2) and giving students opportunities to track, reflect on, and share their learning progress (Strategy 7) I learned from Vicki Spandel of Northwest Regional Educational Lab. Strategies 5 and 6 (“Use evidence of student learning needs to determine next steps in teaching” and “Design focused instruction, followed by practice with feedback”) arose from the desire to use assessment primarily to self-assess my own lessons’ effectiveness and to adjust instruction accordingly.

Beginning in 2001, as researchers were converging publicly on which formative assessment practices caused the highest achievement gains, I began formally studying their writings and then assembled the strategies to help clarify for teachers how to engage in ongoing effective assessment for learning.

Q: Your work focuses on two aspects of classroom assessment: accuracy and effective use as captured in the statement “Do it right—use it well.” What does this term mean to you?

JC: “Do it right” means to be sure your assessments provide accurate information about the achievement targets you are teaching.

“Use it well” involves being clear about how you want to use the information that results from your assessments. If the intended use is summative, it means adhering to guidelines that will yield fair and defensible grades. If the use is formative, it means making sure you are gathering actionable information and are planning sufficient time for both you and your students to take action prior to the summative event.

“Do it right” comes first in the equation because there is no way you can use inaccurate information well, either formatively or summatively.

Q: What do you look forward to most at the ATI conferences?

JC: I really enjoy hearing from returning participants about their experiences with implementing what they learned at previous conferences. I look forward to working with participants who are attending for the first time, learning about what they are already doing and what they hope to change. Perhaps the most fun comes from the give and take of ideas among presenters and participants we all experience.

Q: What is your best advice for someone participating in the ATI conference for the first time?

JC: First, an ATI conference offers a balance of session types, from current classroom practitioners and administrators to those conducting research and interpreting it. All have been asked to present because they are experts at what they do. Consider sampling from both the “Here’s how we do it” expert practitioner sessions and the “Here’s what best practices look like” expert research-based sessions.

Second, keep in mind that everyone presenting cares deeply about the well-being of educators and students and we all want you to get the most you can from the experience, so ASK QUESTIONS if you have them!

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