Category Archives: Ideas

The Doctor is in: Time for an Academic Physical with Dr. Nikki Roorda

Roorda_Nicole (1)Every day, in millions of doctors’ offices across the world, people go in for their annual physical exam.  This process brings out a multitude of emotions from patients including, but not limited to, “I hate going to the doctor.  I know s/he is going to tell me to lose a few pounds and to stop eating out so much” to “I am excited to see how my changes in lifestyle choices have impacted my high blood pressure,” and everything in between. 

The purpose  of health screenings is defined by the American Medical Association (AMA)  as, “Health care services or products provided to an individual without apparent signs or symptoms of an illness, injury or disease for the purpose of identifying or excluding an undiagnosed illness, disease, or condition” (2000).  The  AMA contends that through the use of screening, our doctors can determine if a medical emergency exists.  No matter what thoughts go through our minds when we go in for our annual physicals, at the end of the day we trust in the process of the health screen to keep us safe from underlying medical issues. Continue reading


ATI Annual Grading Conference Expands Focus


We were riding high after a great ATI Summer Conference, but it was soon time to get back to work. For over a decade, ATI has offered its popular December Grading Conference and plans are well underway to repeat the eva49a9159ent again this year. Our presenters and authors were brimming with ideas, and Rick Stiggins was no exception.

As standards-based, or proficiency-based grading gains traction, Rick urged us to stay ahead of the field by expanding our subject matter to address other practices that contribute to better student outcomes by improving feedback from teachers.

This year, grading practices will be just one of several topics related to communication about student achievement address in the conference sessions. Conference participants will have the opportunity to study the basic principles of effective communication about student learning in any school context. Continue reading

Assessment Strategies Proven to Work

Ben ArcuriBy Ben Arcuri

There is no bigger topic in education these days than the topic of assessment. Assessment has many definitions depending on who is doing the talking. The purpose of assessments and the intended users of  assessment information differ tremendously as well. Assessment can serve as a guide to the students; it has the ability to guide the teacher and can also drive education policy and reform. Continue reading

Tips for Better Student-Developed Rubrics

Are you planning to have your students create their own rubrics this year? Here are some tips on how to guide this process from Judy Arter & Jan Chappuis’ Creating & Recognizing Quality Rubrics.

While we’re all in favor of involving students in rubric development, it is not true that anything gos when we do. We have to be ready to lead students to germane criteria. We have to have a clear picture in our own minds of where we want to take students so that we can engage them in activities and show them models that lead them to justified inferences about quality. Teachers generally know more about quality than do students. Even though students always have knowledge to build on, they also can harbor misunderstandings. Our rubrics send a message to students about what is important. Therefore, the rubrics they create have to cover the features that really do define a quality performance or product.

We once saw a rubric developed by third graders to evaluate reading comprehension by producing a poster of the story. Students focused on the quality considerations for an attractive poster—three colors, at least five pictures, neat, readable from a distance, and so on—instead of the quality of the comprehension displayed by the poster.

A solution? How about leading these students to deliberately evaluate two different criteria: comprehension of the story as revealed by the poster and the attractiveness of the poster itself. For the former, have them think about what would indicate that a student has understood the story. For the latter, let them know that it is always important to present work in an engaging manner. Here their criteria for a quality poster might prove sufficient.

Then, if we put two scores in the record book—comprehension and presentation—it would be clear what each score is evidence of. The presentation score would be used in figuring an art grade, not a reading grade, because the rubric for presentation represents art-related learning targets.

Excerpt from Arter, J. & Chappius, J. (2006). Creating & recognizing quality rubrics. p. 61. Reprinted by permission of Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.

Innovation and Assessment in the Modern Classroom

myronBy Myron Dueck

A while back I heard an educator comment, “if you went back 100 years, the only thing you’d recognize is a classroom.” I am not sure if I agree that this is the case in all schools, but many teachers are adopting current technologies in the quest to engage the 21st century learner and meet him or her on common digital turf.

What I have heard educators say on many occasions is that we need to prepare the next generation of learners. While I agree that we want to achieve this goal, I am not certain that our practices reflect it –- and no area is more obviously lacking than that of assessment. Students are immersed in current technologies and teachers are not far behind, at least when it comes to personal handheld devices.

The big question is: How do we capture and harness the power of digital technology in the area of assessment? Continue reading

Finding Success in All the Right Places

By Pat Collins and Kelly Jewell

Can you picture a student that you think is always off-task? How about one that sure seems lazy? Do you have students that don’t start assignments even though you know your directions were crystal clear? In this day and age it is tempting to blame these behaviors on ADHD, poor parenting, or bad attitudes. But what if it’s something else? We wondered why we weren’t successfully motivating and engaging our students.

You might say to motivate and engage students our lessons just need to be interesting, connected to the real-world, active, reach different learning styles, and fun. But, that wasn’t enough to reach many of our students. After plenty of research and a lot of trial and error, we hit upon the hidden obvious. People aren’t motivated to do things if they don’t think they can be successful. Success is motivating! Continue reading

Although “no late work” is my official policy…

Recently, a teacher wrote to us with a fantastic question, so we asked three great thinkers in the field of assessment how they might answer it. Here’s the question:

I am intrigued by the concept of not discounting grades for late work. While I understand, on a basic level, the intent being to not discourage learning, shouldn’t there still be some expectations of personal responsibility? One of the reasons students don’t get grades for late work is that late work infringes on my time by requiring me to take extra time to assess the work. Trying to assess that work in a timely manner makes me rushed in my feedback. Therefore the quality of the feedback is diminished if the work is submitted late, and I expect that they should be able to submit most work on time. Now, although “no late work” is my official policy, all someone has to do is to contact me, give me *any* excuse (just about), and I allow them to turn it in, because I recognize that my students are people and things get in the way. So, can I still give reduced points/zeroes for late work?

This question is one that many teachers have had as they move forward with assessing their assessment practices. We asked a few of the amazing people we work with here at ATI and they were kind enough to share their thoughts on the subject with us.

Author and presenter Cassandra Erkens writes:

It is always important to teach responsibility in schools, but the way it’s often managed, refusing or discounting points for late work, has missed the mark of actually teaching responsibility on too many fronts. First, this strategy actually teaches the opposite of responsibility. In the adult world, when someone misses a critical time line, he or she demonstrates responsibility by fixing the problem created by the tardiness; it would be considered irresponsible to walk away from it.  Discounting points or refusing to accept late work encourages learners to act irresponsibly and walk away from the opportunity to learn. Responsible learners do the work; they do not opt out.  Second, the message sent by such a practice is that timeliness is more important than learning. In essence, teachers devalue their own assessments when they suggest that what they wanted the learner to learn no longer matters since the timeline was missed.  In this way, compliance trumps learning.  The primary responsibility of students in schools is learning – it is, after all, why the learners are there.  Finally, teaching responsibility requires modeling responsibility.  Teachers model responsibility by requiring evidence of learning so they can offer feedback and provide support to ensure student success.  They teach perseverance, commitment, and precision when they require evidence of learning first and foremost.

Managing late work without penalizing scores might seem overwhelming, but teachers across North America are discovering and employing strategies to increase the responsibility of their learners without using grades to punish or reward learning instead of a tool meant to reflect learning. In many classrooms, homework is not graded, but it is required.  Students must use the results from their homework to make instructional decisions on what they require next in their progression of learning.  They track their results and work to gather the evidence that will prove their readiness for upcoming assessments.  In these classrooms, teachers report that there is actually an increase in student motivation and productivity.  More students are turning in more work with consistency.  The gentle switch from doing work to receive/avoid something to doing work to learn something reframes the overall process for both the teacher and the student.  The quality practices of formative assessment can give teachers the necessary strategies and tools to increase student responsibility in their classrooms.

Myron Dueck added these words of wisdom:

We make the assumption that by reducing grades for late work we are somehow enhancing or supporting ‘personal responsibility’.  This can be a misguided notion. My first response would be to ask a simple question: what do you want your grades to reflect?  Perhaps this question might be adjusted to: what are you asked to grade?  In the case of the second question, every jurisdiction I have encountered asks teachers to grade by a set of learning standards.  Therefore, teachers should want to grade the extent to which their students meet the prescribed learning outcomes. Whether you use zeros or late deductions, these ‘consequences’ will ultimately obscure whatever grading has already occurred.  Therefore, I have a pretty simple set of guidelines that I use to determine the effectiveness of grade-based student consequences:

  1. Does the consequence serve to achieve my ultimate goal?
  2. Does the student care about the consequence?
  3. Does the student have complete control over the variables associated with the task?

I used to use both lates and zeros in my grade book, but these three conditions caused me to abandon this practice.  Lates and zeros did not achieve my ultimate goal of grading according to learning outcomes.  In many cases, students proved they did not care as they willingly accepted the punitive actions, or in some cases actually prefered a zero to actually getting the work done.  Lastly, I found that many students were not in control of the variables that led to successful homework or assignment completiton.  Poverty, learning gaps, drug and alcohol issues, and mandatory work requirements were just a few of the barriers many students face. These factors may render it impossible for these students to complete homework. Adding a punitive “grade” to that challenge would only further diminish their ability to learn.

Ken Mattingly has this advice to give:

Academic grades should be a reflection of academic achievement.  When we discount an academic grade due to behavioral problems, it results in a skewed picture of student performance.  I see the real issue here being student accountability for completing the work, and I share your frustration with this issue.  I think there are two questions we need to ask before continuing.  First, are all students aware that they can get additional time?  Second, could there be other consequences for late work besides the score or grade?

Hopefully the answer to the first is yes, and all students are on even footing.  If not, they should be made aware of this opportunity and of how to ask for the time.  After all, as adults don’t our employers expect us to do the same if we need additional time?  This would be a great opportunity to begin to embed this life lesson.

As for the second question, there are always behavior consequences that can be applied to students who turn in late work.  It can be the loss of privileges, such as lunch or break time with friends.  It could be attending afterschool extended services.  It could even be receiving a corrective action plan that provides structure and timelines for completion of the work.  Each of these would be a way to address the underlying behavioral problem without impacting the academic assessment.

And Tom Schimmer has an entire blog post of his own on the subject which can be found here: