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Three Days in Denver – Defining Purpose Between the ‘Why and the How’

I am eagerly awaiting my flight to Denver on Sunday. Admittedly, I’ve never been to Denver, so I look forward to experiencing the food, sights and sounds of a new city. Professionally, I am energized to be returning to a conference that in its 24th year of existence, is still an epicenter of conversation, debate and exploration around assessment – a term coined the ‘language of learning’.
Back in 2006 I was a high school social studies teacher who had his arm somewhat twisted by administration to attend the December Grading Conference in Portland. I was reluctant to attend as I simply did not see the promise in a conference that claimed to tackle grading. If you had told me it was about instruction, lesson planning or hands-on learning I would probably have been more interested, but grades seemed an open and closed topic, hardly deserving of a conference devoted to it. I was sorely mistaken.
It was the Trailblazers tickets that tipped the balance and I decided to attend the Portland conference in 2006. Rick Stiggins hooked me with the ‘Why’ during the first keynote by challenging me to consider the extent to which I set clear learning targets, and more importantly, how I reacted when they were not met. Ken O’Connor further challenged my thinking by delving into the reasons for changing the way I graded group projects, applied late deductions and used zeros – all things I was completely ok with doing before I had set foot in Oregon.
Since 2006 I have only missed one of the conferences; I prioritize these trips because I find the ATI Conferences to be a great balancing act between the ‘Why’ and the ‘How’. In the few days we have leading to Denver, I encourage all attendees to work on defining your purpose. It its important to know your purpose in education and the extent to which your purpose is supported (or eroded) by your assessment practices. Only when we drill down into what we most hope to achieve are we best able to refine our tools and practices. Looking over the 24th Annual Assessment Training Institute Summer Conference agenda, there is an amazing array of new and experienced presenters that will challenge convention, while offering alternatives. Conversations will reflect the need to establish purpose, while developing the reasons for rethinking assessment and the ways in which it can be done.
In my closing keynote, ‘Mixed Messages‘ I plan to tackle the topic of purpose and explore ways that we either support or erode that purpose by what we say and do. If assessment is indeed the ‘language of learning’, it is very important that we send messages that support our purpose around learning and relationships.
See you in Denver,
#atisummer2017 #atibyod
Myron Dueck is a vice-principal, teacher and author in SD 67 in British Columbia, Canada. He has previously taught in Manitoba and the South Island of New Zealand. Over the past 17 years of teaching, Myron has experience in a variety of subjects ranging from grades 4 to 12. Beginning in 2006, Myron developed a number of assessment and grading systems with his senior classes in which students have greater opportunity to show what they know and adapt to the feedback they receive. As a teaching and administrative leader, Myron has been a part of district work groups and school assessment committees that have further broadened his access to innovative steps taken by others. Through speaking of his experiences and showing a variety of student-friendly assessment procedures, Myron has visited many school districts and conferences across North America and Europe. Myron has twice been published in EL Magazine. His best-selling book, Grading Smarter, Not Harder – Assessment Strategies that Motivate Kids and Help Them Learn was released by ASCD in July 2014.

Building a Standards-Based Foundation

The education field is in the beginnings of a revolution I never imagined I’d witness while still a practicing teacher.  Classrooms, schools, and even entire districts are shifting their grading procedures toward standards-based grading and reporting.  This is a great end goal for any school or district.  There is no better way to inform on student attainment of standards than to report the student’s current standing in relation to the specific learning we have for them.  When teachers report out standard by standard, or learning target by learning target, all vested parties know where they are on the path to standards mastery.

However, the reporting of student attainment of standards cannot be where we start.  Long before we can have meaningful conversations about the reporting, we need to talk about standards-based learning and assessment.  It doesn’t matter what you report out if, at the foundational level, you’re not dealing with the standards on a daily instructional and assessment level.  This is what Tom Schimmer refers to as having a standards-based mindset.  Do you know what your standards are?  Do you have them broken down into meaningful chunks of learning for your students?  Do you communicate them to your students? Are your learning activities aligned to them?  Do your assessments measure student attainment?

When we build this system from the ground up we must start with a solid foundation.  Teaching and learning are aligned when teachers and students are both clear on what the learning intention is.  Neither side has to guess what is supposed to be learned or taught.  The learning expectations can be clearly communicated, in student-friendly language, to provide all students with a clear idea of their destination.  But in order to accomplish this teachers have to get in and grapple with their standards.  They need to work in groups and figure out what exactly are the standards asking kids to know and do.  It is through this process of deconstruction that teachers develop a shared understanding of what the standards mean.  And once this vision is arrived at, it matters less who a student’s teacher is because everyone is headed toward the same destination.  

Once teachers have developed a shared vision of the standards the next step is constructing assessments that will measure student attainment of them.  These assessments are used formatively during learning to promote student success, and summatively after learning to certify student achievement.  I don’t think I can stress enough that these assessments aren’t just about determining who is right and wrong.  Assessments have to be built to inform both the teacher and student about the current state of understanding and, if developed well, illuminate what the next steps may be.  Well-designed assessments not only reveal who knows the correct answers they also tell us where students went wrong.  Diagnostic assessments that tell teachers and students where and how students ended up in the weeds allow both to make adjustments to teaching and learning.

Now with clear learning targets and sounds assessments we next need to provide effective feedback to students, as well as teach them how to self- and peer-assess.  Effective feedback doesn’t provide students with the answer.  Instead it provides students with an indication of what their strengths and weaknesses are, along with some direction as to what comes next.  Offering students feedback empowers them to take the next steps in their learning.  

These foundational practices provide the validity to standards-based grading.  If they are carefully implemented within a classroom, school, or district the transition to a standards-based report card becomes a logical next step.  Without them we put teachers in the situation where they lack the necessary knowledge and skills and, in an effort to be compliant, they take their traditional practices and force them into something that appears to be standards-based but in reality is not.

So as we continue this educational revolution, let’s keep in mind the strong foundation we must build before we are truly able to realize the power of standards-based grading and reporting.  Anything less than that is a disservice to teachers, students, parents, administrators, and communities.

#atisummer2017 #atibyod

Ken is addressing this topic in his session at the ATI Summer Conference Deconstructing Standards and Developing Learning Targets. Ken Mattingly as writes at

Ken Mattingly

Ken Mattingly, a science teacher at Rockcastle County Middle School in Mount Vernon, Kentucky, has 18 years of experience in sixth and seventh grades and holds national certification in early adolescent science. He has worked on implementing classroom assessment for student learning practices in his classroom for the past seven years, and led the implementation of standards-based grading in his school. During the past two years Ken has worked with multiple school districts across Kentucky to help develop a vision of balanced assessment, promote transparency in grading practices, and shift the teacher and student focus to the learning instead of the grade.

Session: Holding Collaborative Conversations around Classroom Artifacts

For several years when I was in the high school classroom, teaching in a steady, status-quo kind of way (if I’m honest about it), I thought I was doing exactly as I should.  Not gonna go too much out of the box, not gonna vary too much for the sake of constancy for the students, not gonna get wild and crazy so as to not appear unprepared for teaching.

Slowly, I matured in my thinking.  I continued to read and learn, and I worked to apply new learning in my classroom, but nothing too out there.  I worked with colleagues off and on but in a “department meeting” kind of way.  Finally, I reached a point where I was able to study for a doctorate in education, based on my interest in effective teaming.  Lo and behold, when I began to study the literature about collaborative teams and what effective teams think and do to improve learning for students, I realized I’d been missing the boat.

I don’t have my early teaching years to do over again, but now as a leader of learning for adult educators, I’ve come to realize–and witness–how taking intellectual risk causes growth in educators which can translate to improved instruction for students.

This kind of intellectual risk comes in the form of having collaborative, substantive conversations around artifacts of the classroom, such as student work, tasks or assessments of some kind, or video clips of instruction.  It is real risk taking to bring artifacts from one’s own classroom and have them scored collaboratively and discussed against established criteria, using a protocol and process. It takes becoming vulnerable in front of trusted colleagues–this is where authentic risk-taking comes into play.

I’d be pleased to have you join me at the 2017 Assessment Training Institute Summer Conference in my breakout session called “Holding Collaborative Conversations around Classroom Artifacts” on either Monday, July 10, 2:45-4:00, or Tuesday, July 11, 1:15-2:30.  We’ll talk about research-based characteristics of collaborative teams.  We’ll discuss what practices and protocols can work.  We’ll talk about what kind of standards-based criteria or scales of learning we can use when discussing artifacts.  Then we’ll actually do some hands-on practice with some provided classroom artifacts and criteria so participants understand the protocols and process.  If they wish, participants are encouraged to bring 5-6 copies of a single piece of anonymous student work and its corresponding criteria against which a team might score and discuss.  You’ll go back to your school with ideas, tools, and hands-on practice of how a process like this might work for you and your colleagues.

Our session will address the following learning targets:

  • Examine and critique collaborative team practices that leverage professional learning time effectively and support consistency of practice across a school or district
  • Understand that relational trust is essential for intellectual risk taking, and intellectual risk taking and reflection are essential for growth
  • Analyze classroom artifacts against criteria using scoring and discussion protocols
  • Conduct in-depth discussion over artifacts and practices

Hope you’ll join me for some great conversation!

#atisummer2017 #atibyod

Becca Lindahl earned her doctorate in administrator leadership in teaching and learning from Walden University. She currently is a Professional Learning & Leadership Consultant with Heartland AEA 11, a mid-level state educational agency in Iowa whose consultants work side by side with central Iowa teachers and administrators. Becca supports K-12 educators in accredited public and nonpublic schools as they strive to implement Iowa Core/Common Core and national standards. This support includes helping districts and schools, through system-level change, become assessment literate and implement sound standards-based grading and reporting practices. Becca also helps schools put into action effective collaborative teaming practices within a larger professional learning community. As well, she helps lead systems-level work in adult learning.

Before supporting schools in Heartland, Becca was a central Iowa high school French, English, and Spanish teacher for 17 years. From there she became a high school principal in central Wisconsin, and then, upon moving back to central Iowa, she became a K-12 curriculum leader for several years. She brings to her consultant’s role the many hats she’s worn and a passion for supporting educators as they do the hard work of continuous improvement for students.

Five Keys to Quality Assessment & more

Looking forward to being part of the 24th Annual ATI Summer Conference that focuses on classroom assessment. This conference has keynotes and breakout sessions that are based on the principles and benefits of quality classroom assessment practices. Researchers and practitioners from all levels of education come to this conference to share with participants their experiences and findings and welcome input and questions from those that attend.

At the first breakout session period on Monday, July 10, my attention will be focused on those that are new to this type of conference. I will highlight the Five Keys to Quality Assessment, which are the basis for accuracy and effective use in classroom assessment practices. I will outline the characteristics and principles of each of these Five Keys and will involve the participants in a variety of activities and discussions to deepen their understanding. Having this basis will assist new participants as they journey to other sessions during the conference that go into additional detail on the development and use of quality assessment practices.

On Monday afternoon, I will do a “Bring Your Own Data” (BYOD) breakout session that runs across two presentation time frames allowing participants to get deep into the concepts of systemic change and leadership competencies and be able to use their own assessments or other data and artifacts to make connections to their current practices. To create change in assessment practices, educators at all levels of the organization need a system that supports their individual efforts. A strong system requires strong leadership at all levels of the organization, from the boardroom to the classroom. It requires leadership that will form a vision of the preferred future in assessment, will share the vision with others in the system and will invite them in to further shape it and make the vision become a reality. In addition to a clear vision, leaders need to provide the resources and remove the barriers so individuals can take risks to learn and apply new practices in assessment. In this session for district, school and classroom leaders, I will focus on Five Actions to a Balanced, Quality Assessment System and I will give a variety of examples of how various schools and districts led their districts to quality assessment practices. Participants will engage in a variety of activities, discussions and reflections allowing them to focus on what is current in their schools and districts and on what could be changed. To enhance their experience, I ask that those that are attending my session to bring with them digitally or in hand board policies that impact assessment and any lists of currently administered assessment within one’s school/district.

At this year’s conference I am honored to do a keynote on Tuesday, July 11, that will focus on the power of classroom assessment that is accurate and used effectively. Though state and annual assessments receive a lot of attention due to the high stakes attached to them, the gold standard of assessment is quality classroom assessment that produces useful, accurate data and the assessment process and the data results are used effectively with the users of assessment, especially the student. I look forward to sharing with the participants the why, what and how of classroom assessment, making it the gold standard in assessment practices.

You can plan your conference with the full agenda.

Until we meet at the conference I wish you the best in your pursuit for quality education for our students across the world.

#atisummer2017 #atibyod

Carol Commodore

Carol Commodore, Ed.D., is the founding member of Leadership, Learning and Assessment, LLC. She is also one of the founding members of the Wisconsin Assessment Consortium and an independent consultant with Pearson Assessment Training Institute of Portland, Oregon. Carol has also served as an assistant superintendent for instruction and a coordinator for assessment and has over twenty years experience as a classroom teacher, having taught students from kindergarten through graduate school. She has facilitated the development and implementation of a district-wide elementary world language program and a district-wide K-12 Standards and Balanced Assessment program for students. Carol’s research interests focus on the impact of assessment and instruction on learners and their learning. Her work with assessment, learning, motivation and leadership takes her across North America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. She has provided numerous keynote addresses, workshops and consultations for school districts, schools and educational and nonprofit organizations. Carol is also a co-author of three books, The Power of SMART Goals: Using Goals to Improve Student Learning along with Beyond School Improvement The Journey to Innovative Leadership, and Assessment for Assessment Balance and Quality An Action Guide for School Leaders 3ed.

Session | Fix 8—Creating Performance Levels: How Do We Make this Fix Come to Life?

I’ve been studying and investigating standards-based learning, including grading and reporting, for about 13 years or so now.  Back in the spring or summer of 2004, when I was a K-12 curriculum coordinator for a large nonpublic school system, one of our high school principals had attended an ASCD conference in Denver.  He came back and said he heard this guy named Ken O’Connor speak about shifting away from how we’ve always done grading in the classroom and toward new practices that allow for much clearer communication about student learning.  This principal thought our system should have Ken in to talk to us about these new ideas.  We all agreed, and it fell to me to arrange for this in the fall of 2004.

Well, once Ken arrived to visit with us over two days, I, the wearer of many hats at the time, fell to being his chauffeur.  In our system, our schools sat spread out over the whole southwest quadrant of the state of Iowa, so I arranged for Ken to present to a large group of administrators and teachers in one section of the state, and then the next day he would present to the other half of our educators in another section of the state.  He and I had a lot of car time, and in fact, we became good friends through all of our car-time discussion about education and, OK, golf.  And OK, politics.

Long story short, I have been working with (then nonpublic and now public) schools in Iowa for years on supporting them to make shifts to repair their broken grading systems.  I have used Ken’s A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades with many schools.  As Ken himself might say, all the fixes are important, but Fix 1 (separating student behavior from academic learning) and Fix 8 (using performance standards/levels) are perhaps more critical than others for genuinely shifting to new, sound, clear, and beneficial grading practices within standards-based learning systems.

I would offer, though, that implementing Fix 8 is a lot easier said than done.  We educators have used a 101-point grading scale (0-100) for a very long time, with no super well-known reason for doing so.  Parents are familiar with it, community members too. Tradition often drives things, and it seems tradition has been driving our classroom grading methods for decades, with no research base, to boot.  Shifting to using performance levels is a solid new practice, but you might ask, How do we do this?  What might a performance scale look like?  As Ken states in the explanation of Fix 8, “The challenge is to create clear descriptors of our overall levels so that we have a delineated achievement continuum within which we can consistently judge student achievement to be competent or to deserve a certain grade….The most important performance standards, [however], are those used to give students feedback and/or scores on their demonstrations of learning” (p.69).

If you’re a classroom teacher, or a leader in a building or system, and if you are at just the beginning of your understanding of what performance levels are and how they’re used, this session could be for you!

I’d be pleased to have you join me in our breakout called “Fix 8—Creating Performance Levels: How Do We Make this Fix Come to Life?”  It will be held Monday, July 10, 1:15-2:30, and Tuesday, July 11, 2:45-4:00.  Our learning targets are found in this scale:

We’ll read, talk, discuss, question, and create.  I hope you can join me!

Becca Lindahl earned her doctorate in administrator leadership in teaching and learning from Walden University. She currently is a Professional Learning & Leadership Consultant with Heartland AEA 11, a mid-level state educational agency in Iowa whose consultants work side by side with central Iowa teachers and administrators. Becca supports K-12 educators in accredited public and nonpublic schools as they strive to implement Iowa Core/Common Core and national standards. This support includes helping districts and schools, through system-level change, become assessment literate and implement sound standards-based grading and reporting practices. Becca also helps schools put into action effective collaborative teaming practices within a larger professional learning community. As well, she helps lead systems-level work in adult learning.

Before supporting schools in Heartland, Becca was a central Iowa high school French, English, and Spanish teacher for 17 years. From there she became a high school principal in central Wisconsin, and then, upon moving back to central Iowa, she became a K-12 curriculum leader for several years. She brings to her consultant’s role the many hats she’s worn and a passion for supporting educators as they do the hard work of continuous improvement for students.

Q&A with Dr. Rick Stiggins: What is Formative Assessment?

Edweek sat down with the founder of ATI, Rick Stiggins, to ask him a few questions about what formative assessment is, and what benefits users can expect.

Listen to the podcast here.

For another opportunity to hear Rick Stiggins speak on assessment, register for our winter conference!

Redefining Accountability

By Tom Schimmer105046605 - New Photo #2

The issue of accountability often serves as a source of tension between those on either side of the grading reform ledger. For those still not sure about a move toward standards-based grading, the pushback often centers on the notion that “students need to be held accountable!” To be clear, the collective movement toward standards-based grading is not some misguided attempt to make school easier for students or to relieve students of their responsibility to fully invest themselves in their own learning. In truth, most would agree that students need to be held accountable, but the difference is that standards-based grading establishes a new kind of accountability.

For some, the term accountability is code for punishment, which sounds harsh, so the word consequence is often used as a substitute to present the illusion of a more logical response. As thinking goes, punishments need to be applied by adults whereas consequences are the natural result of student missteps. Either way, this version of accountability is a distraction that focuses on the student’s behavior (not learning) and compromises the validity (accuracy) of what is ultimately reported about student proficiency. While some may philosophically justify this approach, philosophical justifications aren’t enough to neutralize the role this version of accountability plays in diminishing the meaning and clarity of the grades student earn.

What is needed is a new definition of accountability where all learning is mandatory. With late penalties, struggling students have almost no incentive to complete essential learning activities after three or four days. Give a student a zero and, if he or she is still passing as a result, it is unlikely that the work will ever get turned in; that’s not accountability. The irony is that while many claim standards-based grading makes it easier for students, the traditional accountability practices actually do more to make school easier by rendering essential learning as optional. Real accountability doesn’t allow students to opt out of what is essential nor does it allow students to play a numbers game to decide which assignments need to be completed and which ones do not.

Punishing irresponsibility doesn’t teach anyone how to be responsible; it only teaches someone that they should have been responsible, but it doesn’t teach them how. If the life lesson of responsibility is that important, we would be proactive in teaching responsibility in the same way we teach math, ELA, or any other subject. As a point of comparison, we don’t use the threat of lower scores to teach respect. Almost every school expects students to be respectful, holds students accountable when they are disrespectful, but never needs the gradebook to do so; responsibility can be handled the same way. What a student knows and when they hand their teacher something are two different constructs–both important, just different. If you want students to learn how to be responsible, teach them. Playing the life lesson trump card because we’re annoyed that a student was non-compliant is no way to ensure the accuracy of what is reported or to establish a culture of optimism about learning moving forward.

I am looking forward to sharing more on this topic at the Pearson-ATI Sound Grading Practices Conference (Dec. 4-5, 2014) in my session entitled “Redefining Accountability.” In addition to my keynote address, “Grading from the Inside Out,” I will also be presenting “Reassessment the Right Way and Effective Leadership for Standards-Based Grading.”

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

What Happens Before the Reassessment?

Jeff_EricksonBy Jeffrey Erickson

The topic of reassessment has spurred many “lively” conversations and debates in schools. Some argue that it isn’t fair that some get a second chance for learning and believe that it doesn’t reflect the real world to have second chances (forgetting the fact that many would not be able to drive to work if there weren’t redos.) Others contend that reassessments provide students an important opportunity to improve their learning and show proficiency. However, what I’ve learned over time, as a building principal, is that we need to shift the conversation away from reassessment and towards what happens before the first summative assessment is even given.

My school, Minnetonka High School, is an International Baccalaureate (IB) school. As teachers of IB courses complete course assessments, they are required to review all of the assessments, compare them against the rubric, and predict students’ final IB scores (from a 0-7 point scale). In turn, IB moderates the teacher’s predicted score. The process of predicting individual students’ scores is intriguing because of the amount of evidence of learning required to predict them.

A teacher who starts with the end in mind should be able to go around the classroom as he or she passes out the summative assessment to the class and accurately predict each student’s performance. The outcome on the test should not be a surprise to either the teacher or student. Sounds simple? In reality, no—to do this, the teacher must have a preponderance of evidence about each student’s performance gathered over the unit of study. There has to have been a series of formative assessments that provide the teacher with accurate feedback about the student’s learning. Each of the formative assessments helps drive and shape the instruction of the teacher so that mid-course corrections can be made. Rather than being reactive after the summative, the goal is to be proactive during the learning process and intervene long before the first test is given. If the evidence of learning shows that students are not ready, why would a student take the assessment the first time?

In the end, the testing results should never be a surprise. The criteria for success should be clear to all parties. Students should receive timely, specific, and targeted feedback throughout the learning process. With this information, proactive interventions can happen just in time for remediation—not the day after the summative assessment.

ATI Continues to Grow Its Vision

Rick Stiggins 2010 Portrait Max Resolution      By Rick Stiggins

Many don’t realize that the social institution we call school in America has undergone a fundamental change in mission. Historically, a primary mission has been to produce a rank order of students based on achievement by the end of high school—that is, to begin the process of sorting us into the various segments of our social and economic system. But over the past 20 years, new missions have been added. Schools also are being held accountable for delivering ever higher levels of achievement, universal lifelong learner competence, narrowing achievement gaps, and reduced dropout rates. Continue reading

Think It, Build It, Fly It, Fix It

By Myron Dueck

I would imagine that nearly everything that has ever been designed to fly has crashed…it seems unavoidable.  Predictably, crashes are more prevalent in the design phase of a contraption compared to when the device has been modified, adjusted and inevitably (or hopefully) proven.

It has been suggested that the Wright brothers made as may as 1000 glider attempts in a two-month span in 1902 and averaged at least a few crashes each week. After gaining glider success and experience they added an engine and on December 17, 1903, at Kity Hawk, North Carolina, the first controlled powered flight was made.  We celebrate their invention, but seldom do we talk about the crashes. After their historic flight they continued to design better planes that flew longer and higher. When these planes crashed, sometimes spectacularly, they retuned to the design table and made improvements. Had early aircraft pioneers been unwilling to crash, we would never be flying today. The process for designing things to fly is similar to a notion that we have taken on in our high school. It goes something like this: Continue reading