MSIS #3: Assessment

ramblings from the 3rd institute at the Shanghai American School

Kick-off: What’s worth celebrating & sharing?

Themes for the Weekend

  • “Assessment is a process of gathering and using evidence of learning to improve teaching & learning.”
  • Formative assessment is a critical part of learning. If it’s “graded”, it ain’t formative.
  • Effective assessment balances DOK (Depth of Knowledge) levels 1-3. [Level 4 = projects]
  • What & how we assess drives what & how we teach.

What is our primary focus? Teaching Mathematics – therefore, where is the curriculum & assessment coming from. Our job should not be to create curriculum & assessment. So, where should we find these great items?

How are assessment questions aligned with instructional practice?

Characteristics of high quality assessment

  • Justification / explanations
  • Multiple strategies
  • Models can be used to support
  • Reasoning / critiquing
  • Fair
  • Aligned to standards
  • Limits complexity of language

DOK – what is the cognitive complexity?

  • Content is assessed @ DOK 1 & 2
  • Problem Solving – DOK 2 & 3
  • Communicating & Reasoning – DOK 2 & 3 (with some 4)
  • Modeling & Data Analysis – DOK 1-4

DOK does not equal level of achievement of student.

DOK Levels (What kind of thinking is needed to respond?)

  1. Recall & Reproduction
  2. Basic Skills & Concepts
    1. Mental processing beyond recall is necessary.
  3. Strategic Thinking & Reasoning
  4. Extended Thinking

Excel vs Exceed – does a shift to “excel” have more meaning

  • Evidence of complete understanding
  • Evidence of reasonable understanding
  • Evidence of inadequate understanding
  • No Evidence

Rigor – the pursuit of

  • conceptual understanding
  • procedural skill & fluency
  • application

with equal intensity

Standards Based drivers

  • What should my students be able to do?
  • How will we know when my students are successful?
  • What will I do if they “got it”?
  • What will I do if they did not “get it”?

Assessment –

  • something that we do with (not to) a student.
  • integrated with the learning.
  • DOK level of instruction should be above the level of assessment


  • What you are teaching – the standards
  • When you are teaching – scope & sequence
  • How you are teaching – teacher instruction


Students must benefit from formative assessment.

Comparing Tasks – how do we improve existing tasks / assessments ?

Justification & the Frayer Model – how do the mathematics and model justify each other?




Plate Tectonics – Group preAssessment

Today, I’ve gone fishing. Next week my 7th grade science classes will shift their focus to geology. Personally, I’m rather excited about the topic and ready to get talking about the movements of the earth. But…what are my students bringing with them to this topic?

The room was a buzz with conversations as students worked in groups of three or four. Once reassured that my goal was solely to collect information regarding current understanding to help plan for an upcoming unit, student groups dove into working through a series of questions. Honestly, I was quite surprised by the level of engagement and felt good about the decision to give a group pre-assessment rather than individual questions. The collaborative nature of the task – talk to each other about topics you might or might not know anything about – stimulated vibrant conversations.

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The questions came from the Project 2061 work on the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) site. The work has led to a series of questions based upon researched misconceptions. A wide range of topics are available and a user can create question banks based on need. Multiple choice solutions are based upon possible misconceptions. As my students worked together, a support hand-out was provided so that students could identify unknown vocabulary and put down questions relating to ideas.

I wonder if the strong level of conversation and exchange of ideas came from the fact that many choices “making sense” to students were available. At that point, they had a starting point to discuss. In the end, I will have a general overview of groups and will later work to tease out the understanding of each student.

Exit Ticket: pre-Lab

I’m trying to get feedback from students on something we did every class. Short. Quick. Specific. Every time we go to the doctor, our vitals are taken, right? I guess I better get the pulse each time they come to see me. We’re still on a general cycle that rotates between investigate and discuss/prep for the next activity. At the end of the class, students read a procedure for the upcoming observational lab. Here’s the exit ticket:

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What does/would yours look like?

Follow-Up: Whiteboarding and the student

Earlier this week, I posted up a lesson where students worked in groups to design a method and collect data. The project started through a company request to test a scaled-down version of a zip line. (I forgot to mention that the majority of students in the class experienced a zip line on a class trip.) My goal was to find individual thoughts among the group processing. Students finished data collection and emailed me images of their whiteboards which I have printed out. These will form the basis of an assessment.

Students will have time to meet and verify the printed images and review what happened during the planning and data collection phases. They will then be asked to individually write a report to the company (“Zippy Fun”). Here is the memo outline that students will complete. There are two portions – processing data and a self-reflection.


Assessments: Student Check

Assessments provide a way for both students and teacher to check-in with progress being made towards learning standards. As a teacher, assessments give me a glimpse into a student’s thoughts and processes. I am able to gauge whether one or two students are unsure about a topic or if the whole class has been left standing at the train station a couple of minutes after departure. 

Students also need this check. In a class that focuses heavily on doing science/math and group problem solving, a bit of individual time is important. At the same time, I realize that my students are middle schoolers and delayed feedback quickly becomes meaningless. I’m trying to provide quick feedback through self-evaluation and reflection.


As a result, I’m spending more and more time writing out answer keys in a way that allows students to determine how they did while also providing a model on how to fully explain an idea or concept. When students finish work, they come to an area in the classroom set up like the one in the photo. Highlighters are provided and students evaluate their solutions. This gives them immediate feedback and also places some power in the hands of students. If they disagree with solutions, they can discuss with me while their energy of problem solving is still at a high level.

The second step is reflection. I’m still working on the questions but my goal is for students to think about themselves as explainers of ideas. How successful are they at transferring their ideas onto paper? My hope is that the process of reflection helps students improve their preparation for assessments while also expanding their ability to discuss ideas.

How are “reassessments” coming along?

Whew! It’s amazing how a couple of sick girls can stop a family in its tracks. Interesting “living in Taiwan” tidbit – antibiotics are given out on a 3-day rotation. Upon our return from the States last summer, both of our girls got ill. We took them to the doctor and received a course of antibiotics: 3 days. We found it odd of the small amount of days but others told us that is just the way it happens. They got sick again. And again. And again. Each time the antibiotic course increased their health for a short period and then back to sickness. Last weekend, we freaked. Our youngest did not appear to be hearing. Anything. Frantically we rushed to the doctor who quickly found a middle ear infection. He informed us that we would receive 14 days of antibiotics. Wow! At the pharmacy, we were given 3-days worth. Now we were confused and began questioning. As it turns out, insurance system mandates the small amount and the patient needs to return to the pharmacy every three days! Here’s to hoping for health after multiple pharmacy trips and a full course of antibiotics.

In the meantime, I’ve been a busy one with student-initiated assessments. I moved to a Google Form about a month ago with great results. The students who were already coming in still do so but many others – especially quiet students – are now coming in. It seems as if the form is providing a step forward that is easier than showing up for an assessment. Then, once the form is completed, they have made a commitment. I’m definitely pleased with the increased turnout (I am also better prepared – as students come in they simply pick up the assessment with their name on it since I was told what they would assess on).

At the same time, I think I need to vary the form from time to time so that there is reflection instead of hoop-jumping taking place as students think about concepts. In one instance, a student who regularly speeds through assessments without fully reading questions wrote multiple times “Yep, I read the problem wrong. Again.” Is some sort of learning taking place for him?

I haven’t kept hard data on the success rate of students who reassess but I feel that it has increased. Asking students to describe what they did wrong and to then rework the problem seems to be successful. It’s something that I am going to continue looking into.


Managing Student-Initiated Assessments

I’m working to get a bit more efficient with managing student initiated assessments. Days and times are generally set though the number of students who walk through my door is an unknown. A few may come, or none. Some may have touched base with me and I am prepared with questions or students pop in and I scramble. My goal is to streamline the process and have students be more active in scheduling time.

Another goal, which I think is more important, is to gain a better understanding of student thought regarding their answers. In a recent reflection, I asked students what they will do to improve their understanding of an idea. A frequent response was to “study harder”. What does this mean? I’m not sure if the students even now but they’ve heard plenty of teachers and parents telling them to go study an idea.

Google Forms will be my tool to schedule new assessments and to provide students with an opportunity to analyze their past work and seek improvement. Here is the form – I wonder what else needs to be added.