Public Relations Today
By Guest Post • August 27, 2015

One Teacher Nerds Out About Assessment

This guest post comes from Katie Henderson, a U.S. history teacher from Hollis-Brookline High School in New Hampshire and a friend to Chalkup.

Not all nerds are teachers, but all teachers are nerds.

Being a nerd about something means you could talk someone's ear off about that thing, you scour the Internet for mere mentions of that thing, and spend countless hours figuring out ways to bring that thing into your classroom pedagogy.

What do you nerd out about? For me, it's assessment.

Looking at assessment in a new way

I know. Sounds, at best, boring (think 100-question multiple choice tests or pages and pages of true/false questions) and at worst, evil (think big, bad standardized tests). For some, the word “assessment” conjures images of teachers slaving away over grade books, red pens poised in judgment, assigning arbitrary numerical values to students.

Those are all common misconceptions about what assessment means; that's certainly not the kind of assessment I nerd out about.

For me, assessment means evaluating how students are doing in relation to a set goal or objective and providing feedback about students' progress toward that goal. Sure, assessment can sometimes mean grading and sometimes involves a red pen (actually, I prefer a green pen), but that view of assessment is both reductionist and ineffectual. Assessment is varied and dynamic, can be formal or informal, summative or formative in nature, but no matter what, should happen constantly in any 21st century classroom.

What's the difference between formative and summative assessment?

Formative assessment is “formative” in nature, meaning it helps to form your understanding of what your students know and are able to do and should then inform your decisions about how to move forward. Formative assessment comes in all shapes and sizes and, I find, is more effective and downright fun when varied.

Formative assessment can be formal (in-class quiz, Socratic-style seminar), informal (homework review, asking questions), individual (exit tickets), whole-class (call-and-response) competitive (group competitions using mini-white boards), game-based (Kahoot, Jeopardy), tech-based (online discussion boards, surveys, Socrative), choice-based (stoplight exit ticket, writing prompt choice), you name it!

No matter the method, formative assessment should happen all the time during learning and should inform teacher decisions about moving forward.


Summative assessment happens after learning and helps the teacher evaluate how well students have done compared to a set goal or objective. Can the student divide fractions at an 80% rate of success? Can the student analyze the strengths and weaknesses on both sides of the Civil War? Can the student correctly identify the subject and object in a sentence?

Making sure your summative assessments are aligned to important objectives is the first step to improving your assessment game.

Really take a critical look at the last assessment you created or gave in class. Do your students need to know the answers to all those questions? Do all the questions align with competencies, standards, objectives, or goals? Do students need to show their mastery of a skill ten times on the same assessment or just once or twice? What are the underlying themes or overarching skills that are truly important and transfer to other academic areas? What are the big understandings – things you want students to know or be able to do in ten years – and are you asking students to address them?

Next, think about how you assess. Summative assessments have the potential to be engaging, meaningful, and relevant. Project-based assessments or performance-based assessments can give students an opportunity to show what they know and what they can do in more “real-world” ways than traditional pen-and-paper tests.

Now what?

As the new school year approaches (or, for many, is already upon us) make it a priority to test a new type of formative assessment in your classroom within the first month of school. Try a new exit ticket format. Test a web-based formative assessment tool that harnesses the power of student devices. Create low-tech individual white boards by laminating paper and have students write down answers for an in-class game. Try something new! Then try it again or try a different formative assessment strategy. And use the information you gleaned from the experience to make decisions about how to move forward and improve student achievement!

When it comes to summative assessments, commit to overhauling or creating an assessment with one fundamental change. Analyze a traditional assessment you have already made but write the objective above each question to ensure that all the questions are aligned with important goals. Try out the GRASPS model from Wiggins and McTighe (one of my favorite ways to make performance-based assessments relevant, meaningful, and engaging). Update an assessment to include student choice. Overhaul a tired assessment through the use of a 21st century tech tool. Then, reflect on the process and evaluate if and how student achievement improved after the changes you made.

Next time you hear the word “assessment,” don't think of the common misconceptions. Instead, think of the endless possibilities for how to evaluate student understanding and exciting opportunities to improve student achievement.

Just maybe you, too, will become an assessment nerd.


Chalkup for iOS