MCCESC Teaching & Learning

January: Assessing Student Learning

Welcome to 2021!

We hope that you had an opportunity to enjoy some well-deserved rest and relaxation the past couple of weeks. While one can dream that everything will return to "normal" this year, we think it is safe to assume that there is a "new normal" for education. While in-person teaching is ideal, we know that this pandemic has caused a shift in how we deliver instruction - providing access for all, engage our students, and how we assess their learning.

As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to email us:

12 Things Equity-Focused Teachers Should Be Saying to Students this School Year

Using Writing as an Assessment of Learning

In focusing on assessment, teachers are faced with a multitude of options. This over-abundance can really hinder the planning process for teachers, but one option that remains consistent across all content areas is writing.

The fact is, writing is an experience in which students should engage in all content areas. This allows students the exposure and practice necessary to overcome the challenges that are inherent in using writing as a means to assess. This means students are less likely to face the challenges of not only content (what is being assessed) but also process (the skill needed to "perform" the task of the assessment). Writing provides us a way of making sure our assessments are truly assessing the standards we intended to teach and assess.

Simple Ways to Assess the Writing Skills of Students with Disabilities

As an ELA teacher, it is imperative that I not only use writing to assess student learning, but that I assess student writing (two different things most of the time). That means assessing the skills of ALL my students. This website, Reading Rockets, does a nice job of providing insight and examples of assessing the writing skills of students with disabilities.

The Writing Revolution

If you have never read this book, it is a phenomenal resource for not only ELA teachers, but any teacher who wishes to utilize writing in their classrooms (a highly-effective strategy). Here are some assessment tools for independent writing. They are even customizable based on content/topic.

"Formalized" assessments

Formalized was placed in quotes because this will not address true formal assessments - assessments that have been tried before on students and have statistics which support conclusions, such as the student is reading below average for his age.

We are going to focus more on the resources available to assess, both formatively and summatively, using more formal methods - FREE programs that allow for teachers to determine students' learning whether they are in-person or remote.

Ohio's Restart Readiness Assessments

Were you aware that at the start of the 2020-21 school year, Ohio released benchmark and checkpoint assessments for Ohio's tested areas? Their hope being that these could be used to identify gaps in student learning due to the COVID shutdown. The following information is directly from the Ohio Department of Education:

Benchmark Assessments

Benchmark tests are full-length assessments that mirror the content and test characteristics of Ohio’s State Tests in terms of length, test specifications, blueprints and tools available to students (such as the calculator). These benchmark tests will be machine-scored, allowing reporting in near real-time to give teachers rapid access to results. Mirroring Ohio’s State Tests also allows for reporting measures that are familiar to Ohio educators, such as performance levels. Results will be reported in a new, innovative reporting system, with additional tools to assist teachers in understanding and using the data. To aid teachers in connecting assessment results with instruction, the Department is providing resources specific to each benchmark test, including instructional strategies, content information and learning activities.

Checkpoint Assessments

The second major component of the Restart Readiness Assessments consists of 150 checkpoint assessments. Each checkpoint assessment consists of six to 10 items and offers a range of opportunities to assess within each reporting category. Items offer varying levels of difficulty or complexity, as well as breadth of Ohio’s Learning Standards for the reporting category. To a large extent, these assessments will be machine-scored. Raw scores (the number of items correct) will be provided in the new reporting system. As part of a balanced system of local informal and formative assessments, the checkpoint assessments will provide useful information in gauging students’ knowledge and performance within each reporting category.

Online Testing Tools

Before the days of COVID, more and more teachers were looking at online testing sites to provide students the opportunity to experience online tests before they took the state tests. While the following sites may not be new, they may offer you additional resources to consider when looking to assess your students - both formatively and summatively. My favorite part of those listed - many of Ohio's teachers have already taken released test items and used them within the platform, so the creation of tests can be as simple as selecting from an item bank - no need to develop new questions.






Tips for Assessing Online from We are Teachers:

  • Keep in mind the age of the students. The younger they are, the more simple the software. Consider multiple choice over free response. Add images or video to both engage the student and add another frame of reference to the words.
  • Allow students to take the test offline if they do don’t have access to technology.
  • Give the student a longer time period to take the test in case of issues with technology or Wi-Fi.
  • If you truly need to time the test (consider a final exam), ensure that the students have ample notice and perhaps give a sample test so they can test the platform and ask any questions ahead of time.
  • If you are allowing free responses that are automatically graded, make sure to input variations of the answer! Incorporate misspellings, add the answer with and without articles, and more.

Formative Assessment in the Virtual Classroom

What strategy can double student learning gains? According to 250 empirical studies, the answer is formative assessment - defined by Bill Younglove as “the frequent, interactive checking of student progress and understanding in order to identify learning needs and adjust teaching appropriately.” Formative assessment monitors student understanding so that learners are always aware of their strengths and learning gaps. Teachers can use evidence gained from formative assessments to improve the effectiveness of their instruction.

The formative assessment process has four attributes

Clarify: determine what students will learn and how they will know they have learned it;

Elicit: generate evidence of student learning, such as asking questions;

Interpret: review evidence to determine students’ progress towards the learning goal(s); and

Act: take instructional next steps to move students from where they are to where they need to be, such as re-teaching using a different mode.

Formative assessment during remote and hybrid learning is challenging but possible, and we still need to check for understanding and provide meaningful feedback. The practices we use may look and sound differently than they do in the classroom, but teachers are the most creative people I know and many of the traditional formative assessments can be reinvented to fit the remote or hybrid learning environment.

Ways to use formative assessment in the virtual classroom

Dipsticks - Like using a dipstick to check the oil in your car. Teachers can use short quick checks to make sure teachers are on track- both academically and emotionally. During a zoom session teachers can pose a general question about the previous day lesson. Students can reply in the chat with an emoji, show a number on their screen to indicate their comfort level with the content, or do a thumbs-up thumbs down. Students can do a sixty second paper in which they summarize what they learned and share this during a live zoom session, create a flipgrid response, respond on a shared google doc, or a Padlet discussion board.

Digital Journals/Interactive Notebooks - Digital journals and interactive notebooks can be used as an after-class reflection exercise to give students time to reflect a little more deeply on what they did and did not understand. In their journal or interactive notebook students can respond to K-W-L prompts, 3-2-1 prompts, Venn Diagrams, or graphic organizers. Ditch that Textbook has ready to use interactive notebook templates and 20 interactive notebook activities. Also check out their 70 elearning activities, templates and tutorials. Slidesmania also has a free downloadable template for a digital notebook.

One-Pagers - One-pagers is a strategy in which students share their most important takeaways on a single piece of paper. The information that the students include is their one-pager becomes more memorable because they mix images and information. According to Allan Paivio’s dual coding theory, the brain has two ways of processing: the visual and verbal. The combination of the two leads to the most powerful results. Read more about one-pagers in this Cult of Pedagogy article.

Square, Triangle, Circle - Students would choose a shape and its associated question prompt. A square means something that is now “squared away” in their thinking. Choosing a triangle tasks students with extracting three important ideas from what they learned, while a circle asks students to discuss something “circulating”- ideas that are not fully formed in their minds. During asynchronous learning, students can write their responses in an online document as a reflection exercise. In a synchronous lesson, teachers can make this exercise collaborative by asking students to pick a share and then dividing them into groups based on their shape. Students can then discuss their reflections with their classmates.

Peer-to-Peer Evaluations - Try assigning students a virtual buddy for the week or pair students off randomly. Give the students a rubric to evaluate their peer’s assignment and also have them share this feedback with you. Another great strategy is the TAG feedback process. Watch this video to learn more about this strategy.

Digital Tools - There are so many great digital tools available for teachers to use for formative assessments. Here is a list of 75 digital tools and apps teachers can use to support formative assessment in the classroom.

Virtual Exit Tickets - Teachers can keep a running Google Doc for each student to keep their information private, or broaden it to the whole class by posting questions on Flipgrid so that students can see and comment on other’s responses. Try using open-ended prompts like these:

  • What I found interesting today was...
  • Today was hard because…
  • What do you understand well?
  • What is something I (the teacher) don’t realize?
  • How does this relate to (something learned before)...

Alternative Assessment

Alternative assessments, often referrered to as performance or authentic assessments/tests, are used to determine what students can do, not necessarily just what they know.

According to the BYU Center for Teaching and Learning, the pros for using alternative assessments outweight the cons:


  • They provide a means of assessing valued skills that cannot be directly assessed with traditional tests.
  • They provide a more realistic setting for student performance than traditional tests.
  • They focus on student performance and the quality of work performed by students.
  • They can be easily aligned with established learning outcomes.
  • Process can be costly in terms of time, effort, equipment, materials, facilities, or funds.

  • Process can be costly in terms of time, effort, equipment, materials, facilities, or funds.
  • Rating process is sometimes more subjective than traditional exams.


Edutopia - 53 Ways to Check for Understanding

Teach Hub - 40 Alternative Assessment Ideas for Learning

Tech in Pedagogy - 10 Great Ideas for Alternative Assessments

We are Teachers - 25 of the Best Alternative Assessment Ideas

Western University - Online & Alternative Assessment Ideas

Assessment Design

When discussing assessment, it becomes imperative to also include a discussion on assessment design. Whether it's focusing on validity, reliability, non-biased, or rigor, assessment design is an integral part of the discussion.

Here is a blog post with an assessment matrix that examines task complexity & content as well as depth & fluency of thinking. The author, Grant Wiggins, focuses his examination on the use of verbs and language in general in establishing rigor in assessments.

Lessons Learned

Each month, we are going to share experiences from teachers. More specifically, what they learned during these months of uncertainty.

If you are interested in sharing your lesson learned, register here.

Extending Grace

Tammy Walls, Intervention Specialist at Triad Middle School shared:

Teaching from home during a pandemic was not on my list of things I thought I would ever experience……..ever. So after the reality of it all settled in, I got busy, and I had to dig deep. I began learning ways to use technology that I had never used before. I am not tech savvy and so this created some personal anxiety. Being an Intervention Specialist I had not set up a number of things that I now needed. My own teaching style and content was very one-on-one and personal. However, it is amazing what support you receive from your colleagues during such times. And how flexible, understanding and open your students can be to new ways of learning. Virtual teaching is not my top pick, but it is possible.

I will say that this year, the first day of school had a whole different meaning to me. I had not seen my students in person since March and I could not wait for them to walk in the doors. I longed for the hustle and bustle of the hallways. I wanted to hug and celebrate them being back, but COVID rules eliminated that. The masks hid all our smiles, but you could see it in their eyes that they were glad to be “home”.

Tammy, your willingness to adapt to the needs of your students shows the dedication you have to them. We appreciate your hard work and are wishing you the best for 2021! Thank you for your contribution.


While we are not self-care experts, we can help you with instruction. Please reach out to us if you find yourself needing instructional or curricular help during these complicated times. We know that you have been inundated with resources, so we have worked to organize those for you. We are here to help.


We have linked upcoming webinars and online workshops that are being offered to educators at no cost.

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