Questioning my Assessment

In recent weeks, I have been diving into assessment- facing the assumptions I make based on my own experiences as a teacher and understanding how the evolution of assessments over time correlates to the needs of an industrialized and growing nation. Below is the start of a growing checklist of questions I ask myself when building assessments for my learners.

Assessment Design Checklist

QuestionsEvidence of Understanding
Have I started by articulating the needs of all students?– My assessment was created after taking inventory of my students’ needs.
– My assessment reflects the variety of needs in my classroom.
Have I made specific plans for using this assessment to impact the instructional design of future learning?– I haven’t made concrete, irreversible instructional decisions before receiving the results of the assessment.
– Maintaining choice for student representation of knowledge and multiple means of expression.

Checklist Annotations

Have I started by articulating the needs of all students?

In the early years, the differences between students are magnified by their young age, wide range of developmental stages, and home environments. When I think about planning for instruction and formative assessment for learners of any age, I believe it is critical to begin by understanding what my students need at this moment in time. According to Black and Wiliam (1998), “teachers need to know about their pupil’s needs- needs that are often unpredictable and that vary from one pupil to another.” When considering what assessment will work best for my learners, I need to invest time into understanding their needs. What is worthy of knowing and what do my students need in order to reach the expected outcome and finally, what methods of assessment will create the most successful learning outcomes for my students. 

Evidence of Understanding

Have I assessed the current level of understanding and have I considered the whole individual? Evidence of planning for students needs is seen through layers of differentiation such that every student can be successful. This might include adding multiple means of representation of knowledge, or the option to receive content through a variety of platforms. The principles of Universal Design for Learning come to mind as guidelines for creating assessments that address the needs of all students. Trumbull and Lash (2013) identify how “the challenge for a teacher is to gain insight into students’ way of thinking about the subject matter at hand and to frame feedback that helps them move toward specific learning goals” In the process of gaining insight into student thinking, teachers are understanding the gaps and needs of their class.

Have I made specific plans for using this assessment to impact the instructional design of future learning?

One of the most dangerous assessments is one that is administered without thought for the purpose or implications for future learning. In Shepard (2000), she gives an example of KWL charts sharing that their value is often diminished because teachers complete the chart, “but without necessarily attending to the assessment in- sights provided.” In 2005, Shepard went on to write about the importance of altering instruction to “support the development of greater competence. From a sociocultural perspective, formative assessment — like scaffolding — is a collaborative process and involves negotiation of meaning between teacher and learner about expectations and how best to improve performance” (p. 67). Black and Wiliam (1998) draw the conclusion that “for assessment to function formatively, the results have to be used to adjust teaching and learning; thus a significant aspect of any program will be the ways in which teachers make these adjustments.” Using the data from assessments should be a central part of planning instruction.

Evidence of Understanding

Shepard (2000) raises a question of what to do about the future of assessment- should it be so intertwined with instruction that it is a part of every day, or should they be highlighted to students as meaningful steps in the learning process? With my young learners, the first is more likely, but both demand flexibility to adapt instruction based on the results of the assessment. When planning out a unit, it is valuable to know your end goal and have an idea of how you want to get there, but by no means should the end be concrete and inflexible. With each passing assessment, adjustments are made to meet the needs of the students because, as with the question above, needs of students dictate instruction and assessment decisions. Elise Trumbull and Andrea Lash (2013) reference Hattie & Timperley (2007) and Sadler (1989) to explain that “feedback takes on a formative role when it provides information about the gap between a student’s current understanding and the desired level of understanding, and it is most effective for the student when it is targeted at the right developmental level and helps the student identify ways to close the gap” (p. 3). The feedback students receive from assessments should clearly identify gaps in understanding; together with a teacher, the student will understand how future instruction will close this gap. 


Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. The Phi Delta Kappan, 80(2), 139-144, 146-148.

Shepard, L. (2000). The role of assessment in a learning culture. Educational Researcher, 29(7), 4-14.

Shepard, L. (2005). Linking formative assessment to scaffolding. Educational Leadership, 63(3), 66-70.

Trumbull, E. & Lash, A. (2013). Understanding formative assessment: Insights from learning theory and measurement theory. San Francisco: WestEd.

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