“The 2015 scores for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are out, and the news isn’t good for those who think standardized test scores tell us something significant about student achievement.

-Valerie Strauss (emphasis mine) from her recent article in the Washington Post

Keeping Formative Assessment Formative

One of the biggest problems that I have when it comes to formative assessment is ensuring that my students receive meaningful feedback AND that they act on it.  I think that I do a pretty good job of assessing my students regularly, and I capture these data in my gradebook (without affecting their average).  But, I’ve been forced to admit lately that I’m not very effective at giving students information that can help them learn more/better.





As Bill Ferriter recently wrote (and quoted from Dylan Wiliam), feedback needs to be work for the student.  If the information that I provide to students doesn’t ask/require/beg them to change, it isn’t really formative assessment.  I’ve owned a copy of Wiliam’s book “Embedded Formative Assessment” for some time, but I don’t think that I’ve ever really recognized the thread about student effort.  I’ve decided to read through this practical (and short) guide again with an eye for ways to make my formative feedback more impactful.  Stay tuned for updates on how this process is going…


  • Treat educators as the professionals they are
  • Aim to end the practice of teaching being viewed a solitary endeavor; like other professionals teachers improve when they are engaged in collaborative learning, identifying best practices and critiquing one another.
  • Acknowledge that context matters. A practice that works in one classroom most likely will need to be adapted or significantly altered to be effective in another.
  • Strive to develop the dispositions in teachers that we also want to cultivate in children: curiosity, flexibility in thinking, open-mindedness, empathy, and an ability to reason with evidence.
  • Make learning relevant and meaningful. We know it is vital for children; it is just as important for teachers.”

From a piece by Howard Gardner, Clayton Lewis & Jim Reese of Harvard’s Project Zero about what makes Professional Development effective.

The most interesting people you will ever meet are also the most interested.”

From Regie O’Hare Gibson’s piece in Medium about what he learned from one of his teachers about the importance of boredom.

Smart Guys Can Get It Wrong

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREYou know that feeling when one of your friends says something stupid that makes a different friend angry?  And you realize that you agree with the angry friend?  Yeah, so that happened to me a few weeks ago.  Let me explain.

I am a big fan of the FiveThirtyEight blog that Nate Silver runs with his team of statisticians/economists.  Nate has a knack for explaining technical mathematical stuff using everyday examples.  He started in sports and moved to politics (correctly predicting most of the 2014 races), and then ESPN brought his blog back over to their site where it lives now.  When he sticks to those two topics–sports/politics–he is a bastion of logic in a world of opinions.

Lately, though, Silver has been dipping his toes into the realm of educational policy and the ridiculous questionable data that supports some of the recent “reforms”.  In the recent article “The Science of Grading Teachers Gets High Marks“, Silver’s ed dude Andrew Flowers analyzes some of the discussion around the Vergara case.  He discusses the back and forth between statisticians at Harvard, Brown, and Columbia and Jesse Rothstein of Stanford.

While I agree with Flowers that the arguments over methods for analyzing teacher impact are a positive sign that science is working as it should, I side with Valerie Strauss when she writes for the Washington Post that,

“The quality of the underlying standardized  assessment is assumed to be at least adequate — or why use the student scores to evaluate their teachers? — when, in fact, many of them are less than adequate to provide a well-rounded, authentic look at what students have learned and are able to do.”

Flowers provided this throw-away phrase that was guaranteed to make educators angry,

“In order to perfectly isolate the effect of a teacher on a student’s test scores — setting aside whether higher test scores is the right goalstudents would need to be assigned to teachers randomly.”  [emphasis mine]

What?!?  How can you “set aside” the source of all of the data that you are analyzing (or, more accurately, discussing the analysis of)?  That’s like saying, “Setting aside the fact that koalas are not actually bears, observing them is a great way to learn about the bear behavior.” We MUST stop pretending that mathematical analysis can make up for crappy assessments.

Opinions?  You know what to do.


Image: “Friendly Female Koala” by QuartlOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

“Writing and publicly sharing what happens in our classrooms demonstrates to the world that learning is at the heart of a classroom. It makes public the messiness of the classroom. It shows the world that we are indeed practitioners. It demonstrates that we are focused on growth. There is also another benefit, people might give you feedback and we might all grow together.”

An argument in favor of blogging to increase transparency from Chris Crouch in Huffington Post Education.

Feedback in the “Real World”

floops_loopsLike many classroom teachers, I’ve worked in a variety of non-educational jobs over the years.  From pub trivia host to tour guide, each role gave me an opportunity to develop skills that made me a better educator.  Working at the Apple Store is probably the best example of this: being a part of a huge, modern, progressive technology company has shown me what the workplace of the 21st century will look like for many of my students.  It constantly reminds me of the difference between what we teach in public schools and what employers seek.  The most important lesson was the critical role of feedback.

Historically, feedback has been something provided by managers to workers, flowing downhill as if pulled by gravity.  Schools have mimicked this flow: teachers evaluating students and delivering suggestions for improvement.  In contrast, at Apple there is an intentional and pervasive climate of feedback by and to everyone.  Employees at all levels and with any amount of experience are required to approach one another, ask for permission, and use a structured protocol to describe what they have observed and the impact that it has had.  The result is a powerful climate of constructive criticism, meaningful praise, and eager self-improvement.

Returning to my classroom after spending time in that environment, I was faced with the hard fact that my students resist feedback.  They see it as evaluation more than as an opportunity to improve.  They cringe at criticism and respond with reflexive words of defense, like “Yeah, but…” and “I tried that”.  Feedback from peers is met with even more pushback: like most adults, students see criticism as something provided by the “ones who know” to the “ones who don’t know”.  Assessment is something that experts do.

Over time, I began to see that the importance of learning to give and receive feedback trumped the challenges of changing student perceptions.  Like so many much-needed changes to grading and assessment, students and parents have been programmed to think a certain way… and they are wrong.  We can not simply acknowledge their resistance to change and give up.  We must push forward to practices that improve learning and develop responsible citizens.

What is the role of feedback in your classroom?



image from Smashing Magazine, used with permission