Student Empowering Assessment with Clear Learning Goals

[a guest post by Anjie Trusty, MEd, Education Program Coordinator, The Ohio State University at Lima]

In Northwest Ohio students have just finished their first full week of school without a cancellation or delay in weeks. This winter has been especially challenging for educators with snow, ice and flood waters impacting the amount of time students have been in school. This time of year, hours in school are crucial and the urgency of covering content increases in classrooms as the date of the state achievement tests looms. Teachers typically revert to traditional teaching methods to “cover” the required content before the tests, postponing hands-on, project or inquiry based activities until May, after the tests.

Should all of April be spent this way in our student’s classrooms, focusing so much attention and effort on a once-a-year summative assessment that does not directly inform teachers about the individual day-to-day learning progress of their students? I suggest that more time and effort spent on formative assessments, or assessments for learning would benefit students by increasing their learning. Results on once-a year summative assessments will, in turn, reflect this learning.

Effective assessment must be accurate and it must be used to benefit students, not merely to grade and sort them. Formative assessment or assessment for learning happens while learning is underway. The focus is not on “grades,” but improving learning. Components of effective formative assessment include having clear learning targets, communicating those with students, and then using appropriate assessment types for the kind of activity in the lesson. Clear, descriptive, criterion-based feedback is also an important part of formative assessment. If we want to use assessment as a tool for learning, students must understand learning targets, know where they are in relation to the target, and have a plan for closing the gap. Information from formative assessments allows students to monitor the quality of their work as they are doing it, helping them take control and responsibility for their own learning without worrying about a “grade.” Isn’t this the ultimate goal for our students?

Learning targets are commonly known as content standards, benchmarks, grade level indicators, lesson objectives, or learning outcomes. Whatever the label, they must be clear statements of intended learning that students understand. More often than not when I ask my 5th grader what she learned in school today, she describes an assignment or activity that was done in class rather than explain the concept that she learned. If teachers explained learning targets in language that made sense to students, and shared this explicitly with them, students would be more likely to vocalize what they actually learned instead of only what they did. They would also have a clearer understanding of their own learning goals.

The following standards are the new Ohio Common Core standards for Language Arts; Reading for Literature and Reading for Informational Text for 1st grade translated into “kid-friendly” language. These are the standards our students will be expected to master. It makes sense that teachers should explicitly share these goals with students in age-appropriate language that they will understand. In order to “translate” standards, words or phrases in standards are defined, and then restated in age-appropriate language. In this example, standards are translated into words familiar to 1st graders, stated in goal oriented statements.

Reading for Literature: Key Ideas and Details

1. Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.

key details in a text- chief; major; important; essential; fundamental; pivotal

Student friendly learning goal:
I can ask and answer questions about the main ideas in a story.

2. Retell stories, including key details, and demonstrate understanding of their central
message or lesson

retell- to relate (a story, etc) again or differently
demonstrate understanding- to describe, explain, or illustrate by examples
central message- main, principal, or chief; most important

Student friendly learning goal:
I can tell a story I have read and explain the most important parts of it.

The remainder of the Ohio Common Core standards for language arts Reading for Literature and
Reading for Informational Text translated into student friendly language can be found here:

Student Friendly Ohio Common Core Standards – LA – 1st Grade

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5 Responses to Student Empowering Assessment with Clear Learning Goals

  1. Thanks for the useful post.

  2. Troy says:

    I like this article! It reminds me, a little, of what we do as a district. A few years ago, our district, with many hours spent over many days by teachers and administrators, constructed Common Quarterly Assessments, which align to each grade’s curriculum. Data and even the test questions are studied to better determine the progress of the student and accurately measuring if the student learned the targeted curriculum. Although we have our state assessment, I’ve noticed that tensions have been eased a bit regarding the perceived urgency of the “Big Test”. I’m not exactly sure, but my best guess is that the focus of our district’s teachers has shifted from the once a year event to a regularly occurring event.

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