Innovations in Assessment

The National Council of Teachers of English is in the process of planning a range of exciting resources, activities, and events related to the Innovations in Assessment theme and associated challenge. Below is a description of the theme of our programming for each week in October. Want to work with us on these topics? Let Lisa Fink, who is leading the NCTE CEM team, know by writing her at

Kickoff event

We kicked off the Innovations in Assessment theme for Connected Educator Month on October 5.  We opened the month’s discussion of innovations in assessment by posing two questions:

  • What innovations in assessment are already happening that more people in education need to know about?
  • How do the experiences of teachers with the current systems of assessment suggest areas ripe for new innovation?

 Couldn’t attend? Get the archive link here:

Last week of activities

  • October 28 from 8-9pm ET: Artificial Unintelligence: Why and How Automated Essay Scoring Doesn’t Work (Most of the Time) and the Perils and Promises of Automated Essay Evaluation When we take shortcuts in how we score student writing—like using machines to evaluate essays on high-stakes tests—we put ourselves on a slippery slope to devaluing the whole purpose and process of writing itself. But assessing student writing is notoriously time-consuming, especially if we want our evaluation to be informative for both the writer and the instructor. Is there a middle ground? In this web seminar, renowned scholar Les Perelman, who was described in a 2014 Boston Globe article as “the man who killed the SAT,” offers us an inside look at the disturbing things that can happen when we leave essay scoring to the machines, but also what’s possible when we use technology in thoughtful ways to help grow writers.
  • November 2 from 8-9pm ET: Evidence for Equity: How Can We Use Large-scale Assessment to Ensure Powerful Literacy Learning for All Students? The panelists in this online discussion will share their ideas about what an accountability system of the future might look like, one that embraces such principles as: (1) engaging the need for equity head on while also ensuring that evidence of student learning is gathered in ways that are consistent with good instructional practice; (2) mirroring the ways that educators themselves effectively use evidence to improve instruction; (3) measuring the full range of important contributions to student learning and development, providing a more holistic view of student progress; and (4) focusing on holding the whole educational system (including state policymakers) accountable for its results, not individual teachers or their students.
  • November 2 from 9-10pm ET: No Test is Neutral: Writing Assessments, Equity, Ethics, and Social Justice This final event of Connected Educator Month explores what a theory of ethics might mean for our field, and what implications it might have for the design and implementation of both large-scale and classroom writing assessments.

All month long

  • Innovations in Assessment: Read and React discussions will be occurring throughout the month of October. Join this discussion group on the National Center for Literacy Education’s network, the Literacy in Learning Exchange, to read and discuss research articles and studies from a variety of organizations on the topic of assessment. Join Community Facilitator and Professional Learning Specialist Lara Hebert in facilitated conversations around two articles each week. Topics include formative and summative assessment, standardized assessment, portfolios, standards-based grading, and more. Go to the Literacy in Learning Exchange to learn more.
  • Using Social Networks to Build and Share Collective Wisdom: #WhatWeHonor When we begin to think about meaningful and equitable assessments, we inevitably think about those measures of learning that deserve as much and even more honor than standardized assessments because these measures can tell us more about student learning, growth, context, and ongoing needs. And different situations call for different tools and strategies. During the month of October, follow and contribute to the #WhatWeHonor conversations and sharing of assessment tools and artifacts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Tag resources and blogs related to formative assessment; share your most tried-and-true rubrics, observation protocols, conferencing strategies, and more; post a video of your collaborative team discussing the power of looking at student work together; and make any other contributions you can think of that can change the conversation about assessment to focus on more than annual standardized testing.
  • Online Book Club The National Council of Teachers of English and the International Literacy Association worked together on Standards for the Assessment of Reading and Writing and therefore stating that their position that the primary purpose of assessment must be to improve teaching and learning for all students. Eleven core standards are presented and explained, case studies and vignettes are shared, and a helpful glossary is included in the text available in print and online. Each week of the month of October, we will discuss a different cluster of standards. Even though the discussion moves on to different clusters of standards throughout the month, you can always enter the discussion at any point that is meaningful to you. Join the conversation!

Ongoing activities

  • Week 1: Beyond the Bubble (October 1-7) Exceptional teachers see little tension between effective instruction and effective assessment because every moment in the presence of students offers the chance to learn more about their thinking in order to shape instructional decisions. Similarly, exceptional school leaders use a wide range of assessment tools to evaluate what’s going on inside and outside their buildings in order to make informed policy decisions. The bigger our assessment toolkit, and stronger our capacity to work collaboratively to use and understand those tools, the better able we are to respond to the needs of the moment. All too often educational decisions are driven by a very narrow set of measures that do not take into account the broad range of new options available.  Innovations in things like technology, brain research, and design thinking are pushing the boundaries of what we understand assessment to be. This week we’ll explore what’s out there.
  • Week 2: Where are We and Where are We Going? (try,reflect, and act) Reflection and Direction (October 8-15) When you take a road trip, your experience is guided as much by the journey as the goal of the end destination. All along the route you use a whole dashboard of tools to gauge your progress and your current situation – how much gas is in the tank? How far does the GPS say you have to go? Is there traffic ahead? How might you re-route? Can you see what’s behind you in order to merge? Is the engine running too hot? Our ability to answer these questions and make choice decisions along the way is greatly enhanced when we collaborate with others who are along for the ride. Similarly, instructional decisions, guided by myriad assessment tools, are similarly enhanced when they’re made in collaboration with colleagues. This week we’ll explore ways to work together to use the evidence we get from assessments to reflect on the learning journey and make decisions about where we go from here.
  • Week 3: Valuing What We Notice (October 16-22) In TV dramas when someone says “I’m going to assess the situation,” they never hand out a standardized test in order to problem solve. Instead they observe, scope-out, and evaluate, using their eyes and ears to gather data. Observation is the unsung hero of assessment and instruction, and when paired with collaborative reflection, observations can form the foundation of powerful professional learning as well. This week we’ll consider the role that observations play in formative and summative assessments for student learning, professional learning, and system-wide learning.
  • Week 4: Artifacts and Analysis (October 23-31) You’d never take a picture of a garden on one day in February to make a sweeping assessment of its health over the course of an entire year. Rather, you’d use a variety of measures – soil samples, plant measurements at different times of year, samples of plants over the course of different seasons, analysis of weather patterns and their impacts on growth, etc. in order to create anything approaching an overall “picture” of how well that garden grows. We’ve spoken already about the need for multiple measures in any assessment system but this week we take a closer look at some of the particularly interesting comprehensive approaches currently in use. What does it take to implement these approaches school wide? What conditions must be met in order for such approaches to thrive? And as we conclude this month-long look at assessment, how might these compelling innovations be scaled so that they begin to shift the way we think about assessment on a national scale?

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