“Engagement cannot exist without opportunities to decide.” (Smith, Frey, Pumpian, & Fisher, 2017)

As you begin a new year, here is a question for you to ponder: What specifically are you doing to engage your students in knowing what they know and what is next in their learning progression? Are you starting the year by reviewing what you covered so far in the academic year?  Are you then providing students with a list of new goals for the rest of the year?

If you are, you are not providing your students with opportunities to decide or opportunities to engage. I teach graduate level classroom teachers in an assessment literacy specialization. As we begin the conversation around who is deciding what students learn, it becomes clear that most classrooms impose learning targets on their students. You may be saying, “Well, yes. We have to cover the Common Core State Standards, so we have to tell them what they need to learn.” While this is partially true, it does not provide students with efficacy for their own learning. If we are going to transform the current learning environment to one where equity teaching and learning empowers all students, we need to change our thinking.

Our students are quite capable of setting their own learning targets aligned to the Common Core State Standards at any level. It is totally up to us to provide them with opportunities to do so. As Betsy Pon, a student and Kindergarten Teacher in the program clearly states, “Assessment literacy ensures meaningful and timely feedback to the learner so that the leaner knows where their ability/knowledge skill lay in progression to the standards, has capability to act upon the feedback, and can make decisions regarding self-assessments.” (August, 2017)

What does student engagement in the assessment process look like? More from Betsy Pon: “In our primary grade levels, we all use Fountas & Pinnall Benchmark Assessment Systems for our reading running records both in formative and summative ways.  Using Fountas & Pinnall, and by analyzing the NWEA formative assessment data garnered from MAP testing, I can not only use the data to drive my instruction and make academic decisions, but to conference with my students and help them make their own academic goals based on individual academic strands and areas of need.   I have seen my students eyes light up when I have shown them their reading level and how much they have achieved. I can imagine my students’ engagement and motivation next year, when I help them, using their own data, set and keep track their own individual reading goals.”

Following Betsy’s process, first you must be assessment literate and understand how to effectively use both summative and formative data. So, develop a sound assessment plan first. Then, determine overall learning goals aligned to the Common Core State Standards, or whatever standards you use. Create Individual Learning Plans for each student aligned to the data. Then, the critical element: Conference with each student so that they can clearly know what they know. Develop an Individual Learning Plan for each student with the student. Have them create their own learning targets based on your plan. Even very young students can articulate what they want to learn when it is presented in a developmentally appropriate manner. They know when they have succeeded. They are able to state: I can make predictions. Of course, there are many formats to use in the personalized learning process and students gain confidence as they see and track their own learning progress.

Tweet: Providing Opportunities for Student Decision-making in the Assessment Process https://ctt.ec/f56kB+ #edchat #assessment #teachersEngaging students in their own learning by setting clear learning targets, understanding the criteria for success (via rubrics!), and tracking their own progress changes the conversation. It moves us from “doing assessment to them” to “doing assessment with them”. This kind of assessment means students receive informative, descriptive feedback.

Back to Betsy: “In the past, prior to administering our district’s required writing prompt, I had my students look at models of our district’s writing exemplars.  My students then collaboratively decided what is good writing and what is not. I had them come up with a rating system of 1-4 and had them, at their table groups assign a number to each exemplar. They saw what is expected of them for their summative assessment. I need to make sure I use a system like this daily to let my students understand their learning targets.  I need to offer more timely, informative and descriptive feedback to my students when they are still able to act on the feedback.  Every year students set academic goals, generally based on their MAP data, share these goals, and revisit these goals throughout the year, but I now understand the need and benefit of involving my students more in their own assessment process, letting them self-assess, track their assessment progress, and reflect on their own learning and share what they have learned.  I also have learned that I need to employ more high quality, formative assessments and allow my students more autonomy.” (August, 2017)

Raymond Witte asks each of a fundamental question: Am I truly effective with my teaching and are my students learning what they need to learn?” (2010). I would add, are you engaging your students and providing them with the opportunity to make decisions about their learning? Are your students truly a partner in their own learning journey and specifically their assessment journey? If, not why not?


Pon. B. (2017). Personal Communication, Assessment Literacy Specialization.

Smith, D., Frey, N., Pumpian, I. & Fisher, D. (2017). Building equity: Policies and practices to empower all learners. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Witte, R. (2010) Assessment Literacy in Todays Classroom. Retrieved June 16, 2017 from (PDF) https://www.education.com/pdf/assessment-literacy-todays-classroom/db9a4c0c-983a-40b4-bc55-b62832279ae3.ew