Assess for Success

At Mid-Pacific, student learning is our highest priority. It is at the heart of everything we do and the driving force behind our innovative technology practices and our work as a research institution focused on teaching and learning. As a pioneer in the education community, we have worked to determine the most effective ways that students learn in the 21st century. After considering national and international best practices based on proven research and consulting with experts over a five-year period, Mid-Pacific is adopting assessment practices that will result in deeper learning.

In Mid-Pacific’s Learner Profile, described in Aspirations 2020, we aim to develop students who maintain a positive mindset and a belief in the value of persistence in learning - students who are invested, engaged, and take ownership of who they are and what they know. By renewing our practice in the area of classroom assessment, we reaffirm our commitment to student learning and the exemplary instruction you know and expect from Mid-Pacific.

1. What does the word “assessment” mean?

Traditionally, assessment referred to measurement in the form of grades. Now, the actions of classroom assessment include:

  • Understanding what is to be learned
  • Looking at samples and building descriptions of quality and proficiency
  • Providing specific, descriptive feedback to the learner
  • Engaging in rounds of self- and peer feedback to improve the learning
  • Setting specific goals for next steps in learning
  • Collecting evidence of learning from multiple sources over time
  • Communicating learning to others (Davies, 2011; Chappuis, Stiggins & Chappuis, 2009)

The best of educational research and practice tells us that students grow, learn, and achieve the most when principles of classroom assessment are adhered to before the student is evaluated and graded.

Sometimes you will hear the terms “formative” and “summative” assessment. Formative assessment is intended to give learners a better idea of their progress and what their next steps in learning should be. It is offered during the learning process, is designed to improve learning, and also informs the teachers’ next instructional steps.

Summative assessment occurs after students have had time to learn and is intended to “sum” up the learning with a score or a grade, which can take many forms (letter grade, percentage grade, numerical grade, placement on a continuum, etc.). It provides a summary of the teachers’ professional judgment about students’ progress in relation to the subject standards and course expectations that have been communicated through an ongoing dialogue between teachers and students.

2. Why are things different now compared to when I went to school?

As a recognized “School of the Future” by the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools and the Hawaii Community Foundation, Mid-Pacific has been on the forefront of preparing our students for tomorrow’s world. We recognize that work and education is changing in ways that emphasize the need for relevant, state-of-the-art skills and dispositions in order for students to become successful lifelong learners. Rote memorization is no longer sufficient for innovation and global competitiveness. At Mid-Pacific, we are continually examining and updating our practices to emphasize and enhance student learning, while focusing on the skills and mindset needed for students to succeed today and in the future. Our work in refining our assessment practices is just one part of a continuous renewal cycle.

The teaching and learning process is based on continual assessment and feedback in order to effectively prepare students for final measurements or grades. Teachers provide information to students to help them with improving learning through daily feedback. At Mid-Pacific, we also emphasize self-assessment processes for students and provide opportunities for them to develop their own internalized criteria for improved learning.

Over time, research and practice from schools of excellence have shown that students with teachers dedicated to the research-based assessment practices used at Mid-Pacific, see a rise in positive mindset, a belief in the value of persistence in learning, and increased academic achievement (Black & William, 1998; Harlen and Deakin Crick, 2003.)

3. Why aren’t teachers grading everything that my child does?

All student work is important however, evaluating and grading occur:

  • after students have had opportunities to understand expectations of quality
  • to learn what is acceptable evidence of learning
  • students have opportunities to practice and receive feedback
  • to show their best proof of learning

Student work informs both the teacher of their next instructional steps and the student of their next learning steps. Final grades are based on a student’s consistent and more recent patterns of performance and understanding.

4. What do teachers consider when making a decision about how my child is doing?

As part of our on-going work over the last decade, Mid-Pacific teachers have dramatically increased opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways. This has been and continues to be a key strength of our school. Today’s world of education and work does not solely value memorization and recitation as the means of evaluating students.

Research indicates that evidence of student learning comes from three sources – products of student work (i.e. assignments, portfolios, journals, tests, quizzes), observations of students at work (i.e. observing students in the science lab, engaging in math problem-solving, dance performances), and conversations with students about their work. In addition to providing validity and reliability, evidence from these three sources accommodates for differences in the range of learners at Mid-Pacific. Student learning can and should be assessed and evaluated in a variety of ways. In the past, we were reliant on paper and pencil tests and now we are incorporating more reflective, inquiry-based, and project-based work. Just as a physician diagnoses a patient based on a number of factors including body temperature, blood pressure, blood tests and X-rays, Mid-Pacific teachers assess students based on a variety of methods proven to be effective measures of evidence of student learning.

5. Do attitude, effort, attendance, and punctuality still matter?

Yes they do. These learning habits are indeed important here at Mid-Pacific and are key to being successful in life. In a standards-based environment, evaluation, grading, and reporting are based on achievement of the subject standards – both content and skill.

Factors like attitude, effort, attendance, and punctuality are not part of the standards of national and international organizations, like the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Next Generation Science Standards, and others. However, attitude, effort, attendance, and punctuality do matter; they are observed, noted, and communicated separately from a student’s overall grade.

6. How do I know that expectations and grading are consistent?

Mid-Pacific is distinguishing itself once again in our local school community by bringing focus and clarity to assessment as an essential area of student learning. This focus on assessment also allows us to take another step in unifying the learning experience across the high school, middle school, and elementary school.

Since 2009, teachers from K-12 have been meeting on a regular basis. Time is regularly set aside for professional learning, as teachers look at quality across subject-area disciplines and grade levels, as they examine standards, and as they learn about quality classroom assessment. We value the expertise and professional judgment of our faculty to adopt shared practices.

7.What is the role of homework in all of this?

Homework matters. Developmentally appropriate homework is a necessary part of student learning. Homework can be made up of many things ranging from daily practice to previewing or reviewing material. Completing homework assigned by teachers is part of being a good learner and not doing it may put students at a disadvantage.

What has changed for some teachers (many of our teachers have been employing this method for some time) is the idea that they will always grade homework as evidence of achievement in subject standards. At Mid-Pacific, most homework is meant for practice and review of the material covered in class. And as such, it is not an effective measure of subject mastery. An analogy would be writing a formal letter at work and having your boss evaluate and score every draft of the letter prior to its completion. Would this dampen your ability to problem solve, ask questions and develop a deep understanding of the process for letter writing? Would evaluating every draft prior to the final version be an appropriate measure for determining your letter writing expertise?

Homework can be an important component for practicing and developing the skills needed to master a subject. It can be the starting point for ongoing dialogue between teachers, students, and parents about understanding subject standards.

8. Will these changes impact my child’s entrance into colleges and universities?

No. Grades are an essential part of our reporting to colleges. Mid-Pacific high school transcripts will not change and there are no plans to move away from letter grades. What is changing is that the grades will more accurately reflect the quality of student learning. At Mid-Pacific, we are laser-focused on great outcomes for our students and providing them with every advantage.

9. Will the report cards look different?

No. The updated assessment practices will not change the current report cards.

10. If I have any more questions, whom can I ask?

If you have any more questions about assessment or any other aspect of your child’s experience at Mid-Pacific, please contact your child’s teacher. The school principals are happy to respond to any questions that you might have.

The following articles and presentations were used to inform Mid-Pacific’s research-based assessment practices.

Changing Assessment Practice Download
Process, Principles and Standards
Assessment Reform Group: John Gardner, Wynne Harlen, Louise Hayward, Gordon Stobart

This is a brief account of what has been learned during the Analysis and Review of Innovations in Assessment (ARIA) project about how changes in assessment practice may be brought about most effectively. The changes in question focus on the role of teachers in formative and summative assessment in schools. The approach has been to review recent initiatives and developments in assessment that shared this purpose in all four countries of the UK: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Assessment for Learning Download
Assessment Reform Group: Patricia Broadfoot, Richard Daugherty, John Gardner, Wynne Harlen, Mary James, Gordon Stobart

Assessment for learning is one of the most important purposes of assessment. It is not the only purpose and is to be distinguished from assessment of learning, which is carried out for the purposes of grading and reporting (ARG, 1999). A review of research into classroom assessment (Balck and William, 1998) has shown that assessment for learning is one of the most powerful ways of improving learning and raising standards.

Assessment for Learning - Beyond the Black Box Download
Assessment for Learning - Beyond the Black Box (Chinese) Download
Patricia Broadfoot, Richard Daugherty, John Gardner, Caroline Gipps, Wynne Harlen, Mary James, Gordon Stobart

Can assessment raise standards? Recent research has shown that the answer to this question is an unequivocal ‘yes’. Assessment is one of the most powerful educational tools for promoting effective learning. But it must be used in the right way. There is no evidence that increasing the amount of testing will enhance learning. Instead the focus needs to be on helping teachers use assessment, as part of teaching and learning, in ways that will raise pupils’ achievement.

Co-Constructing Success Criteria Download
Assessment in the service of learning
Anne Davies and Sandra Herbst

Research in the Area of assessment for learning – formative assessment plus the deep involvement of students in the assessment process – is not only broad and deep, it is also overwhelmingly positive in terms of its impact on student learning and achievement.

Assessment in schools Fit for purpose? Download
A Commentary by the Teaching and Learning Research Programme

Many assessment debates are universal such as how assessment might best support learning and teaching, and how assessment is used to provide information on the progress of individuals, schools and countries. This commentary includes examples of how these play out in the four countries of the UK. However, in England, many of these questions have been particularly contentious and offer opportunities to explore tensions in some depth. The intention of this commentary is not to offer an overview of practice in each of the four countries within the UK but to use different experiences to illuminate more general concerns.

The Effects of Feedback Interventions on Performance: A Historical Review, a Meta-Analysis, and a Preliminary Feedback Intervention Theory Download
Avraham N. Kluger and Angelo DeNisi

The authors proposed a preliminary feedback intervention theory (FIT) and tested it with moderator analyses. The central assumption of FIT is that feedback interventions change the locus of attention among three general and hierarchically organized levels of control: task learning, task motivation, and meta-tasks (including self-related) processes. The results suggest that FI effectiveness decreases as attention moves up the hierarchy closer to the self and away from the task. These findings are further moderated by task characteristics that are still poorly understood.

Creating a System of Accountability: The Impact of Instructional Assessment on Elementary Children’s Achievement Test Scores Download
Samuel J. Meisels, Sally Atkins-Burnett, Yange Xue, Julie Nicholson, Donna DiPrima Bickel, Seung-Hee Son

This study examined the trajectory of change in scores on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) of low-income, urban, third and fourth graders who had been enrolled in classrooms where the Work Sampling System (WSS), a curriculum-embedded performance assessment, was used for at least three years. The ITBS scores of children exposed to WSS were compared with those of students in a group of non-WSS contrast schools that were matched by race, income, mobility, school size, and number of parents in the home and to a comparison group of all other students in the school district.

Writing assessment in six lessons - from “American Idol” Download
David Slomp

Groans reverberate through the classroom as half my students realize that they’ve been trapped by their own rubrics. Each year, this activity is my favorite moment in the Foundations of Assessment course that I teach at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta. The activity itself is a simple one: Design a rubric that you can use to evaluate the performance of contestants on the “The X-Factor.”

Testing, Motivation and Learning Download
Assessment Reform Group: Paul Black, Patricia Broadfoot, Richard Daugherty, John Gardner, Wynne Harlen, Mary James, Dylan Wiliam

It is reasonable to expect that testing has an impact on the way pupils learn and on their motivation to learn. The questions we are addressing here are: what is the nature of that impact and does pupils’ learning benefit from it? Pupils need to know how their learning is progressing. Teachers also need to know how their pupils are progressing, to guide both their own teaching and the pupils’ further learning. Many others—parents, other teachers, employers—will have an interest in looking back on what has been learned by an individual pupil, often using a grade or mark as an overall summary of that learning.

The role of teachers in the assessment of learning Download
The role of teachers in the assessment of learning (Chinese) Download
Assessment Reform Group

This pamphlet results from the Assessment Systems for the Future project, funded by the Nuffield Foundation. The project was set up by the Assessment Reform Group in September 2003 to consider evidence from research and practice about the summative assessment of school pupils, and to propose ways in which such assessment can benefit their education.

Working Inside the Black Box: Assessment for Learning in the Classroom Download
Paul Black, Christine Harrison, Clare Lee, Bethan Marshall, and Dylan Wiliam

In their widely read article “Inside the Black Box,” Mr. Black and Mr Wiliam demonstrated that improving formative assessment raises student achievement. Now they and their colleagues report on a follow-up project that has helped teachers change their practice and students change their behavior so that everyone shares responsibility for the students’ learning.

Other resources

Black, P., and D. Wiliam. 1998. Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment.
Phi Delta Kappan 80, no. 2: 1-20.

This is a summary of the research related to classroom assessment. It was commissioned by the Assessment Reform Group.

Brookhart, S. 2001. Successful Students’ Formative and Summative Uses of Assessment Information.
Assessment in Education 8, no. 21: 153-169.

This research examines the way successful students manage evaluative information about their learning.

Butler, R., and M. Nisan. 1986. Effects of no feedback, task-related comments and grades on intrinsic motivation and performance.
Journal of Educational Psychology 78, no. 3: 210-216.

This research examines the way students respond to evaluative feedback (i.e. marking and grading) and shows that more specific, descriptive feedback results in more learning and achievement.

Davies, A., Herbst, S. and Sherman, A. (2016). Assessment for learning: A Framework for Educators' Professional Growth and Evaluation Cycles. In D. Laveault and L. Allal, (Eds.)
Assessment for Learning: Meeting the Challenge of Implementation. New York: Springer.

This chapter provides an overview of professional learning support and evaluation that is deliberately aligned with principles of classroom assessment.

Davies, A., Busick, K., Herbst, S. and Sherman, A. (2014). System Leaders Using Assessment for Learning as Both the Change and the Change Process: Developing Theory From Practice.
The Curriculum Journal. Vol. 25(4), pp. 567-592. DOI: 10.1080/09585176.2014.964276

This research reports the results of a multi-year study examining the impact of leaders as they led the implementation of assessment for learning initiatives while using the principles in their work as leaders.

Davies, A., Herbst, S. and Busick, K. (Eds.) (2013).
Quality Assessment in High Schools: Accounts from Teachers. Courtenay, BC: Connections Publishing and Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

This collection features more than 15 high school teachers describing their work in the area of classroom assessment. One of authors featured was, until recently, a member of the Mid-Pacific faculty. It is available in the Mid-Pacific professional library.

Harlen, W. and R. Deakin-Crick. 2003. Testing and motivation for Learning.
Assessment in Education 10, no. 2:169-208.

This research examines the impact of testing and evaluation on motivation and learning.

Herbst, S. and Davies, A. (2014). A Fresh Look at Grading and Reporting in High Schools. Courtenay, BC: Connections Publishing and Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

A Fresh Look at Grading and Reporting in High Schools describes, step-by-step, how you can effectively work towards a powerful, practical, and informed standards-based grading and reporting process which includes preparing for learning, teaching, and assessment; engaging students in assessment in support of their learning; and reporting the learning to others. It is available in the Mid-Pacific professional library.

Herbst, S. and Davies, A. (2016).
Grading, Reporting and Professional Judgment in Elementary Classrooms. Courtenay, BC: Connections Publishing.

This is the companion book to A Fresh Look at Grading and Reporting in High Schools. The essential components of Grading, Reporting, and Professional Judgment in Elementary Classrooms both model and mirror effective practice includes preparing for learning, teaching, and assessment; engaging students in assessment in support of their learning; and reporting the learning to others. It is available in the Mid-Pacific professional library.

Kluger, A. N., & DeNisi, A. (1996). The effects of feedback interventions on performance: a historical review, a meta-analysis, and a preliminary feedback intervention theory.
Psychological Bulletin, 119(2), 254-284.

This is a meta-analysis examining research related to the way students respond to evaluative feedback (i.e. marking and grading) and shows that more specific, descriptive feedback results in more learning and achievement.

Wiliam, D. (2003). Does assessment hinder learning? ETS Invitational Seminar held on July 11th, 2006 at the Institute of Civil Engineers, London, UK

This paper reviews assessment for learning and examines the impact on learning using examples from mathematics examples.