Social Sundays: Thinking about Assessment

When Diane Ravitch critiques the testing regime in U.S. schools, she isn't talking about the myriad of content specific tests that students take. But students take a lot of them! In Race to Nowhere, one of the students talks about how he tries to cram as much information in as possible and then it all just falls out as he prepares for the next test. That just makes me sad! 

While I am not opposed to the purpose of tests (to see what has been learned), I do believe that there are many ways big and small to assess student learning. Here's some of my personal favorites for assessment: 

  •  Journal prompt: quick write on topic read about or covered. It's easy to review, gives students practice writing, offers opportunity for students to use higher analytic thinking skills.  Journal prompts are great for on-going assessments rather than cumulative assessments.
  • Essay in-class:  similar benefits to the journal prompt but in-class essays are a way for students to work on deeper thinking and expanding an argument. In-class essays require an organization of ideas. 
  • Essay outside of class:  writing essays on one's own has similar benefits to an in-class essay but can additionally provide opportunity for students to analyze research rather than just focus on recalling facts. It is beneficial for students to have time to formulate ideas as is more like presenting information in the real world. 
  • Open-ended projects: These are definitely my favorite but also can be the most challenging. Students select a topic and format (comic books, blogs, historic resumes to name a few). The success of projects is dependent on clear expectations. If you are using rubric, either distribute the rubric ahead of time or even better, have students develop the rubric. Present projects in science fair style so that students can learn from a variety of projects and move around. The long day of presentation after presentation isn't fair to presenters or audience.
  • Exit tickets: Exit tickets are a very quick way to see what made an impact. I feel like exit tickets are as much an assessment of what stuck with students as well as how well the activity or lesson worked. If only a few kids got the concept, then I know I need to rework it
  • Teach it: have students learn one topic and then teach it to another group. You really know something once you have taught it.  I like to have student-designed gallery walks in which students teach each other about topics such as the Bill of Rights.
  • Write the test and the answer key: even though I rarely give traditional tests, it is amazing what happens when students write their own tests. Students each write a test and provide the answer key. Still not sure they have it? Have students switch tests and see how they do. 
How do you move beyond tests in your classroom?   Leave a comment or link a blog post.  

Social Sundays is a bi-weekly post sharing tips, ideas, resources, and products for teaching social studies.  If you have questions or think there is something I should share, you can leave me a message in the comments below or at the store in the question and answer section.  



  1. This is great! We are so on the same page with ideas for informal assessments. :) Thanks for hosting! :)
    Denise Hill, #TeacherMom

  2. You are so welcome. Thanks for joining the link up. Always fun.