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NYC Helpline: How To: Develop as a Professional

Assessment: Getting To Know Them Theresa London Cooper


The process of collecting information about what students know, what they can do, and what they need to know for the purpose of making informed decisions about instruction.

Don’t rely solely on tests to tell you what your pupils can do. Students are more than scores. Find a variety of ways (for example, writing samples, performance on tasks, or artwork) for students to demonstrate their knowledge. Artists use portfolios to represent the variety and range of their body of work. Why not compile student portfolios for the same purpose?
Robert D. Ramsey, Ed.D, 501 Tips for Teachers

Doctors get to know their patients to treat them. Lawyers get to know their clients to defend them. Doesn’t’ it follow that we get to know our students?

To that end, assessing our students is essential, and collecting data is the first step in the assessment cycle. I encourage each of you to take the next couple of months to get to know your students. Gather information to determine their interests, strengths, and challenges. Find out how they learn best. Find out who their buddies are. The information will prove to be invaluable as you make thoughtful decisions and plan effective instruction throughout the year.

Analyzing the data is the next step in meeting the academic and social needs of your youngsters. It is essential that we reflect on our findings and ask ourselves several questions:

  • What does the data mean?
  • What does the data infer about the learning styles of my students?
  • How can the data inform my instruction?

The beginning of the year is an opportune time to administer diagnostic assessments that help you screen and place students: we may give students an interest inventory, take anecdotal notes, keep observation checklists, and administer tests that will help us group students appropriately. Such assessments will help identify the below level, on level and advanced level students and plan differentiated instruction. Additionally, you may identify students who require further testing, which may extend beyond the scope of your expertise.

Throughout the year, before, during, and after lessons and units, you will continue assessing to “check in” with your students and monitor their progress. This is a time to reflect on your practice and ask yourself, “Is my instruction meeting the needs of my students? Do I see progress? What are my next steps?” It will also equip you with noteworthy information for parent-teacher conferences and/or support service meetings for students with academic and social needs. Let us not forget student feedback during this “check in” process. Teach them to question and monitor their own understanding and progress.

During the last phase of the year, you will use formal and informal assessments to find out what students have mastered. These assessments will provide you with the evidence needed to determine student achievement and promotional status.

As professionals you must inform your instruction with appropriate, ongoing assessments to meet the needs of your students. By repeating the assessment cycle again and again you will move them along the continuum of learning and high student achievement. I agree with Dr. Robert D. Ramsey: in my experience, one or two days in a child’s life does not often reflect his or her potential; therefore, evaluate the child with various formal and informal assessments. Over the years, along with the designated formal assessments, I have used a number of informal measures that have helped me get to know my students and plan effective instruction. Here are a few of them:

  • Writing samples/essays
  • School performances
  • Role playing
  • Oral reports and presentations
  • Math games
  • Science experiments
  • Kid watching
  • Interviewing
  • Conferencing
  • Running records
  • Art projects
  • Anecdotal notes
  • Learning Center activities
  • Student work folders
  • Student portfolios
  • Peer evaluations
  • Self evaluations
  • Teacher-made tests

I’ve found this holistic approach of assessment captures the wide-ranging capabilities of each child.

Which assessments will you use this year to get to know your students?

Do you have a comment or question about this article?  E-mail Theresa.


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