Ongoing Monitoring of Student Learning - Assessment for Learning

If assessments provide vital information for both students and teachers, then it makes sense that they do not mark the end of learning. (Marzano, 2006)

Learning and Assessment

Learning is a dynamic and continuous process of instruction, practice, and assessment until the student becomes proficient in the knowledge area. Assessment that parallels practice provides specific, ongoing feedback to the student that enables improvement. When “knowledge gains” become the unit of assessment, students are more likely to remain engaged with learning and to persevere when they are challenged.

Traditional Assessments as 'Autopsy'

'Final' grades or test scores have been likened to an 'autopsy' communicating to the student that the learning is 'over', rather than an ongoing process of practice and improvement A student in a college access initiative contrasted her current experience of learning with experience at her former school (Foster, 2008).

At my old school if I didn’t have my work, I just got a 'zero' for it. They wouldn’t give you time to go back and try to fix or none of that. You just got a 'zero' and that’s your grade.

When assessment is delayed until the end of a term, students who are 'stuck' in an area of learning have lost opportunities to improve their understanding. Further, what might have been a relatively small area in need of corrective feedback can snowball, as the teacher marches through the curriculum and the student feels increasingly frustrated and lost. Assessment that parallels learning enables teachers to adapt instruction according to student’s needs.

Timely, Specific Feedback

Ongoing assessments conducted during the period of instruction are linked with more successful learning (Reeves, 2011). Schools typically administer the state standardized tests in March and results can follow as late as the following school year. Further, when students do receive those results, the scores will tell them little about their specific areas of strength and challenge within broad subject content areas. One score for English Language Arts on a standardized test provides little feedback to the student as to specific areas in need of further practice.

The Purpose of the Assessment

A standardized test has limited usefulness as a tool for improving instruction or individual learning, and yet schools continue to rely heavily on them as assessments of individual student proficiency in essential knowledge and skills. The purpose of standardized tests is to show school, district, or state-wide trends in proficiency. Individual student scores are aggregated or grouped, and the precision of the test results at the individual student level is decreased.

The Measurement Tool

Using standardized tests as the main assessment of student learning is like using a thermometer to measure rainfall. The thermometer is a reliable tool when used to measure temperature, but when it is applied to the wrong conditions the validity of the measurement is compromised. Standardized and summative tests are designed for accountability and instructional improvement. Privileging these assessments over ongoing assessment is problematic because students continue to leave school unprepared for the workforce or higher education.

Tested vs. Taught Curriculum

Teachers know that ongoing assessment is a more reliable indicator of student learning progress than a standardized test score but they are placed in a 'double bind': they can 'teach to the test' knowing that students will not be prepared with the skills and knowledge they need for higher education and the workplace, or they can double up their work by trying to provide ongoing assessment and preparing their students for the standardized test.

High Risk Schools

The 'double bind' is worse for teachers in high risk schools since students are often performing one or more grade levels behind. Financial sanctions pose an added pressure on teachers to use the test as a curriculum. Paradoxically the threat of sanctions on schools already facing considerable challenges further burdens them making it less likely that they will improve. Privileging standardized tests has serious consequences for students already at high risk for dropout.

The Need for a 'Real Time' Assessment Tool

Standardized tests predominate as assessments because until now there has not been a tool for ongoing assessment. KW21 is a shared, educational software system that positions schools to develop more precise, 'real time' reports of students’ learning progress. Student Proficiency Profiles provide a 'snapshot' of each student’s learning progress in real time that is based upon multiple assessments. The Profile shows the content and skills that have been taught and assessed to date, and a summary of the areas in which the student has reached proficiency and/or needs further practice. Students and parents can access specific feedback on their learning progress at any time. An assessment tool that pinpoints areas in need of practice is essential for adapting instruction to support student improvement. KW21 software re-frames learning by emphasizing knowledge gains instead of final grades.


Ainsworth, L. (2007). “Common Formative Assessments: The Centerpiece of An Integrated Standards – Based Assessment System”. Reeves, D. Ed., Ch.4. Ahead of the Curve: The Power of Assessment to Transform Teaching and Learning. Bloomington: Solution Tree.

Dufour, R. and Marzano, R. (2011). Leaders of Learning: How District, School, and Classroom Leaders Improve Student Achievement. Bloomington: Solution Tree

Foster, K.C. (2008). “The Transformative Potential of Teacher Care as described by Students in a Higher Education Access Initiative”. Education and Urban Society. Volume XX, Number X.

Marzano, R. (2006). Classroom Assessment & Grading that Work. Alexandria: ASCD

Marzano, R. and Haystead, M.W. (2008). Making Standards Useful in the Classroom. Alexandria: ASCD.

Reeves, D. (2011). Elements of Grading: A Guide to Effective Practice. Bloomington: Solution Tree.

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