Assessment Practices

One of my favorite roles as a principal is serving as a mentor/guide for aspiring administrators. Recently, one teacher posed the following questions to me as part of her coursework requirements. These inquiries are based on the work by Rick Stiggins. Please share in the comments how you might have responded, or what you think about my answers.

How are assessment practices developed in your current position?

As a principal, I mostly focus on developing assessment literacy with my staff. I try to address anticipated questions, such as, “What is the difference between formative and summative assessment?”, “Can we use these standardized test scores in a positive way?”, and “How can we make instructional decisions based on the student data we have?” If the teachers can answer these questions, then I have done my job, because they are the ones that can actually have an impact on student learning by using assessment data.

How are you using daily assessment data?

In my position, I use assessment data to look at schoolwide trends. For example, how many office discipline referrals are we averaging per day? How does this compare to last year? Last month? I then look for spikes in areas and times that need more attention, such as lunch recess for 4th grade. This helps me make informed decisions, such as providing more supervision during this time, or talking with those students who are being referred. I wish we had a system and software as powerful as PBIS and SWIS for our academics. Hopefully as we continue to learn about RtI, we will be able to respond just as quickly to students’ curricular learning needs.

What kind of assessment model are you following?  (ex. Stiggins model)

I subscribe to the Optimal Learning Model, developed by Regie Routman. It is based on the Gradual Release of Responsibility, from Pearson & Gallagher (1983). What I like about this framework is it doesn’t separate assessment and instruction. It is intertwined and interdependent of one another. We are good teachers because use ongoing assessments to inform our instruction. This leads to better teaching and a stronger impact on student learning. Maybe the OLM is not an assessment model, but too many people push assessment as a stand alone in classroom instruction.

If you are following a model- is it to your liking? are you interested in other kinds of assessment models available?

I am not sure how to respond to the first question. I am interested in the concept of triangulation, where professionals use multiple forms of different assessments, such as summative, benchmark, and formative, to make instructional decisions. I was introduced to this concept from the book Assessment in Perspective by Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan (Stenhouse, 2013). As for formative assessment models, I highly recommend the resource Embedding Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam (Solution Tree, 2012). He nicely breaks down the five types of formative assessments. Very applicable to all educators.

If you aren’t or are looking for other models, does the Stiggins model appeal to you?

What I like best about Stiggins work is his focus on including students in the assessment process. It is unfortunately very rare that we ask students, “What did you think about your work?”, “Why do you think that?”, and “What would you do differently next time?”. At Howe, we are taking our first steps in this process, through digital student portfolios, and through posting our writing with student reflections on a mastery wall. Stiggins’s focus on including students as part of the assessment process is so important.

Would you consider using it as an outline for your assessments?

Unfortunately, I am not real familiar with his outline. I would have to research it some more. What I would be wondering as I read his work is:

  • How is assessment integrated within instruction and support good teaching on a daily basis?

  • Is this framework reliable? That is, has Stiggins described or experienced good assessment practices within the context of the classroom?


Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

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