Common Core Writing: Assessing Student Writing

February 18, 2015

Assessment of writing can take place in a variety of ways. Here the three different types of assessment are defined with detailed suggestions for implementing formative assessment, the most common and frequently occurring type. Read about using checklists, rubrics, and conferences to give middle school and high school students feedback on their writing. This is number nine in a series of posts about my online course, Common Core: Implementing the Writing Standards. If you are looking to get caught up, check out:
Post #1: an overview of the writing standards
Post #2: the gradual release process and writing
Post #3: explicit teaching of writing skills
Post #4: argument writing
Post #5: informational writing
Post #6: narrative writing
Post #7: research and writing
Post #8: writing across the content areas

No matter what type of writing your students are engaged in, at some point you will have to assess them. Before you decide how you are going to assess them, it is important to be familiar with the different types of assessments.

You may have heard these terms tossed around in conversation, but were never quite sure of the difference. A baseline assessment is a diagnostic, which can be given at beginning of year or as each new type of writing is introduced. Formative assessments occur all year long and are a running log of students' strengths and weaknesses. Summative assessments are an end picture of proficiency of a certain skill set. These may be given at the end of a unit, or at the end of the course or year. Summative assessments can be standardized tests, cross-curricular assignments, portfolios, etc.

In this article about formative assessment, "The Bridge Between Today's Lesson and Tomorrow's," Carol Ann Tomlinson makes the following important points about using formative assessments in the classroom. Teachers should:
1. Help students understand the role of a formative assessment. It is a source of information and should not count as a grade.
2. Begin with clear KUDs. What should the student Know, Understand, and be able to Do? Your formative assessments should keep checking on that.
3. Make room for student differences. Formative assessments may allow some students to illustrate their knowledge while others write it out.
4. Provide instructive feedback that makes clear to students what they need to improve upon.
5. Make feedback user-friendly. Marking every error is time consuming and overwhelming for the student to read and process. Feedback should connect to the KUDs.
6. Assess persistently. Formative assessments can be formal or informal: a warm up activity, an exit ticket, observations while circulating the classroom, a thumbs up or thumbs down, etc.
7. Engage students with formative assessment. Let students use a rubric to assess their own work or a peer's.
8. Look for patterns. Look for clusters of student needs and plan ways to help each group of students move ahead.
9. Plan instruction around content requirements and student needs. Formative assessment should not be an end, but should lead to modification of teaching and learning plans, to designing instruction that's a better fit for student needs.
10. Repeat the process. Frequent formative assessments will help you to identify and track student growth.

Assessment of writing can take place in a variety of ways. Here the three different types of assessment are defined with detailed suggestions for implementing formative assessment, the most common and frequently occurring type. Read about using checklists, rubrics, and conferences to give middle school and high school students feedback on their writing. In Tomlinson’s article, she says that “formative assessment…should be…the bridge or causeway between today’s lesson and tomorrow’s.” Formative assessment becomes the bridge between today's lesson and tomorrow's because while you may end a lesson with a formative assessment, like an exit ticket, that information should inform you as to where you need to start your next lesson. If all students are struggling, you may want to reteach the lesson, while if just a handful are having trouble, you will know to focus on that small group, providing additional practice and guidance.

For example, in a lesson on argument writing, I may end one lesson with students determining which of several examples is the best supported claim and giving an explanation why. If most students are successful, I will know they are ready for independent practice. If most students are unsuccessful, I may give more examples and do more guided practice before releasing the students to work independently.

While formative assessment is the type of assessment used most frequently in your classroom, you want to make sure your expectations for students are clear by using checklists and rubrics regardless of the type of assessment. Also consider the revising/editing tools you use to help students check off their checklists and achieve proficiency on their rubrics. You can read more about how I use checklists with my students in post #6 of this series on narrative writing.

You also want to keep students informed of their progress as writers through conferences. A great time to meet with students is during peer revision. While students are engaged in revision with other students, you can meet with one student without other students demanding your attention (they have someone else's!).

If, like me, you never have enough time in class for you to meet with everyone, consider having students use Google Drive to submit their drafts to you. You can then plan to meet with your neediest writers in person and provide comments to your other students using the comment feature. You can read more about how I use Google Drive with my students during the writing process here.

Next up: series wrap-up and additional resources.

For more writing ideas and resources:

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