Back to school (3)

Get 'back to school' ready with our guest blogger Anne Davies (Step Three of Five)

Step Three: Preparing to collect baseline evidence of learning
I find that teachers tend to be optimists – a new beginning is a time full of hopes and dreams. At least it always is for me. Getting ready for the school year is an important part of making this the best year yet. I've identified six steps to being ready for the new school year from an assessment perspective - after all, as Black and Wiliam (1998) and other researchers note, powerful research-based assessment practices have the ‘greatest impact on student learning ever documented.'

The first step I identified in an earlier blog is  being clear about what needs to be learned. Step Two is thinking about and planning for evaluation (often evaluation is the “end” teachers have in mind and plan to share with students as part of being open and transparent). Preparing for evaluation means thinking about what reliable and valid evidence of learning might be.

As we prepare for a new year, reflect back to the first two steps: what students need to learn and what evidence of learning you will need to make an informed professional judgment (evaluation). Then you are ready for Step Three: Preparing to collect baseline evidence of learning.

There are two key benefits to collecting key pieces of baseline evidence of learning early in the term: Teachers get the information they need to 'tweak' instructional plans to better meet student needs and also get the first layer of 'proof' needed to later help students and their parents appreciate how much has been learned.

What kind of baseline evidence do teachers collect? Consider the kinds of evidence students need to provide to show proof of learning. When it comes to classroom assessment, anything a student does, says, or creates is potentially evidence of learning. When teachers collect evidence of learning from multiple sources over time in relation to the learning outcomes/standards, they are more likely to make informed professional judgments that are reliable and valid. Teachers in different subjects, different classes and different levels or grades collect different samples. Consider these examples of baseline samples teachers in different subject areas and grade levels collect:


Journal entry
Sample(s) of writing

Representation of everything the student knows about favourite/favorite author or genre

Reader response entry

Description of how mathematics is used outside of school
After a quick review of mathematical concepts, students choose one to write about everything they know in relation to that concept

Math journal entry using the frame:
Social Studies:

Map of the world
Brainstorm list of notes for a debate of dialectic essay on a current event of the student’s choice
Audio recording of a small group discussion (have the entire class in small group discussions at the same time, have members record and take note of group members)


Mini-science lab report
Quick word web: Everything I know about…. Concept area to be the focus on future study

Journal entry focused on why Science is important
Second Language
Audio recording of a conversation in the language (may be a lot of silence)
Everything I know about… language
Written self-assessment focused on current level of knowledge and experience in the subject area

Think about the kind of evidence your students will need to produce in order that you can evaluate their learning at the end of the term. What would you have students create, do, and articulate in order to provide evidence of where they are at this point in time while it is still early days in the term. Make a plan to collect a few key pieces - not too many! You just need enough to inform your general understanding of what students know, can do and can articulate. And later, students (and their parents) will need enough to provide a powerful "lightbulb" moment as they see visual and concrete evidence of their growth and improvement over time.

Notice, with the baseline samples in these examples, teachers can adjust their instruction based on current information. Students now have a first attempt – a baseline sample – that they will be able to use to help show themselves, their teachers, and others the progress they have made as they have learned during the term.

A new school year is getting closer. Tune in for Step Four tomorrow.

View product detailsCanadian-based author, consultant, and researcher, Anne Davies, Ph.D., applies her expert knowledge of developing quality classroom assessment practices toward her mission to 'increase the possibility of learning for all our students'. If you like what she has to say she's in NZ in May 2013 for a series of assessment workshops. For more info and online bookings click here.

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