Transparency: Aligning Learning and Assessment

Back to School

Stores taunt shoppers with Back-to-School savings in early July. By mid-August, denial transforms into anticipation. Hallways are waxed. New classroom designs are configured. Bulletin boards become thematic works of art. Pencils are sharpened. School is ready for students.

Educators focus their vision on the master plan for student learning. What worked last year? What adjustments need to be made? And why? Always know the WHY to move forward with purpose. After addressing the WHY, it is time to figure out HOW to set the plan into action. Every day, students should ask and be able to answer: What am I learning today? Why am I learning this? and How will I know I have learned it? 

Visible Learning

We know from the research of experts and from personal experience—in its simplest form—learning must be visible to maximize educational effectiveness. John Hattie reminds us, “Know thy impact.” So, we proceed thoughtfully…

Course curricular units. Planned.
Department standards. Identified.
Visible learning targets. Posted.
Student-friendly language? Yep.

If we can get to this point, we are in great shape; but a new conflict emerges. How do we know students are learning according to expectations? Is there a transparent means of assessing and organizing evidence of learning? This becomes a gap in what well-intended educators want to do versus what takes place in the classroom. Here is a simple plan to align standards, learning targets, and assessment.


Making Sense of Assessment

In every course there is content to cover and a set of performance expectations to assess student skills. I divide content into three categories: Content Comprehension, Content Analysis, and Content Creation. These headings are overarching standards to match the expectations of our KUD (Know/Understand/Do) statements. I substitute “create” for “do” to promote innovative thought. I also prefer the verbs, “know, understand, and create,” to “I can” statements. Forgive me. Writing coaches love the active voice. So does my wife. I can do a number of tasks around the house, but I don’t necessarily act on them.   

This is the base model of standards and learning targets in my high school literature and composition courses—with versatile language to accommodate an array of courses, state standards, or expectations of the Common Core. Naturally, each teacher has course-specific learning targets (ie- “I know the definition of poetry terms”), but this shows teachers where to report the assessment. I also include the descriptors and success criteria on a simple rubric to communicate the basis for evaluation and feedback (In this post, I add one row to the bottom of the rubric until it is complete).


Content Comprehension

Learning Goal: I know course content.

  • I know course concepts and terminology.
  • I comprehend literary and informational texts.

Comprehension Rubric

Content Analysis

Learning Goal: I analyze literary themes and make connections between concepts.

  • I think critically and creatively.
  • I understand an author’s purpose and audience in various genres of writing.

Analysis Rubric

Content Creation

Learning Goal: I create original outcomes as evidence of my learning.

  • I produce various styles of writing & speaking based on purpose and audience.
  • I create coherent arguments supported by textual evidence or research.

Creation rubric

By dividing course content into these three categories—matched with specific learning goals—assessment guides teacher instruction and learner improvement. In addition to assessing student understanding of content, we address performance standards to evaluate the quality of student work. I have labeled the performance standards: Craft of Writing and Craft of Communicating (Speaking and Listening).


Craft of Writing (quality of written communication)

Learning Goals: this is where we include targets of “I can” or “I do”

  • I write with proper organization, fluency, language, and conventions.
  • I write with credibility: MLA citations, research, process and presentation.

Craft of Communicating (technique of speaking and listening)

  • I communicate for various purposes and audiences.
  • I listen to & collaborate with my peers (credibility).
  • I speak with clarity and poise in my delivery (voice and body).
  • I use visual aids to enhance my presentation.

Success Criteria Rubric

The success criteria rubric is now complete. Our department uses more detailed writing and presentation rubrics to assess for specific purposes, but I use this rubric as a visual to communicate how learners can achieve in the class and show improvement on a quest to answer our guiding questions: What if? Why not? and So What?

Questions to Guide Innovation


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