October 23, 2019

Equal vs Equitable

Full transparency here… Rick Wormeli wrote the book Fair Isn’t Always Equal and it is excellent! It is on a must-read list for many educators, including this one. I’ve recently put a lot of thought and consideration into the notions of fairequal, and equitable and the roles they play in learning design. I am writing to share my context with other educators. My role in education has recently allowed me to jump back into the design of a learning pathway for a classroom of students. Honestly, I miss this. Before I left full-time teaching in a classroom setting, I was experimenting with a better way to design learning experiences that differentiate for my kids.

Several years ago, I began a relentless pursuit to liberate my students from this conveyor belt of learning that is one-size-fits-all (or is it none?). Prior to increasing my capacity and skill with technology, this was a task that seemed out of reach to me. The current model of schooling still restricts my students and teachers to arbitrary calendar dates, meaning that all students have to attend school for 180 days before they can advance. Even though no one really knows how long it will take any one student to learn x, y, and z, I could still innovate within the constraints of the calendar. As a math teacher, the conveyor belt of learning meant that all kids would receive equal time for instruction, equal time for practice, equal numbers of problems to practice, and equal number of days to learn before providing evidence in equal number of ways. There was a time in this journey that I realized that I didn’t have to force this level of uniformity onto my students any longer. As Rick says, I will always be fair, but I will rarely be equal. To be clear, the conveyor belt sends several messages to students. To some, it says if you can’t keep up, sorry. I don’t want to imply that all teachers feel this way, but doesn’t that message also say it is more convenient for me to plan this way, so keep up. For others, the message says I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wallow in mediocrity even though you’re ready to move on.

My journey began to shift when I realized I could leverage technology to better respond to my students and that response would greatly impact my instructional design. The pathway you see laid out in the image above represents an experience that embraces the understanding that all kids learn at different rates with various levels of support.

One of the more enlightening experiences I had along this journey came when I realized I could leverage technology to provide students a number of practice opportunities that reflected what they needed in order to demonstrate proficiency. No longer were all of my students receiving the same 25 practice problems on the same night. I also recalled nightmarish experiences when I would pass out tests on test-days and cringe when I got to a few desks of students I knew were not ready for this test. Those days are in the past. I could get into the nuts of bolts of that learning pathway, how students navigate it, the face-to-face learning experiences (whole group and small group) vs the self-paced ones, the role the formative practice plays and how it impacts student ownership, autonomy, and self-assessment. Not to mention the depth of learning, the mental dexterity required to complete some of the experiences, and the metacognition included in reflective opportunities along the way. But I want to hone in on the grip that fairness has on so many classrooms.

I fear too many classrooms are focused on being equal with students, in the interest of fair practice. But let’s be clear about equality.

Image Credit: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

What we really want in our classrooms is equitable and responsive teaching. Being fair and equitable is giving kids unique and specific supports so that all students have an opportunity to succeed, or learn. That means we have a responsibility to provide those supports when possible. So what practices fly in the face of equity? Consider whether your own instruction rides on a conveyor belt of one-size-fits-none instruction. Let’s consider what equitable grading practices look like. Are our grading practices handcuffed by equality? I know some teachers that allow redos or reassessment in their class, for example. Hats off to those teachers for recognizing the value of iterations in learning, something that applies to nearly every single profession in the world. But, in the interest of being equal with all students, teachers give partial credit to the second or third iteration or redo. The most typical response here is this practice ensures fairness to those students who got it the first time. Are we punishing students for learning at a different rate than we’re teaching?

I appreciate you reading this far. After some recent work in a classroom, I began to reflect on fairness, equality, and equitable teaching. The pathway I provided represents just one example of how instruction can be designed and innovated in ways that provide students healthy and equitable experiences. I think it also points to the greater world in which we live. If teachers still consider themselves the master of content in their class, they’ve been outsourced by Youtube and Google. We’ve got to start providing students opportunities to learn how to learn. That doesn’t mean they do so in the absence of a teacher, but it does mean the role of the teacher has to change from delivering content to managing student learning. Are we providing kids opportunities to inquire, filter information, and apply it in authentic ways? Think about how much learning we omit because we hold students hostage to arbitrary timelines.

June 12, 2018

I had to discipline, now how do I recover the relationship?

I’ve been blessed with some opportunities to speak and write about prevention.  It’s true, the best classroom management strategies are founded on prevention.  Stop the behavior before it starts.  I fully endorse the writing of handwritten notes.  I’ve blogged and spoke a lot about my 3-pronged approach during the first week of school.  Seek out those tough kids like a shark.  Find something positive during the first week of school.  Recognize it publicly, write a handwritten note, make a phone call home, hold a short conversation somewhere outside the classroom, etc.  There are a number of ways you can make positive contacts with tough kids during the first week of school.  The entire philosophy of SAMS and COSTCO are built on positive touches with customers.  Research suggests that it takes 7 positive contacts for a customer to return.  This post is intended to provide support to those teachers who may or may not have done that, but still have to deal with what we all may face: I still had to discipline that kid.  I would never advocate against the use of discipline.  I’m a big supporter of restorative practices, but I know in all schools, we still have to support teachers who had to utilize a form of discipline.  In the case where we’ve invested a lot of time and energy into a student, it can be a real challenge to recover a relationship once we’ve had to resort to a form of discipline.

So let me lay out a common scenario: Jared was a tough student last year so you anticipated him being a tough student this year when you noticed him show up on your roster over the summer.  You invested in positive tools that seemed to yield some effective response in Jared.  He seems to be putting forth more effort for you in your class.  The investment you made in connecting with Jared’s heart seems to have paid off.  For some unknown reason (there’s almost always a reason, recognize the feedback), Jared has a terrible day in your class.  Perhaps he even has another terrible day tomorrow.  Whatever the case may be, you have to report Jared to administration and schedule a meeting.  Know this, despite the magnitude of your efforts to turn Jared around early in the year, the relationship between you and Jared is damaged.  That’s not to say you did anything wrong.  That’s not an indictment on your use of discipline.  It’s just a fact.  The relationship is surely to be damaged.  It’s irresponsible for us to expect Jared to return to our class with a renewed spirit, ready to reengage in learning with a respectful attitude.  That would be nice wouldn’t it?  See, some kids may do that.  I’m not talking about those kids.  If you’re reading this and can’t seem to recognize which kids I’m talking about, consider yourself fortunate to have worked with a different kind of student.

In my position as an administrator, I’ve had the privilege of working with teachers and spending time in other classrooms.  I didn’t have these opportunities as a classroom teacher.  Since then, I’ve noticed that a lot of teachers may make an effort to invest in preventative strategies, but a lot of teachers still struggle when it comes to recovering, renewing, and restoring a relationship that may be damaged after discipline occurs.  I created the following strategy to help inspire and guide teachers in restoring positive relationships with kids.


August 20, 2017

A Blurry Focus

Ask any educator what their focus is and I imagine most would tell you the focus is always: learning.  Yea, that’s got to be the most common answer.  Yet, if you take a look at some common practices through the lens of learning, I think it would reveal a blurry focus, at best.


Here is a list of common classroom practices that we should all reconsider this year.  If you’re brave enough to reconsider these practices, you’ll find yourself taking steps to bring the focus of your classroom on learning.

  • Extra points for limited bathroom trips.  If you’re students claim that mother nature calls every day during your class, giving extra points in an effort to stymie mother nature is definitely blurring the focus in your classroom.  Especially in the secondary level, school is too often viewed as a game to students.  Those who win are good at leveling up, collecting extra points, and taking advantage of silly bonuses like this one.  Great teachers don’t have to give extra points to keep kids from hiding in the bathrooms during their class.
  • Handing out participation points.  So you say the focus is on learning?  Do you know what those daily participation points do to a student’s grade?  The answer many teachers would give is just unfortunate: it gives some kids a boost at the end of the grading period.  That response is not one that reflects a focus on learning.  It reflects a focus on giving As.  Stay with me till the end here.
  • Detailed rubrics for A-B-C-D-F handed out in the syllabus at the beginning of the year.  I know what you’re thinking, “hey now, I’m just being clear about what it takes to get an A.”  You are clear, and now the game is on.  I guess it’s possible to clearly state your tolerances for mastery in a detailed rubric like that, but I haven’t seen one.  Far too often I find those rubrics have the silliest language about numbers of sentences, numbers of problems, time spent on _____, etc.

So what is more effective than those practices?  I’m no psychologist but I think a lot of times the thing that blurs the focus in many classrooms is the teacher’s need for control.  You can sharpen the focus on learning by giving up control.  It almost sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it?  It may sound scary too, but it’s true.  Instead of detailed rubrics spelling out the limits for A-B-C-D-F, let’s be sure your grades reflect evidence of, you guessed it, learning.  What evidence of learning does a participation grade reflect?  If teachers are brave enough to look in the mirror, they’ll eventually admit that participation grades are used as a classroom management tool to bait students into participating in their class.  Think about it, the only way you can get kids to pay attention is to hand out points for it?  Sitting quietly and breathing doesn’t reflect learning and it shouldn’t impact a student’s grade.

I’m not suggesting you keep the requirements for an A a mystery till the end, but classrooms with a true focus on learning put the responsibility for establishing the bar in the hands of the students.  Classrooms with a focus on learning have clearly defined learning targets that students can articulate.  The tests align with those pre-established learning targets.  Here’s a challenge for you, during your next class, ask your students what mastery would look like for any of your learning targets.  Can they articulate it?  If not, the focus is blurry.  If your students can provide evidence of what mastery would look like, your focus is on learning.  When your students complete an assessment, do they get an opportunity for a retake ?  Is their actionable descriptive feedback provided?  If not, the focus isn’t on learning.

I’d love to hear from you.  Leave a comment or a tweet about your thoughts.


July 6, 2017

Spark Excitement Leading Up To Your PD

Ever read the announcement for school or district provided professional development and let out a big sigh?  When you hear about professional development, what emotions rise to the surface?  I have heard plenty of teachers clammer over the thought of attending PD.  I also know many teachers who look forward to the learning opportunities in their school or district.  Either way, I hope your professional learning experiences don’t elicit this feeling:

Source Unknown

I want to arm school and district leaders with ways they can engage their participants before their PD events in order to generate excitement, ignite the conversation, and spark momentum heading into their professional learning experience.


Flipgrid is on fire!  Matt Miller put together this awesome blog post including 15 ways Flipgrid can be used in the classroom.  Consider this number 16!

I launched a Flipgrid topic to the #wvedchat network recently.  West Virginia’s statewide technology conference is coming up July 18 and I used Flipgrid to encourage conference-goers to record a short video response sharing what they are excited about for this year’s conference.  We’ve received some great responses so far and you can view them or respond here.  Consider using Flipgrid to generate some excitement leading up to your next professional development event.  Your session leaders could even record a mini-commercial detailing what participants will learn by attending their session.  Or you could use Flipgrid after your event to collect feedback or testimonies about what your participants will take back to their classrooms and schools.  Finally, you could require participants record their video response in order to be entered into a door-prize drawing during your PD event.  Flipgrid offers a great opportunity to increase the energy heading into your professional development sessions.

#The Hashtag#

Every conference or professional development event should be using a backchannel.  Recently, I was fortunate enough to follow the learning at two huge educational conferences by following the conversations across the conference hashtags: #ISTE17 & #ModelSchools.  I’ve never been to either conference, though they’re definitely on my edu-conference bucket list!  School and district leaders have a great opportunity to model an effective instructional practice by encouraging participants to exercise their voice across the event hashtag.  The hashtag also provides participants an opportunity to share their learning during the event.  Using curation tools like Storify, educators can capture their learning during the event and use that archive as evidence of their growth during evaluation conversations with school or district leaders.  I love what Dwight Carter did during Model Schools to reflect on what he learned during various sessions.  You can view this reflection by clicking here.


There are advantages to using Facebook and one of them is that nearly everyone is already there.  Meet your event participants where they are and create a Facebook event for your professional development dates.  You can use the comment sections in the event posting to generate excitement, provide thought-provoking questions, or preview some details about your event using pictures/videos.

February 9, 2017

Professional Learning: Discipline Over Default

I’m a huge fan of the content produced by the Focus 3 team of Tim and Brian Kight.  They recently started releasing podcast episodes and they are fantastic!  I’ve read the book Above The Line but I’ve yet to see Tim or Brian in person.  This morning I listened to episode 2 of the podcast, titled Discipline Over Default.  Tim and Brian struck me this morning because the topic related so much to the journey of my own learning.

Let’s review the history of professional learning for educators.  In fact, let’s separate periods of history into pre-internet and post-internet.  Both periods of history have this one thing in common.  Educators have always been provided learning opportunities by the school-district.  Professional learning days have always appeared in the calendar year.  Those days are typically called professional development.  Before the boom of social media, educators also attended conferences, read books, or subscribed to education literature.  The connection to other educators primarily took the form of face to face collaboration that appeared in various formats within schools.  The disciplined educator became a disciple of their craft by engaging in those learning opportunities and sharing their learning with others, given opportunities to do so.

Since the boom of social media, professional learning opportunities have skyrocketed.  I’m learning via the podcast produced by Tim and Brian and I’m sharing my learning via this blog I created.  That’s just an example of opportunities that didn’t exist for educators of the 20th century.  Listening to the podcast episode just reminded me that the real barrier in education is still the same as it was yesterday.  The barrier is discipline over default.

A disciplined educator feeds intention over impulse.  Auto-pilot for educators is simply relying on whatever learning opportunities the school and district provides, but as many education leaders have been proclaiming for years now, we’re experiencing rapid change in the way technology impacts our learners.  If we aren’t discipline driven in pursuing improvement, we are rapidly approaching irrelevance.

January 27, 2017

What Do I Do Now?

What do I do once I have damaged that relationship?  This question was born out of a recent conversation with a student-teacher in my building.  It was a great thought and one that every educator should be considering.  I have to imagine that even the best managers of classrooms have messed up and damaged a relationship with a student before.  We’re human, after all.  So let’s set the stage a bit.  That one student who has been tip-toeing the line for several days or even weeks, decides to jump over the line head first one day.  The irritation overcomes you and you lay down some punishment.  The next day the student comes in with a chip on his/her shoulder and you are forced to dig deep into your toolbox in a relentless search to engage that student, but your efforts are to no avail.  So you’re left wondering, “how long will he/she come to my room with a negative attitude?  Do I just let this student have his/her space?  If I ignore them, I’m afraid they’ll just distract others.”  Chances are, they will distract others.  That student is seeking an audience and will do what they can to pull more students to their side (there are sides now, you know).  So what do I do now?

Let’s say for sake of this post, this student is Jeremy.  This, in my opinion, is the best piece of advice I can offer to the teacher in this situation: DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN TO PREVENT MORE JEREMYS FROM APPEARING IN YOUR CLASS.  Right now, you’ve only got one Jeremy.  But, if you do nothing, more will appear.  So what can you do to prevent Jeremy from multiplying?

No doubt, in this situation, Jeremy already has some followers or at least some people that may be considering joining the fold.  You better seek those students out like a Sidewinder missile!  Now, you have to do more than identify them.  Start recognizing anything even remotely positive that those students are doing in your class.  “I appreciate how you came in and got your stuff out so you’re ready to go, great job man!”  “Hey Daniel, I’ve never seen someone persevere over one problem quite like you have! Way to go!”  “Chasity, thank you for picking that pencil up off the floor for me!”  With each of those praises, you look them in the eye and dap, shake their hand, or high-five.  Make a positive contact if possible.  

Next, go the extra mile.  Don’t just rest on a positive praise that requires 5 seconds of your time.  Write those students a handwritten note and deliver it to them.  Make a phone call home and tell mom or dad how much you appreciate that specific behavior you observed in their child.  You want those behaviors to continue, right?  Then put in the effort.  It’s worth it!  Meet those students as they arrive at school early in the morning.  Talk to them.  If your schedule permits, see them at lunch and sit with them, talk to them.  Great relationships with tough kids don’t happen by accident.  If you’re willing to do the things few educators are doing, you’ll reach the kids few educators are reaching.

If you follow through with these actions, chances are great that you have done well to prevent more Jeremys from appearing your class.  Read my next post to determine what to do with the original Jeremy.

December 27, 2016


This is a collaborative blog post from Derek Oldfield, Jodie Pierpoint, and Paul Bailey.

Paul Bailey, Jodie Pierpoint, and I are in a Voxer book chat group reading Kids Deserve It with some other friends.  The three of us were Voxing each other recently about developing authentic relationships with students.  Born out of our conversation is this fun challenge we considered posing to our PLN via Twitter.  Our purpose is to get more educators engaged in the extra effort that is required to build true relationships with tough students through positivity.

We have designed a challenge where educators keep track of “positivity points” daily by giving high fives, writing handwritten notes, or making positive phone calls home.  We use the word points loosely because we will not be posting a leaderboard, giving away a million dollars, or any other award.  The only reward given will be a smile on a kids face, the gift of being a champion for a kid, or joy from the happiness in a parent’s voice.  Utilizing points will provide feedback for the participants to track if they are being positive throughout the school days.  The hashtag #high5challenge can be used to post photos, point totals and/or goals and gain ideas of how others are promoting positivity within their buildings.

We value the power in turning negative behavior through a simple high five or a sincere handwritten note.  In a lot of ways, managing tough kids isn’t hard, it just requires effort that few people are willing to put forth.  Meeting that tough kid in the parking lot as they get off the bus in the morning, just to slap him five and tell him you’re glad he’s here, doesn’t require a PD session or a training day.  These simple gestures send messages to kids and we believe every kid deserves to be recognized.  This is not designed to be a competition among adults.  It is set up to be an easy challenge for individuals to begin promoting positivity within their building.  Fourteen points one day with a goal of twenty the next ultimately means there will be more positivity shared. However, individuals are not to be discouraged if a colleague earns fifty points in a day.  Together 64 points (plus the points of other staff members in the building) of positivity were shared in one building on one day.

September 13, 2016

Just Serve



I’m one month in to my first year as assistant principal.  I’m thankful to have a network of people I can call on for support.  Within my first week, I had several great friends and edu-heroes check in with me to see how things were going.  I actually told my friend, Jodie Pierpoint, yesterday that I feel like I’ve been so busy I haven’t had any inspiration to blog.  I’ve actually entered a stretch here where I feel either so disoriented that I can’t locate my target, or perhaps I don’t have a target.  I imagine it’s a feeling only school administrators can understand.  I typically attack or pursue education activity like a wild dog.  I’m often my own worst enemy because I lose sight of small victories or my zeal pushes people too far.  But recently I have struggled to focus in on one thing.  I feel as if I’m bringing little value to my school.


My advice to other educators that may be in a situation where they feel like they don’t know what to do: just serve.  Serving others is like defense and rebounding.  Those two things don’t require near the amount of skill as scoring, they just require focused effort!  I realized that in the midst of my frustration about not knowing what to do, or deciding how to address this need or that need, I just needed to take a deep breath and go serve people.  It doesn’t require much thought to check in on teachers between classes.  It doesn’t require much preparation to greet teachers in the morning and ask if they need anything.  It doesn’t require any planning for me to write teachers a thank you note.  These may seem like small, menial tasks to some.  You’re right!  Those aren’t the kinds of things I aspire to do after reading the latest blog post from my edu-heroes or listening to a recent podcast on my way to school.  But I think it’s important to note that I won’t get to see the results I’d like to see if I’m not serving others.  I needed the reminder that I didn’t have to be engaged in a furious pursuit of the next staff meeting or professional development session in order to have an impact on my school.  And neither do you.  Just serve.  The relationships you build as a result will yield far more impact in the long run.



August 8, 2016

Did I Leave Too Early?

Photo by Derek Oldfield 7/16/16

Photo by Derek Oldfield 7/16/16

I feel like that photo represents my career right now.  I’m stepping out of the classroom and into school administration.  This passion has been something I’ve invested in heavily over the last couple years.  I feel as if I’m looking back, through the side mirror, at a beautiful sunset!  What lies ahead is a bit dark and my way isn’t nearly as clear as it used to be.  I’m writing this as dusk falls on my time in the classroom.  It’s really bittersweet.  On one hand, I need this.  It’s possible my principal from last year may feel a sense of relief.  I look at nearly every event that occurs during the school day through the lens of a school leader.  The inbox of my principal will be lighter next year as I won’t be there to share my reflections, the questions that resulted in books I read or blog posts shared the night before.  My activity over Twitter, the blog posts and books I read, and the edchats in which I engaged, have had a rather narrow focus lately: school leadership.

On the other hand, as I look back at that beautiful sunset I’m reminded of things that I feel were left unfinished.  I didn’t meet my goal last year for #goodcallshome.  I just spent an hour reviewing student blogs and screencasts they submitted.  I remember embarking on the mission to establish portfolios of learning just two years ago.  That mission is not complete.  Last year I placed an emphasis on asking students to demonstrate learning and understanding at a deeper level.  I told myself that I would no longer tolerate rote memorization and regurgitation of procedures and algorithms as “learning”.  So I spent some time reviewing the assessments I created and the evidence my learners submitted.

Desmaze Example 1

Megan MarbleSlides

Pacman Example 1

Keela Inequality Screencast

I reviewed some of the Kahoots students created, then shared with their class as a means to prepare for upcoming assessments.  Just last week I had an opportunity to share with teachers how I intentionally reach the hearts of my learners during the first week and throughout the rest of the school year.



I’m worried that my relentless pursuit for the highest quality learning experiences for students may weaken as a result of the limited opportunities school leadership may provide for me to teach.  As a practitioner, I remained in a constant state of improvement.  I spent every ounce of down time seeking after ways to better reach my learners.  I had a 50 minute drive to work every day last year.  I must have listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts, Youtube videos, and audiobooks while on the road.  I pride myself on my instructional knowledge and the art that allowed me to inspire learners to drive their learning and reflect on how they were learning.   Will stepping out of the classroom still provide me with opportunities to unleash experiences on students (teachers) then reflect on how to improve those experiences the next time?  I hope so.  Did I leave the classroom too early?  I hope not.  I invite your feedback, especially from other school leaders.

July 4, 2016

Two Questions Around Standards Based Learning

Last week I completed two days, approximately nine hours of instruction at AFT-WV (American Federation of Teachers – my union) summer camp for teachers.  I’ve been honored to serve as an instructor for the week-long event the last three summers now.  The emphasis is always on technology integration.  This year I decided to take the opportunity to engage participants in an interactive conversation on grading and assessment.  This represented about two hours of our class time.  Over the last year, I had developed a two-part academy, via Nearpod, designed to expose a staff to standards based learning.  The goal or target was to generate momentum for a staff to begin improving the way they communicate learning to students.  I had 20 participants in my class at AFT-WV summer camp and they represented a wide variety of content and grade levels.  I wasn’t sure what to expect as this was the first time I had ever used the content I designed.  My participants stepped up and fully engaged in some incredible discussion.  I was really shocked.  Navigating the waters of grading and assessment requires some intense reflection about century-old practices that have dominated classrooms and teacher mindsets.  During the lesson, as the participants began to really consider how to more accurately communicate learning to students, they brought to my attention some common problems or even misconceptions that I remember grappling with during my own journey towards a culture of learning that is standards based.  I’m going to offer these issues to you as they were offered to me, then I’ll follow up with my response.

Derek, it does make sense when you asked us to consider if we believe all students learn on the same timetable or conveyor belt, as you put it.  But, I can’t figure out how you seem to manage different assessment schedules in the same classrooms?  That almost seems like a moonshot idea that isn’t practical or possible in the real classroom.

Penalized for learning different rate

First, I’m a math teacher, so this issue was something I really struggled with for some time.  I recall passing out tests in my classroom and as I walked around handing the test out to students, I would almost cringe as I placed that test on some students’ desks because I knew that student wasn’t ready.  At that time I began to leverage technology quite a bit more in my classroom.  I could tell when he or she hadn’t completed the assignments and tasks I had prepared and the formative results indicated such.  Here I was handing out a summative opportunity to students that I knew weren’t quite ready.  I asked myself “would this student be ready if I just gave them an extra day?  Was there any data I could view that would indicate where this student was struggling?  Could I meet with that student in a 1-1 or small group setting to better prepare him or her for this summative test?”  Of course, in my mind, none of those questions were possible because I had asked students to learn according my timetable.  Why?  After much thought and reflection, the only answer I could come up with was that my timetable was easier and more convenient for me.  If you’re reading, stop there and think.  Ok, I hope you’ve given some thought to my answer for why I was so committed to my timetable for learning.  At this point, I think it’s safe to say that little can improve in your classroom or your school if our focus is on keeping teachers comfortable, keeping instruction convenient, and keeping our work easy.

If you decide to allow multiple pathways to that summative, standards aligned, assessment you create, I think you’ll find that what happens is not quite what you had in mind.  See, my participants last week had this thought in their minds that if they had 23 students in class, nearly all 23 would choose a different day to take that summative assessment.  WOW!  How in the world could a teacher manage 23 different days of testing, provide adequate feedback to those students after their tests, then keep them busy while the rest of the class tested for days after.  Let’s be clear.  That doesn’t happen.  In my experience, being more fluid with when your students test means you’re not as concerned with when but more concerned with results (learning).  I think you’ll find that most students still move through your curriculum, those assignments you’ve designed as opportunities for students to practice or engage in that new skill or concept, together.  This is especially true if you successfully nurture a culture of collaboration in your classroom.  If students know that talking, sharing, and working together is appropriate and encouraged, learning rates for students will begin to merge together.  You’ll find that your attention is given, more appropriately, to those students who begin to move at a slower pace.


Students Helping


Let me give you an example of how allowing more choices about when students test will actually benefit the teacher.  In my own journey towards improving the way I communicate learning to my students, I began shortening the tests I gave to my students.  I more accurately aligned my tests to specific learning targets I had communicated to my students.  So instead of a 25-30 question/problem test that likely takes an entire 45-minute period to complete, I started offering shorter, targeted assessments.  This allowed me to provide 1-1 feedback to students immediately after completing those assessments.  If all 23 students take that assessment on the same day, it becomes more difficult to meet 1-1 with each student after their assessment.  Time becomes an issue, I just can’t meet with all of them in 45 minutes.  However, if 12 students take that assessment on Thursday, I can then meet 1-1 with all 12 after they complete their assessment.  This conference becomes crucial to the learning process.  My goal is for each student to leave my conference knowing where they are, where they need to be, and how they can get there.  Students leave my conference knowing exactly what they need to do to remediate and strengthen those learning targets in which they failed to demonstrate proficiency.  Some of those 12 leave my conference and go back to work.  Some students provided evidence of learning in every standard or learning target.  My point is, if 7 more students test on Friday and go through my 1-1 conference after, that leaves just 4 students for me to check on before pushing students ahead to the next set of learning targets.  It’s more manageable than you think.  As I often tell educators, find someone who is already doing this and lean on them.  That’s what I did!

The second issue or misconception I want to address is around the idea of allowing retakes or redos.

Derek, if you allow retakes and redos on every summative assessment, what do you do if you hand a student a test and he or she says “I don’t want to do that one, I’ll just take the retake”?

This was a great question and one that I’ve heard before from educators at the beginning of this journey.  Hopefully my last response brought some clarity to this issue.  Is this student ready for that test?  Let’s consider why that student is saying “I’ll just take the retake.”  If that student was ready for the test or at least felt they were ready, what reason would they have to not take the test?  Another issue here may be that students have learned that your retakes are easier than the first version of the test.  Be sure your summative assessments, all versions, are clearly aligned to learning targets you’ve already communicated to students.  In fact, it’s good practice, especially at the secondary level, to allow students to explore what would be considered mastery of your learning targets.  For example, take the following learning target from 9th grade language arts: I can cite strong and thorough textual evidence that supports my inferences and analysis of the text.  After providing your instruction, try allowing your students to provide examples of mastery and examples that do not provide evidence of mastery.  How would they measure if another student could demonstrate mastery of this standard?  You may find some deep learning occurs during this activity.  To summarize, if this issue appears in your classroom, it’s likely you’re placing an emphasis on when students learn and it appears this student isn’t ready to demonstrate learning.  Otherwise, you may have an issue with the validity of your retakes.