Assess to Diagnose!

John Hattie reminds us that a critical mainframe all educators must embrace is that assessment is feedback for us! In Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Student Learning he notes that, “Of all of the influences on student learning, feedback is among the top-ranked–and this is also the case for teacher learning. Teachers need feedback about their effects on each student, hence the notions of assessment as teacher feedback, teachers as evaluators, and teacher colleagues and students as person the feedback equation…. Of course, the assessment is about the student, but the power of interpretation and the consequence of assessment are more in the hands of teachers.” (Pg, 185, 2012)

Rapid formative assessment:

The notion of rapid formative assessment is very powerful as a form of feedback. It emerged out of the work of Black and Wiliam (1998), ‘Inside the black box’, and starts from the premise that assessment for learning is based on five key factors:

  • Students were actively involved in their own learning processes;
  • Effective feedback is provided to students;
  • Teaching activities are adapted in a response to assessment results;
  • Students are able to perform self- assessments; and
  • The influence of assessment on students’ motivation and self esteem is recognized

From this, Black and Wiliam (2009) derived five major strategies:

  • Clarifying and sharing learning intentions and criteria for success;
  • Engineering effective classroom discussion and other learning tasks that elicit evidence of student understanding;
  • Providing feedback that moves learners forward;
  • Activating students as instructional resources for one another; and
  • Activating students as the owners of their own learning

Dylan Wiliam and colleagues have demonstrated the value of formative assessment – that is, that assessment that can lead to feedback during the process of learning (Wiliam, 2011). This means much more than tests, and includes many forms of evidence:

Practice in a classroom is formative to the extent that evidence about student achievement is elicited, interpreted, and used by teachers, learners, or their peers, to make decisions about the next steps and instruction that are likely to be better, or better founded, than the decisions they would’ve taken of the absence of the evidence that was elicited (Black & Wiliam, 2009: p.9).

Leahy’s and Wiliam’s (2009, 15) work in schools shows that:

When formative assessment practices are integrated into the minute to minute and day-by-day classroom activities of teachers, substantial increases in student achievement–of the order of the 70 to 80% increase in the speed of learning–are possible, even when the outcomes are measured with externally mandated standardized tests.


Any quality assessment comes down to three essential elements:  purpose, evidence, inference. 

When teachers best determine their focus of any assessment they are administering (their purpose), their next step is to determine how to best elicit the most important evidence related to their purpose to then make the most accurate inference.


Overview (4) Design Steps of Developing Concise-Empowering Short Cycle Assessments™ (CESA) or IPLT™ Assessment


  1. Determine impact standards: Identify within content area particular Impact Standards to emphasize for an upcoming unit of study. Identify other connected standards—referred to as supplementary standards— that connect to the Impact Standards.
  2. “Uncover” Impact standards to determine level cognitive rigor required: Uncover Impact Standards in order to determine specific concepts & skills students need to master in the upcoming unit. Also, here is where teachers determine the type of knowledge (Conceptual or Procedural) to determine the most appropriate teaching sequences and practice opportunities for students. (A graphic organizer is often developed during this step)
  3. Determine assessment type based on cognitive rigor demand: Determine assessment question / item types that will best align with what the students are expected to demonstrate. Here the team selects / develops the type of question / item that will provide them with the best evidence to make quality (reliable & valid) inferences into student mastery of the “Uncovered” concepts and skills (selected response, short-and extended- constructed response).
  4. Generate rubric or scoring guide that provides clear success criteria for both teachers & students: Construct an answer key for selected-response questions/items. Then, teachers collaboratively develop a clear and objectively written rubric or scoring guide for any question or item that students have been asked to construct a detailed written response. Student results on the post assessment provide timely and valuable feedback to educators and students to determine where to go next instructionally.

Overview of 1-2 workshop for developing Concise–Empowering–Short Cycle–Assessments




Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B., & Wiliam, D. (2003). Assessment for Learning:     Putting it into practice. Maidenhead: Open University Press.


Black, PJ., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education, 5(1), 7-73.


Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (2009). Developing the theory of formative assessment. Educational

Assessment, Evaluation, and Accountability, 21(1), 5-31.


Hattie, J. (2012). Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing impact on Learning. London, Routledge.


Leahy, S., & Wiliam, D. (2009). Embedding assessment for learning: A professional development pack. London: Specialist Schools and Academies Trust.

Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded Formative Assessment. Bloomington, Indiana: Solution Tree Press.