Using Assessments to Empower Students

Assessments can be a stressful event for students.  They can feel like punishment for not learning ‘enough’ or being ‘smart enough.’  Students can develop low self-esteem and feel unmotivated if they think that they “should’ be able to do everything perfectly, all the time.   And teachers can become stressed and overwhelmed trying to push students harder and calm their fears simultaneously. 



But assessments can also be a tool of empowerment for students.  When you know what you can already do and what you need to work on, you feel more in control of your learning.  If we teach kids to view assessments as a way to measure what they CAN do, instead of what they can’t, it will be enable them to feel proud of their accomplishments.  

Here are some tips for using assessments to empower:

-Use rubrics and other holistic grading systems for qualitative work.  Students may not always see the change in their overall grade, but when it’s broken down, they can see it more clearly.  They may score an overall level 3 on two consecutive essays, but a rubric will help them see that all of their work on editing has improved their punctuation mark tremendously.

-Track and celebrate progress.  The more often we can do this, the better.  Tracking and celebrating helps us stick to our goals and stay motivated to pursue new ones.

-Accept that being able to do things with a little (or a lot) of help is part of the process.  It’s a step up from not being able to do them at all.  Sometimes kids (and adults!) think that, if they can’t do something completely and totally on their own, then that is equal to not being able to do it.  In reality, it’s more of a progression, and good teachers know this and help their students understand it.  We can’t do something, then we can do it with a lot of help, then with a little help, then on our own. 


The self-assessment at the bottom of my one-page math assessments. 

-Break big goals into smaller goals so students don’t feel overwhelmed.  Sometimes standards contain multiple parts and concepts.  Students can master each part individually on their way to mastering the entire standard.  It doesn’t have to be ‘all or nothing.’


(a screenshot from my editable standards checklists)

-Know when perfection is needed and when accuracy is important, and when it’s not.  In other words, know when to focus on the product and when to focus on the process.   

-Keep students portfolios.  There is nothing better than watching kids, at the end of the school year, going back through their work from September.  They don’t always realize how much they are learning day-to-day, but when they look back over months, they can see how much progress they have made.  I love when kids say things like, “OH!  I can’t believe I used to think…!!”

-Remember that learning is not linear- especially for more complex tasks and concepts.  Kids’ brains are constantly growing and developing.  They have good days and bad days, just like us.  They may be able to do something brilliantly one day and struggle with it another day.  It’s a process, and that’s ok, and students should know that so they don’t become frustrated.   After all, no one goes off to college and still can’t tie their shoes… it always works out if you keep trying.   


Happy Teaching (and Empowering)!!

Christine Cadalzo