Assessment of Students (Preview)

Part 1: Intro & Objectives

How do you know what your students know? There are so many ways to assess learning. How do you get a new teacher to think through assessment as a way to guide instruction?

This lesson helps mentors to guide new teachers to understand how assessments guide instruction. The “Demo” gives an example of a chart that might be helpful to make with new teachers as they sort through the “Alphabet Soup” of district- and state-mandated assessments.

The “Give it a Try!” activity provides a way for mentors to help new teachers analyze an existing assessment as they become critically reflective of the assessments they use with children.

This lesson will support mentors in their understanding of student assessment. The participants will:

  • Understand various kinds of assessments: performance assessment, informal/formal, formative/summative
  • Become familiar with both formative and summative assessments
  • Identify the purpose of district- and state-mandated assessments
  • Analyze and improve an existing assessment

Part 2: Real World Case

We are used to thinking of assessment as simply tests. But assessment is so much more. This video shows how Paige, a new fifth grade teacher, and her mentor Aiden review assessment information to figure out what to do next in Paige’s instruction.

Before you watch the case, consider the following questions:

  • How do you define formal and informal assessments?
  • How do you define formative and summative assessment?

Now that you’ve watched the case, consider:

  • What kinds of assessments has Paige used already? What kinds of information can Paige get from those assessments?
  • What assessments do you think would be most helpful to Paige? What kinds of information can Paige get from those assessments?
  • What are some effective strategies you currently use to obtain evidence of student understanding or skill level?
  • In what ways do you use formative assessments to inform your instruction?
  • What questions could the mentor ask to move the new teacher to differentiating instruction based on assessment results?

Paige and her mentor, Aiden, review assessment data and discuss how Paige might better support specific students. Her class has many English learners and although they show proficiency in social language during discussions, some might be struggling with academic language in their writing.

Aiden recommends that Paige pairs students for peer tutoring. He also recommends that she consider how to differentiate while planning lessons so that she doesn’t always have to think of strategies on the fly.

Part 3: Building Knowledge

Due to copyright law, several readings cannot be hosted on this site. However, we encourage you to ask for assistance locating materials from your library media specialist. Many library services are freely
available to educators.

A Case Study using Formative Assessment

The authors share the results of a sixth grade science teacher’s action research study examining how to accurately assess student understanding.  Through a process of planning, action, observation, and reflection, the teacher was able to use formative assessments to recognize and respond to student learning.

Kaftan, J., Buck., G. & Kaack, A. (2006). Using formative assessment to individualize instruction and promote learning. Middle School Journal, 37(4). 44-49.

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NOTE: Required reading

How to Use Performance Assessments

Brualdi defines performance based assessments and explicitly outlines steps teachers can take to plan and effectively execute them in their classrooms. She walks the reader through choosing an activity, defining the criteria, creating the rubric, and assessing student performance.

Brualdi, Amy (1998). Implementing performance assessment in the classroom. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 6(2).

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Learning from Student Work

This article has information and a self-assessment for teachers to make the connection between student data and instructional planning. The “Quick Sort Protocol” offers an activity for mentors and new teachers to collaboratively evaluate student work as a means for assessment.

Nidus, G. & Sadder, M. (2009). Learning from Student Work. Educational Leadership, 66(5).

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Informal Assessment for English Learners

This article highlights both performance-based and portfolio assessments. Readers are given examples of commonly used activities for reading and speaking assessments in addition to ideas of what teachers can include in student portfolios.

Colorado, Colorin (2007). Using informal assessments for English Language Learners

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Five Strategies for Formative Assessment

This research brief highlights key strategies teachers can use as building blocks for designing formative assessments. Embedded within the article are illustrative examples of the strategies and research data to support its effectiveness.

Wiliam, Dylan (2007). Five key strategies for effective formative assessment. National Council of Teachers of Math: Assessment Research Brief.

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NOTE: Required reading

Quick and Easy List of Informal Assessments

This 3-page PDF offers a quick and easy list of possible informal assessment “look fors”–everything from hand signals (thumbs up/down) to quick-writes. Great for use as you work with new teachers on different ways to check for understanding throughout a lesson.

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Nancy Fichtman Dana, Ph.D.

Visit Expert’s Website

Nancy Fichtman Dana, Ph.D., wrote the book mentoring—literally! She’s author of The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Mentoring (2007) and several other books about teachers’ professional learning. She is a Professor at the University of Florida and studies teacher learning.

Nancy Dana highlights ways new teacher mentors can guide beginning teachers in focusing on student achievement. She tells how mentors can use data to focus mentoring discussions on student learning.

Nancy Dana highlights ways new teacher mentors can guide beginning teachers in focusing on student achievement.

Steven Athanases

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Steven Athanases, Ph.D., co-authored Mentors in the Making: Developing New Leaders for New Teachers with Betty Achinstein (another expert contributor to Dr. Athanases is a Professor at the University of California in Davis and conducts research on educational equity and teacher education.

Steven Athanases shares advice on specific strategies that teachers can use to gather qualitative data on struggling students. Teachers need to become “pattern finders,” he says. A mentor can help new teachers look over data and find the patterns in students’ learning. These patterns can inform teachers as they try to improve instruction.

Steven Athanases shares advice on how to gather qualitative data on struggling students.

Elizabeth Wilkins

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Elizabeth Wilkins, Ph.D., is a Professor at Northern Illinois University. Her research focuses on teacher induction and mentoring. She wrote the New Mentor Workbook (published by Kappa Delta Pi).

Elizabeth Wilkins shares her perspective on how mentors can guide beginning teacher growth with a focus on student achievement.

Elizabeth Wilkins shares her perspective on how mentors can guide beginning teacher growth with a focus on student achievement.

Betty Achinstein

Visit Expert’s Website

View Betty Achinstein’s discussion of what mentors need to know and be able to do to mentor for diversity and equity. Mentors have identified four domains for mentor knowledge:

  1. Know yourself as a mentor
  1. Understand the new teacher as a new teacher
  1. Know the pedagogical approach for addressing diverse learners–including ways of assessing learners!
  1. Know the organizational context of the school.
  1. How can you, as a mentor, define assessments and data in ways that push your mentee to address all learners?

Betty Achinstein discusses what mentors need to know and be able to do to mentor for diversity and equity and shares her advice to mentors. Betty also gives a example of what mentoring for equity looks like in action.

Assessment Alphabet Soup!

New teachers will likely struggle their first year to understand all of the different assessments are required by their state, district, and school. Below, you’ll find a document from Gwinnett County in Georgia in which the purpose for each assessment is made explicit.
Download Gwinnett County Matrix document

Do you have something like this in your district? If so, share it with the new teachers. If not, consider making a similar chart to help the new teacher understand what different assessments might take place throughout the year and what purpose each assessment is supposed to achieve.

Observations Based on Data

As you work out observations with new teachers, it’s important to come to agreement on what you will focus on and what student data you’ll collect to address that focus.

In this video, a new teacher and her mentor agree on what data will be helpful in addressing the new teacher’s goal of engaging all students. Notice that this demonstration involves informal assessment data.

As a mentor, you will have to help new teachers determine when formal or informal assessments are most useful for addressing goals.

In this video, a new teacher and a mentor have a pre-observation conference. The new teacher states that she needs to work on ensuring all students are engaged in the class discussion.

Stage One: Preobservation Conference

Purpose: To set goals for the coaching cycle


  • Set logistics for the coaching cycle
  • Negotiate instructional content, lesson objectives, teaching strategies
  • Target instructional behaviors to be observed
  • Ask mentee for feedback focus
  • Establish trust and collaboration

The preobservation conference is an important first step in the cycle and an effective way to build trust and increase collaboration between mentors and mentees. This conference provides you with the opportunity to ask specific questions about the lesson, the teaching strategies selected, the assessment methods, the materials chosen or developed, the classroom management techniques, and the relationship of this lesson to the previous and subsequent lessons.

Your questions should allow the novice to reflect on decision making processes made in planning the lesson in order to self-assess both the strengths of the lesson plan and the possible problem areas. Once the novice has explained the lesson design and the “whys” of decisions made, you might make suggestions about the lesson, particularly if you note unforeseen problems not easily recognized by a new teacher. The last part of the conference should center on the specific teaching behaviors you will be observing during the lesson and the selection and design of a data-collection system.

Stage Two: Classroom Observation and Data Collection

Purpose: To record observable patterns of teaching and learning


  • Record samples of behavior that relate to effective teaching behaviors
  • Collect data systematically and objectively using descriptive language
  • Observe for specific behaviors and their impact on the learning process

Follow the preobservation conference by observing the lesson discussed, suing the observation instrument selected in the conference. Be sure to take short, objective, and descriptive notes of the performance.

If possible, incorporate videotaping: this is a strong tool for improving performance. It allows the mentor and the mentee to review the lesson and stop the video at various points to reinforce strengths and address problem areas in the lesson.

Stage Three: Analysis and Strategy

Purpose: To analyze data, identify teaching strengths and growth areas, and prepare for the feedback conference


  • Review the data collected
  • Relate to effective teaching research
  • Identify teaching strengths and professional growth targets
  • Develop the approach for the postconference session
  • Outline the conference format

Once you have collected the data, you must now analyze your notes and prepare for the feedback loop in the cycle. Your task might be tallying the number of times the novice did something, looking for patterns of behavior, noting a significant event in the performance, or assessing which performance indicators were demonstrated and which were not.

Based on specific data and concrete examples, you are now able to interpret the impact of the teaching performance. After this is done, you are better prepared to determine what stance to take in your postobservation conference.

Stage Four: Postobservation Conference

Purpose: To enable the mentee to reflect on the teaching performance by identifying effective teaching behaviors and those that need improvement


  • Establish the conference climate
  • Present data
  • Share interpretations
  • Encourage critical thinking
  • Give positive and negative feedback
  • Collaborate on alternative positive behaviors
  • Develop a plan for the next coaching cycle

You both come together after each has had an opportunity to reflect on the lesson. You, as the mentor, must now provide feedback that is helpful without being judgmental.

Criticizing, diagnosing, and praising in an evaluative way promotes feelings of defensiveness and low self-esteem. Some effective ways to communicate to novices areas of needed improvements without creating communication roadblocks include:

  • Describing the behavior in specific rather than fuzzy terms
  • Limiting yourself to behavioral descriptions
  • Stating your description in objective terms, noting the impact of the behavior

Stage Five: Coaching Cycle Reflection

Purpose: To identify coaching strengths of the cycle and alternative behavior for mentor to improve mentoring skills


  • Reflect on behavior patterns for each stage of the coaching cycle
  • Ask the mentee what was helpful, what might have happened differently, and what needs to happen in the next coaching cycle
  • Summarize what needs to be reinforced and what needs to be changed

This last stage of the coaching cycle gives both the mentors and the mentees an opportunity to discuss the effectiveness of the mentoring process. When both parties hare in the analysis, this brings to the surface behaviors that didn’t work as well as expected and provides a mechanism to share concerns and reinforce effort.

The ultimate goal is to increase student achievement thorough effective teaching performance. The coaching cycle provides a systematic way in which teacher mentors can build self-esteem while inviting novices to think and behave at higher levels of professional performance.

Evaluating an Assessment

One of the things new teachers may struggle with is creating new assessments or analyzing the usefulness of assessments that they’re given. Consider taking time to work with new teachers to guide an analysis of an assessment.

Any analysis should consider:

  • What is the purpose for this assessment?
  • Does it achieve that purpose?
  • Is this a formative or summative assessment?
  • Is that the right type of assessment for the stated purpose?
  • How do children view this assessment?
  • Is there any way to make the assessment more meaningful and enjoyable for students?
  • Does the assessment allow for feedback that is meaningful (i.e., the student can use the assessment to improve future performance?)?
  • If the assessment has been used already, what information about the assessment itself can be gleaned from the students’ performance?
  • Are there items or areas on the assessment that do not provide useful information?
  • Are there skills or concepts that were supposed to be assessed but are not?
  • How might the assessment itself be improved?

Part 4: Review & Reflect

Let’s review:

  • What are formative and summative assessments that you currently use?
  • What steps can new teachers take to monitor their students’ progress throughout the year?
  • How might you guide new teachers to use the assessment data to inform instruction?
  • After working through this lesson, do you still agree with your initial thoughts? Has your perspective shifted in any way? If so, what aspects of your responses would you change?
  • What will you do as a mentor to ensure that a new teacher is using assessments to inform instruction?

Part 5: Glossary

diagnostic assessment

Assessments that provide a baseline interpretation of what elements of a particular concept or skill a learner already knows and what elements are unknown.
Formative assessment

Procedures conducted during instruction and learning in order to modify activities for teaching and learning.

formal assessment

Assessments that are standardized and/or have data that support a conclusion such as “grade level norms,” “stanine scores,” or “percentile ranks.”

informal assessment

Assessments of content or performance that are not oriented using statistical data. For example, running records for reading or rubrics for grading written essays can be informative informal assessments.

performance assessment

A task-oriented evaluation of performance. These assessments require students to perform some activity such as writing, conducting a science experiment, or creating a portfolio. Performance assessments are often accompanied by rubrics.


A set of expectations for a given task. Rubrics usually set expectations for quality and offer explicit descriptors for various elements of the task. When used with care, these assessments are particularly useful for encouraging reflection and metacognitive awareness of performance among learners.

summative assessment

Outcomes or accountability information meant to summarize whether or not material has been learned.


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