Category Archives: assessment

Grades Do Not Tell the Story of a Child

One of the amazing things about my job, is the ability to learn from so many amazing individuals. Donna DeSiato is one of those leaders.  The vision for education, as well as the moves they are making to make that a reality, show the importance of leadership and bringing people together.  The “system” is always made up of individuals, and those individuals coming together can make a significant difference.

Some of the nuggets that I gleaned from her that day (paraphrased):

“If we(educators) only focus on standards and tests, why would our parents focus on anything else?”

“We have to give permission to go beyond the test.”

“We must provide permission, support, and protection.  Permission is the opportunity to try new things that we aren’t sure work yet. Support is ensuring the professional learning is in place to help educators get to the next level. Protection is ensuring that if things don’t work out the way things were planned, that are teachers know they are safe.”

As I did not get these quotes exactly the way Donna said them, hopefully I got the general meaning behind what she was saying.  Inspiring words from a superintendent.

Yet one thing Donna shared REALLY stuck with me.  It was regarding something that she says to parents during any showcase within her district’s work:

“We know that we have state standards and requirements that we are supposed to meet, but that is just one of the ways we show our learning.  Tonight, we show another aspect of our learning and I hope you can see the impact it has had on the learning of the students. Please enjoy.”

What I found fascinating about this approach, is that Donna is making the explicit connection with her community on the importance of learning in a many different forms and mediums.  She understands that there is a “box”, but that innovation is happening within these constraints, and it is important to highlight them.  As I have said before, grades do not tell the story of a child. Grades do not tell the story of a child.Are we explicit with those ways that we share these stories with our communities, as well as why they are so important?



Being Self-Aware


I’ve had a few conversations lately with family, friends and colleagues about self-awareness. I find it fascinating as a personal introspective but wondering if it can be and should be explicitly taught. For the most part, I consider myself pretty self-aware. I suppose most people would say the same. We like to think we’re honest with ourselves about our strengths and weaknesses and foibles and annoyances. It usually takes more than simply being reflective to address this. It requires the eyes of others to at times let you know when you’ve missed the mark or even when you’ve done well but weren’t even aware of the impact. On more than one occasion, I’ve come to terms with my own lack of self-awareness.

Exhibit 1:

I’m one of the worst complimenters on the planet. This is now a running joke among the folks I work with at Discovery Education. I have a bad habit of using “actually” or some other odd qualifier when I give people a compliment. “Actually, that’s not a bad shot” (ask Steve Dembo for the full story) I certainly wasn’t aware I was doing this but after being called on it more than once, I now can … Read the rest

Parent Teacher Interviews: Time for a Make-Over?

By my calculations, I’ve attended about 104 parent teacher interviews which ended Thursday as my youngest of 4 children graduates from high school this year. While I’m sure I missed the odd one, my wife and I attended all of these meetings. I wondered if this is still a valued experience or if things need to change.

I will admit that we may not be the typical parents. First of all, our kids were generally very good students and never struggled in school or caused any problems. Secondly, as teachers, we had a better understanding of the classroom than many parents. Along with that, we trusted teachers and while we didn’t agree with all of their practices, we didn’t feel the need to check up on them or question their practices. A fifteen-minute interview isn’t the time or place to discuss lecture versus project based learning. Finally, we had good relationships with our kids and they let us know when they were excited, bored or frustrated with school. We attended these interviews mostly to avoid being seen as disinterested parents.

As I said, I’m not suggesting this is the typical parent profile. Yet in the same way we work … Read the rest

Am I Successful?

I’ve had my struggles in measuring success. I first encountered my mild disdain for the notion when I was introduced to SMART goals. Every time I tried to create a goal I was excited about, I was immediately confused and challenged by my inability to identify measurable goals. Some told me my goals weren’t written correctly. They were probably right. I also struggle with such a strong focus on goals in general. Many will tell you that unless you write down your goals you’ll never achieve them. Maybe. Maybe not.

As a teacher, I knew my efforts to help students be successful went way beyond grades and scores, yet that remains the simplest way to measure things. When I began working at the district level, things started to get complicated. Every year I completed a growth plan and was asked to identify my plans/goals and measures of success. I would typical try and include quantitative goals such as numbers of workshops offered, participation, etc. Like grades, these are fairly trivial measures of success but because they are easy, I defaulted to this.

I’m grateful that as I now work for Discovery Education, I have a great deal of say about … Read the rest

Joe Bower

Joe Bower leads a session in Calgary

Today a Canadian hero in education died suddenly from a massive heart attack. Joe Bower as a middle school teacher from Alberta. He was 37 years old.

I almost didn’t write this since some folks had already written about Joe. But then I realized the more people know about Joe and his work, the richer his legacy. If you know Joe, followed him on twitter, read his blog or heard him speak, you likely already know what a smart, passionate thinker he was. My own interactions largely revolved around me introducing my pre-service teachers to his work as well as referencing him in any presentations I did around assessment. I use this slide to showcase those that have influenced my thinking around assessment. Some of these folks are world renowned “experts”. Joe was every bit as important as any of them. (Sadly Grant Wiggins passed away in 2015)


As eloquently and passionately as Joe shared, what was overwhelming evident to me is how much he cared for children. He was willing to speak the truth, even when it was harsh and unpopular with many. Not to be provocative but because he truly … Read the rest