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  • Writer's pictureConvening Storytelling Team

Updated: 2 days ago

We are pleased to share with you today the first piece from our storytelling series of reflections and noticings coming out of our convening in Tucson!

Please stay tuned for more writings from our team of storytellers and revisit the blog here to see them all in the coming months.


In February 2023, the Assessment for Learning Convening took place in Tucson, AZ, bringing together the AFL community and inviting in dozens of new friends and partners. At the event were 27 storytellers, gathering, crafting, and reflecting on all manner of things AFL. Shannon King is one of those storytellers.

Image by Gary Chapin (Photo by Dids free use Pexels)

A Haiku :)

We CAN change the world,
Assessment for Learning friends.
Students lead the way.

In my current role, I’m asked to travel and talk with educators about the BIG ideas of assessment, and quite often, I’m tasked with inviting them to change their thinking about assessment—to take a broader view of the possibilities that assessment holds. Sometimes, that’s a big lift. If I’m being honest, usually it’s a big lift because assessment has traditionally been connected with so much negativity and has been used in ways that demean, diminish and are downright unhelpful to the main stakeholders in the assessment process—the students.

During the Assessment for Learning Project (ALP) convening in Tucson, I had the delight of engaging with educators who rejoice in the possibilities of assessment, who think of assessment as a way to empower and engage students, not as something that is about sorting, judging or grading. Here are three BIG ideas they taught and/or reinforced for me.

1. Assessment is about learning, first and foremost. To that end, equity, grace, and interdependence are valued in assessment for learning. Equity shows up when we provide each student with what they need to succeed, when we recognize and address systemic barriers and biases, and when we value diversity and inclusion. Grace, not a word that is often used in the same breath as assessment, means being compassionate, forgiving, and understanding towards students' mistakes, challenges, and differences, and providing a safe and supportive learning environment. Interdependence means recognizing the interconnectedness of individuals and communities, and creating assessment experiences that value those contributions and perspectives, and promote collaboration and empathy. This was particularly evident as students, such as Aidan, shared their perspectives about assessment experiences: “There is now shame in failure if it’s for the sake of learning.”

2. Building community and fostering a sense of belonging are critical aspects of effective assessment for learning. Students need to feel connected, valued, and respected in their learning environment, and to see themselves as part of a larger community of learners. We know from numerous experts that teachers can promote this by creating assessment opportunities that invite students to share their stories, experiences, and perspectives, to collaborate and co-create representations of their knowledge, and to celebrate their achievement and growth.

One session, facilitated by India Wilson and Lisa Floyd-Jefferson of Reynoldsburg City Schools focused on the use of Socratic Seminars in math as an assessment approach that promotes equity. They shared how Socratic Seminars can be an effective way to have important and challenging conversations, promote critical thinking and communication skills, and build a sense of community and respect for diverse perspectives. In the seminar we held as part of the session, one of the participants in the session shared with the group that they had done some work with teachers in their district about “deficit gaze,” a phrase that refers to the tendency to view students from marginalized groups as deficient or lacking, rather than recognizing and valuing their strengths and assets. Another talked about longing to do math “in community”...the session sparked conversations such as those that helped us live the ideals the presenters were discussing, not just listen to them.

3. Assessment experiences can promote AGENCY, not just compliance and conformity. And when it does, it’s powerful. Kiara, a student at Desert View High School, brought this point home for me when she talked about how becoming more agentic had impacted her school experience: “It takes time to get used to feeling free in your learning, but ultimately I had a deeper appreciation for my learning.” She was part of a team of students who designed learning experiences for the educators visiting her school that day, and the agency she and the other students had in their learning was clear from the way they discussed their assessment and learning experiences with us to the way they facilitated the learning of the 30+ adults in the room.

There are lots of things being talked about when we discuss assessment, and time with the ALP community helped me re-evaluate and recenter my conversations around what really matters.


About the Storyteller

Shannon King, PhD

Chief Learning Officer, Battelle for Kids

Dr. Shannon King leads the Battelle for Kids research and innovation in 21st century learning and assessment design, as well as helping school leaders intentionally align their systems to take their vision to scale.

Shannon has more than 25 years of experience in education roles, including classroom teacher, gifted education resource teacher, instructional coach, and as an administrator supporting professional development and instructional best practices.

Shannon also works with graduate students as an Adjunct Professor at George Mason University and the University of Virginia, teaching master’s level courses in educational leadership, curriculum and instruction, assessment, differentiation, gifted education, and educational research.

Shannon frequently shares her expertise as a presenter at state, regional, and national conferences on topics such as deeper learning, assessment design, instructional coaching, educational leadership and school transformation.

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  • Writer's pictureGary Chapin

By Gary Chapin

Writer, Educating for Good

Scene from an Excursion. They look friendly enough.

There are ten Learning Excursions planned for the ALP Convening in Tucson. They all focus on assessment and look at how Tucson and Sunnyside school districts are succeeding at doing many of the things that ALP advocates.

Two hundred thirty educators and friends (230!) are converging on Tucson with the jubilant curiosity of very, very smart golden retrievers. On day 3 of the convening, these 230 ALP friends will fan out across the Sunnyside and Tucson Unified districts, go into the schools, and learn from the teachers and kids there.

The Excursions have been planned by teams of Sunnyside and Tucson teachers paired with ALP folk who have been working on this since at least November. Other district leaders have been planning with us since last summer.

I’m only saying all this so that you realize what an amazing amount of creativity and labor have gone into these Excursions. So much work that, at times, I wonder why Tucson and Sunnyside agreed to this! It’s an extraordinary and generous invitation from the two districts. We are fortunate and grateful.

I talked to Yolanda Sotelo about this very thing. Yolanda is a mentor/master teacher in the CR (Culturally Responsive) Learning Department of Tucson Unified. It is she who has provided support to the teachers leading these ten Excursions, making sure that all of the resources are in place so that this very complicated set of events can happen without a hitch.

Yolanda has a long history of lighting up classrooms by simply bringing books the kids could relate to. Books in which they could see themselves.

“This book has La Llorona!”

So, I ask her about the Excursions, “This is a lot of trouble to go to for our benefit. Why do such a thing?”

She laughs and tells me “that’s not a question for me,” but then goes on to answer it anyway. “After what we’ve gone through with the MAS (Mexican American Studies) court case … our teachers need to be showcased.” They’re doing great work and “even though it’s in the middle of the quarter, you’ll see great assessments.”

I remember the quote from James Dickey, from the front piece to one of his books of poems: “Do not read these poems unless you are willing to be changed by them.”

How would Yolanda like the ALP folk to be changed by these excursions?

“They will see what is possible, I hope,” she says. “When you bring this Culturally Responsive literature, a CR approach, the kids light up. They have so much joy.” Her advice for participants is, “Watch the kids. They will show you.”


Books Every School Should Have On Its Shelves

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, by Erica Sánchez

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

House on Mango Street & Woman Hollering Creek, by Sanders Cisneros

Rain of Gold, by Victor Villaseñor

The Devil’s Highway, by Luis Urrea

Mexican Whiteboy, by Matt De la Peña

Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet, by Laekan Zea Kemp

Let Their Spirits Dance, by Stella Pope Duarte

Zoot Suit, by Luis Valdez

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  • Writer's pictureGary Chapin

Updated: Feb 15

By Gary Chapin

Writer, Educating for Good

Larissa Peru, bottom, Yesenia Ayala, and Gary Chapin talking about Student Agency at Desert View High School (Sunnyside Unified School District)
“If these are the experiences the students have had that have helped them to build agency, what do they want these ALP participants to experience so that they are also getting that same kind of feeling?” – Larissa Peru

At the ALP Convening, squads of educators heading out into Tucson USD and Sunnyside USD to check out and experience the work educators are doing embodying the ideals that the Assessment for Learning Project advocates. One of those ideals is student agency. The excursion – Student Agency and Student Voice – was designed by Kasie Betten and Larissa Peru, of Desert View High School (Sunnyside Dist.), and Yesenia Ayala, of WestEd and Stanford U. I talked to Larissa and Yesenia (Kasie was ill) about their process, specifically, why early on they realized that the kids had to be co-conspirators in the design of this excursion.

Larissa: We had already worked with four students presenting at a conference in October. The students spoke to what that was like to experience student agency. Kasie and I have been really playing around with the idea of how student agency moves our work from teacher to student relationships into teacher to student partnerships. It was important for us to have the students as partners in planning the excursion and then also make it evident to the ALP participants that our students are partners as presenters.

How did the students take to this process?

Larissa: Some of them were surprised that they were being highlighted as individuals who could speak to the work, but they were excited and eager to join the group and join the thinking around it. Especially because when Kasie and I asked these students to join, we really came from a place of, “We need your help. You are the people who have experienced this. You know what it's like. For us to be able to speak about this, we only really know one side of it, but you all are the ones who are doing the work.”

Yesi: They are the ones who know their experiences the best and they are the ones who can articulate and design a way of showing what happens at Desert View. Students were really creative in the sense of what hands-on activities people can go through while at the same time having them do observations. They're actually doing a sort of escape room model. The students will be observing the participants and providing some feedback. It completely shifts the role that they take on.

Larissa: I think our ultimate goal is for our ALP participants to really think about what it means to develop this in this kind of classroom.

[So, prior to all this], our district has worked on a document for teachers to use to identify when agency is present in the classroom. It's a list of look-fors. What would you see in a classroom if students were being agentic? What would you see the teacher doing to develop it? So, one of the first things we did when we brought in the group of students was to ask them to look at that list and provide some examples of their experiences in relation to those look-fors.

Then they thought, “If these are the experiences they've had that have helped them to build agency, what do they want these ALP participants to experience so that they are also getting that same kind of feeling?”

Some of the examples that they came up with were: being able to see peers as a resource, using questioning to push their own thinking, … using the resources when they need them, and just being really collaborative in a space. They talked about having the vulnerability to work with people and admit when you need help or admit when you've made a mistake.

The team feels as if there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of student agency in the field.

Larissa: There's often misunderstanding with student agency that it means giving students choice, and that if you give students choice to do something in your classroom, all of a sudden, they're energetic learners. That is a false sense of what agency looks like. I don't want our work here to be misconstrued that we “gave students the choice” of how to do these things. It goes beyond that because myself, Kasie, Yesi really had to create the structures that allowed students to think deeply about their experiences, and how that translates to creating experiences for others.

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