Standards/Skills-based Assessment

I just got a great question from a teacher: "What are your thoughts on this whole data-driven reading instruction? Do you agree with this approach and is there research that supports this pedagogical practice?" Since I know she isn't the only one who has this question, I thought I'd share my answer.


In a nutshell, "data driven" instruction can be a tool for a larger understanding of where students are in their skill development – but it isn't the entire story. When we engage in data driven instruction, I always caution against “getting too obsessed.” In other words, don’t be held hostage to one way of grading and assessing. Reading is a developmental process and not every aspect is easily discernible by reading comprehension tests. Cultural disconnects, for example, mean that many of these tests are inherently flawed.

With that being said, standardized testing measures can be useful when they are used as a tool for figuring out the “whole picture”. And that’s why, in general, I’m a huge supporter of standards/skills based assessment. Quite simply, in the schools where I primarily work and serve, it leads to tremendous growth and achievement. I have case studies on my website that showcase some of these schools and districts. You can download the case studies by clicking the button at the bottom of this web page.

Many researchers have focused on skills based assessments including Susan Brookhart, James Popham, Margaret Heritage, and Alfie Kohn. I am especially a fan of Kohn’s advocacy for focusing on skills rather than grades. Like Kohn, I think student testing should never be used as a draconian accountability measure that stifles teachers or thwarts them from creating inspiring classrooms.


So many schools are looking for guidance in this area – and I think I’ve come up with an affordable solution. I’m in the process of scheduling a one-day conference on grading and assessment strategies. You can read more about it here. The date and location haven’t been determined yet, but if you sign up for my newsletter you’ll be among the first to know the details. Of course I do in-school consultations and PD, too. Please share my information with your administrators. Invite them to contact me if they want to discuss bringing me to your school. I’d love to help you all implement a grading/assessment system that effectively communicates learning, accurately informs instruction, and meaningfully develops students’ skills. Trust me, it can be done!