Rigorous Assessment, by Design

Kristen Swanson is a founder of the Edcamp movement, and she serves on the board of the Edcamp Foundation. She is also a Google Certified Teacher, a Keystones Technology Integrator, and an author. Her work has been published in several academic journals, including “Literacy Learning: The Middle Years and The Journal for Reading, Writing, and Literacy”. She also published a book called Professional Learning in the Digital Age which explores the roles of digital networks within professional development for teachers.

The purpose of education is to cultivate and develop students who are not merely good at school, but also good at life.

However, most traditional assessments promote the acquisition of superficial knowledge that can easily be “crammed” by learners. These types of tasks don’t prepare students for the messiness of life. The best assessments embrace the challenges and ambiguity involved in real, adult work.

In my experience, adult work typically has the following characteristics:

1. A real purpose and audience (i.e. You don’t only complete work for your boss; there are typically many parties involved.)

2. No clear “right” answer (i.e. Many different solutions or strategies could lead you to an acceptable answer)

3. A clear picture of what success looks like (i.e. If my presentation is exemplary, we’ll likely win the contract.)

In addition to modeling assessment after the demands of adult work, teachers must consider the role of educational transfer. Put simply, we must ask students to tackle unfamiliar problems without prompting from an adult or teacher. If we only ask our students to reproduce recipes that we’ve taught them, we’re missing the mark.



rigorous assessment design =

qualities of adult work + educational transfer


And remember, you don’t need an elephant to teach the color gray. Rigorous assessments don’t always require extensive technology, fluffy presentations, or oodles of class time. Consider these great examples of rigorous assessment from across the web:

Personally, when I’ve designed assessments that demand adult work and educational transfer, engagement has gone through the roof. Just before the winter holiday, I asked eighth grade students to redesign FEMA’s data collection methods during a disaster. On a day that is typically filled with word searches and food, students were fervently occupied with academic conversation and creative brainstorming.

So, use the power of rigorous assessment design to change your classroom and heighten expectations for your students. Cultivate students who are good at life!


Photo Credit: Free Giant Macro Pencil and Pink Eraser by Pink Sherbert Photography

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