Cultivating a Positive Assessment Culture

Building hope, efficacy and achievement

Most current assessment systems rely on generating data in order to identify, sort and label students, as well as educators. But this approach is at odds with what has always been the true purpose of effective assessment, which should instead be to build hope, efficacy and achievement for both learners and educators.

In this web seminar, renowned author, trainer and educator Cassandra Erkens outlined the main tenets of effective classroom assessment, and explored the systems and culture of expectations that district leaders must create to establish a healthier, more effective approach to assessment.


Cassandra Erkens

Author, trainer and educator

Solution Tree

Cassandra Erkens: Students as young as 3, 4 and 5 years old are the No. 1 instructional decision-makers in every classroom. On any given data point, they will make a decision to either opt in or opt out. Students make a decision: Do I take the path of continued learning, or do I take the path of well-being and self-preservation because what’s being asked of me is far too challenging? As a result, today we have a lot of kids who are opting out of learning. Schools are full of intentional nonlearners.

I don’t believe that’s the fault of the teachers. I don’t believe it’s even the faults of the kids. I think it’s what we’re doing in the area of assessment. So we want to try to change that premise from the very beginning. Assessment was always supposed to be something that was a kinder, gentler process than we have turned it into, with data crunching and sorting and labeling of students and teachers alike.

Assessment is the gathering of clean data with which to make an informed decision. It is a separate but corollary process to evaluation, which is the judgment of the data. When we use assessment, we give back just the facts. That kind of information can help students get in the driver’s seat to close their gaps.

In addition to giving kids that kind of information, we need to be thinking about what we’re striving to do with our assessment practices. One of the things we have discovered—and we are now very adamant and very firm in how we talk about it—is that every time you give an assessment, it must accomplish these three things: It must increase hope, increase efficacy and increase achievement.

1. Hope is so important. The new research that’s emerging suggests that when hope is off the table, when students feel like the best they could do is less than an A, it becomes difficult to pull them forward. So every time we give an assessment, students should know more about their strengths than about their weaknesses. The definition of a good formative assessment is if a student still has the option to get to mastery by the end of a semester or a year of learning. Is that A, that masterful option, still on the table for them?

2. Efficacy is equally important. Efficacy is when students get to know themselves following their assessments. They begin to understand their strengths as learners, their stretch points and their opportunities to continue to grow. They develop that growth mindset and that learning skill set to be the instructional decision-makers. They’re willing to stay in the game because they believe they have the capacity to close that gap.

3. Achievement is important. For far too long, we have used assessments to rank in order rather than to increase achievement. We want our assessments to help kids monitor growth over time.

At the building level and in the individual classroom, we need a learning-rich culture that provides opportunities for kids to take risks, to make mistakes, to have productive failures and then to ultimately get to that big picture of success. A summative assessment should be an opportunity for a student to celebrate how much they have learned, and every student should walk into that summative experience already believing success is imminent because they’ve been tracking their progress and because they’ve not been held hostage to the mistakes that they’ve made along the way.

Try to create a healthy, balanced assessment system at the district level—not high-stakes benchmark assessments, but assessment processes in which teams get to be part of talking about what we want for proficiency in our schools, and how we will know it when we see it, and how to have ownership from teachers as well as students in what this all needs to look like.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please visit

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