By Marcus Blair (he/him), teacher, Summerland
This summer I set out to further my understanding of standards-based assessment. While seeking out the experts, I stumbled upon Emily Rinkema and Stan Williams’s book, The Standards-Based Classroom: Make Learning the Goal. Like many educators, I devour professional development books. By doing so, I’m often deluged by a tidal wave of talented teachers, inspiring pedagogy, and persistent despair. Despair instigated by one nagging question: how can I feasibly finesse or even force those talented teachers’ inspiring pedagogies into my own practice? But this book isn’t like that. Rather than triggering despair, this book can level-up your assessment practices through its practical strategies, thorough explanations, and helpful examples. So, if you’re looking to dip your toes into standards-based assessment, start with this book!
Chapter One, titled “Developing K-U-Ds,” illustrates how to create unit plans for any standards-based classroom, regardless of grade or discipline. Developing K-U-Ds involves breaking units into what you want your students to know, what you want your students to understand, and what you want your students to be able to do at the conclusion of any given learning period. You don’t have to be a curriculum guru to spot the blatant parallels to BC’s revised curriculum: know = content, understand = big ideas, do = curricular competencies. Furthermore, Rinkema and Williams provide several concrete examples of K-U-D-s being implemented in real classrooms. So, rather than wistfully imagining hypothetical classrooms where their ideas could succeed, I smoothly integrated them into my own. Honestly, I kept this book in arms reach as I organized my units for Social Justice 12—a new addition to my teaching schedule.
Another chapter, “Building Learning Scales,” explains how to create learning scales for a variety of classroom contexts. Learning scales communicate a student’s understanding of any given competency. These scales are all divided into four levels, which aligns nicely with BC’s four-level proficiency scale language: emerging, developing, proficient, and extending. To help teachers adapt learning scales into their own context, the authors include examples from a variety of disciplines, everything from middle school mathematics to secondary home economics. To better communicate the utility of learning scales, Rinkema and Williams feature an example below the title of each chapter; these specific scales communicate four levels in which teachers can adopt each chapter’s concepts. For instance, the chapter on K-U-Ds describes an emerging level of concept implementation as, “I have course curriculum documents,” and the extending level as, “I use my unit K-U-Ds with students to clearly communicate goals and expectations for learning.” I’ve been using proficiency language and learning scales in my own classroom for some time, but the examples provided in The Standards-Based Classroom compelled me to re-evaluate my existing assessment portfolio.
Implementing standards-based practices can be a daunting task. But it doesn’t have to be a solitary one. Use Rinkema and Williams’s The Standards Based Classroom: Make Learning the Goal as your standards-based guide. It provides additional insights on many other aspects of standards-based assessment, including formative and summative assessment, differentiation, and how to create a standards-based grade book. Whether you’re pursuing a paradigm shift or less drastic tweaks to your assessment practice, this book has much to offer.