Assessment Goals Inspired by The College Board

Around here there has been some conversation about AP.  If you’d like to read some of the thoughts, check out the following blog posts. 

While I agree that many are “over the top” about AP, I believe that there are many good things to be learned from The College Board’s AP program and assessment process.  I think we have to ask ourselves if it is the AP program or how we use it that causes problems.  A hammer can be a tool for constructing new things, repairing damage, or a weapon that causes destruction.  How the hammer is used is what is critically important.

So here is a list of my top goals about assessment, learning, and teaching inspired from The College Board.

Goal 1:  Agree upon a common curriculum for our students.
Think about it…How easy is it to reach consensus from everyone in your building about what is essential to learn about a course they have in common?  Imagine getting the majority of the calculus teachers in our country to teach from a common curriculum.  Wow!  Now, there are too many learning targets in AP Calculus AB to teach and learn in the given time frame.  We have to pick the ones that have longevity and leverage.  We’ve seen The College Board do this too.  No longer do we find epsilon-delta proofs and trig-substitution in the essential learnings of AP Calculus AB.  Does this mean I shouldn’t teach them?  No, but I should think about it rather than teaching it out of habit or because I had to learn it in college in 1980. 

Goal number one is to continue finding common ground and agreement among all teachers of our course in our school.  It isn’t about me and what I love to teach; it is about what is important for every child to learn from our course.  It is about a guaranteed curriculum for each child in our care.

Goal 2:  Make learning targets and assessments as transparent as possible
Why should there be such mystery and stress about what is going to be on the test or assessment?  Shouldn’t students have access to multiple representations of the learning targets that are going to be tested or assessed?  If we have learned nothing else, we know that our learners need more than a list of learning targets written in words.  They are young and tend to over-estimate what they know and can do.  The College Board releases their free response questions publically the day after the assessment is given.  Periodically, they release their multiple choice questions too.  Let’s be clear; The College Board writes a new set of free response questions each year.  They do not give the same test and just change the numbers.  Releasing the test questions gives information about the test style and level of difficulty.  How often do we offer our students examples of our assessment style?  Remember, telling them that there are X multiple choice questions, Y short answer questions, and Z matching questions might not indicate the style or level of depth these questions might have.

Goal number two is to help our students perform better on our assessments by publishing our previous assessments in hopes of offering them multiple representations of our learning targets.  Are we brave enough to publish the scoring guide too?

Goal 3:  Expect retention, application, and synthesis of the essentials
Don’t my colleagues teaching 9th grade geometry and physics expect my students to be able to solve an equation, compute slope, and write the equation of a line when they enter the next level of coursework?  Yep.  The College Board’s assessment expects all students to retain, apply, and synthesize algebra, pre-calculus, and calculus topics as indicated in the assessment items of the exam.

Goal number three is to find ways to spiral our curriculum so that these essentials continue to occur on assessments and problem-solving opportunities.  We strive to find application of said essentials and connections with other essentials.  We are challenged to compare and contrast ideas in relevant ways.

Goal 4:  Find balance in our assessments
How often do we assess our assessments?  How balanced are they?  Do our assessments offer every child the opportunity to show what they know?  Is there a good balance of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation?  Do our assessments offer students the opportunity to leverage technology?  And is the point distribution balanced?  The AP Calculus AB free response questions are each weighted 9 points.  No one question counts 20% of an assessment. 

Goal number four is to assess our assessments to make sure that there is a balance of essentials tested, to know that we have asked some questions that every child can answer, and that there are questions that will promote higher-ordered thinking skills.  We need to make sure that the interesting (challenging) questions have point distribution balance.  No one question should take a learner’s grade down a level.

Goal 5:  Assign credit, as a team, for quality work rather than deducting points for errors
Have you listened to yourself when you are grading?  Have you listened to your teammates while they mark papers? Are points awarded for work shown, or are points docked for errors?  The College Board’s scoring guides are about awarding points for work shown.  I checked several scoring guides.  Have you seen The College Board’s scoring guide for last year’s AP Biology exam?  How about the AP Macroeconomics scoring guide?  All of these scoring guides state reasons to award credit and very rarely state when to deduct points.  Grade, mark, and score papers together, sitting at the same table.  Know that points are awarded across the board; know that credit is awarded for quality work. 

Goal five is to pay attention to our language and our thoughts.  We should be striving to award credit.  We must coach our students to show quality work that will earn credit which means that we have to identify what we mean by quality work.  We must pay attention to our thinking about finding the bright spots and good work.  We must challenge ourselves and each other to take stock of and add up what is done well.

Goal 6: Collect and provide student exemplars of quality work
Have we provided our students with examples of quality work that they can analyze.  Yes, if you count the teacher’s work as an example of quality work.  But, have students been given the opportunity to see quality work completed by a peer, a learner in the same stage of learning?  How often do we have our students use the scoring guide to mark a paper, to analyze work to learn from another?  Have you seen the AP Biology samples with commentary or the AP Macroeconomics samples with commentary that accompany the online information? 

Goal six is to show our learners what others have done to demonstrate understanding, to communicate process, and to record thinking.   

 Well, the goals above are all worthy goals – perhaps too many for one lone algebra teacher to tackle.  I wonder how much could be accomplished with my team, my PLC, my PLN and/or my critical friends.  Hmm…If we had to pick one, just one, which would you choose?  Why?


  1. Ideally, we would work with our teams on the systems approach to all six goals. They work as a system, don’t they? If I have to choose one, as a thinking exercise, I choose goal #2. make learning targets and assessments as transparent as possible. For learners to be able to SEE the targets seems essential if we want to hit the target and get progressively closer to the “bullseye.” But I would want the other goals to come into harmony with goal #2.


  2. This is a great counterbalance to some of my ponderings/rantings on the AP. I do see these benefits, but also I would point out that the AP Calculus curriculum seems to be one of the most well-designed and manageable—they long ago embraced the reform calculus movement, and have focused their objectives on big ideas and understanding rather than small factoids and procedures.

    In other subjects, the “hammer” might not be the right tool at all, and might encourage thinking that everything is a nail.

    I do really like the 6 goals you mention, and think it is a worthy challenge for teachers to try to strive for these by working together at all levels of the curriculum. And like Bo, I think the essential question is always “what do you want all students to be able to do when they complete this course?” This should then beg the question of what is the right tool to get us there.


  3. Bo,

    I agree. All six goals (and more) should work together as a system. I do wonder how much more could be accomplished with my team, my PLC, my PLN and/or my critical friends.

    The reason for the “just choose one” comment is two-fold. 1. Looking at a plan for all six might seem overwhelming. I hoped to convey that we should just get started somewhere. 2. If you work on one of the six, you are, more likely than not, going to find a need for some of the other goals. My teams have certainly found this to be true.

    Our Algebra I team is pretty deeply committed already to Goal 1: Agree upon a common curriculum for our students, Goal 2: Make learning targets and assessments as transparent as possible, Goal 4: Find balance in our assessments, and Goal 5: Assign credit, as a team, for quality work rather than deducting points for errors.

    Our Synergy 8 team actively works on Goal 1: Agree upon a common curriculum for our students, Goal 2: Make learning targets and assessments as transparent as possible, Goal 3: Expect retention, application, and synthesis of the essentials, Goal 4: Find balance in our assessments, and Goal 6: Collect and provide student exemplars of quality work. Goal 5 is difficult for me to process for our Synergy team because we do not grade in the traditional sense. Synergy is P/F with assessment and feedback without “points”. What do you think?

    Are we achieving all of these goals? We are working on them, and we are thinking about them together. We are making progress, and we are learning.


    • Jill,

      I find your post and your replies to be excellent. I think you are absolutely right that a team should find a place to begin and just start. We should not let pursuit of perfection get in the way of being good and getting better (who said that?). Also, I agree that working on one will necessitate working on others – I imagine that is because your fabulous six goals are part of one whole system.

      I am curious why you say that you were “inspired” by the College Board. “So here is a list of my top goals about assessment, learning, and teaching inspired from The College Board.” Can you say a bit more about how these were inspired by the College Board? How much of the essense of these goals has been at least co-inspired by your learning and work with PLCs?

      One clarification for other readers – Synergy 8 is a non-graded course, not a P/F course. And I think we are very immersed in Goal #5. By writing rubrics the way that we do, as pervasively as we do, we practice a “points earned” approach by describing the quality criteria on a four-point scale or the six-trait writing rubric. Would you agree? This is another huge benefit of high-quality rubrics, I believe.

      One more random reply – I think your Alg I team does work on Goal #3. You spiral concept work on future assessments, and you utilize second-chance assessment. I think those are built for retention. Maybe it is “application” and “synthesis” that you are hypothesizing about. And I think your team works on Goal #6, too. When you send the student feedback that I see you send about quality work, I think you are doing this. Also, your website includes model solutions to problems, doesn’t it?

      Keep up the good work. Your synthesis of the goals is so rich, and I appreciate the ongoing dialogue. I hope many others will tune in and weigh in. We all grow when we work and learn together.


      • Bo,
        Are there other ungraded courses? Do the other electives, economics and writing workshop not give grades, either? Do kids not get a grade at all for synergy, just a comment? How do you think this has affected the course? Student motivation?


      • Thanks, Bo, for the feedback and encouragement!

        First, for the oops… My bad! Synergy 8 is a non-graded course, not P/F. Inaccurate and embarrassing – egg on my face. I want to be sure that it is clear that we assess often, we just don’t grade our learners. I agree with you, we do engage in the “points earned” practice with our rubrics. At the time of my reply I was thinking about grading my exams – my focus was too narrow.

        The blunt, honest reply about the title of my post and the statement that these six goals were inspired by The College Board is that I was provoked by the “let’s get rid of the AP” message from both Quantum Progress and Advancing the Teaching Profession. It seemed to me that they were advocating “throwing the baby out with the bath water”. I was hoping to provide a counterbalance of ideas.

        If writing is thinking and thinking is learning, then I learned and connected volumes by writing this entry in my blog. There is no question these six goals are also completely inspired by our PLC work and your leadership. I want our students to have access to all of the published resources for learning that AP students have. I am inspired by The College Board’s transparency and their willingness to publish assessments, scoring guides, and commentary to help learners.

        My website does show quality work, but it is my quality work. The College Board publishes actual student artifacts of solutions to the exam questions and writes commentary to help AP teachers gauge and interpret the scoring guide, in other words, they provide multiple representations of their scoring guides and expectations.

        Where do our students find examples of student-generated quality work? I’m inspired by our JH English PLC and their bank of writing samples. Even the JH Spanish PLT has student work that is easily accessible to share. I want that for our Algebra I and Synergy students. We have started creating the bank of student work for Synergy. We have not compiled any examples of quality work for Algebra I; I’m not sure that we agree, yet, on our definition of quality work. I literally want Algebra I students to be able to compare and contrast their work with a provided exemplar.

        We will get there. Thank you for being an active member, not a spectator, of our team!


  4. John,

    Thanks for your comment. I agree with you on many points about how the results from AP are being used and misused. AP or not, the assessment goals are, for me, pretty strong. I checked and AP Biology and AP Macroeconomics offered the same type of scoring guide as AP Calculus. I cannot give an informed opinion about the learning targets assessed for content other than AP Calculus AB.

    My point about the hammer is that any tool can be used in many constructive ways, but can also be destructive. I hoped to convey that it may not be the AP program that is “bad”; perhaps we should analyze how learners, teachers, parents, and colleges are using the program’s results. Is the tool being used for a constructive purpose? Is “the project” so bad it can’t be fixed? Should we drop it completely and do something else?

    I appreciate how much your ponderings have made me think about our assessment plan, our learning targets, and how we convey results to the children in our care. Your writing has prompted me to want our team review the stated learning targets to evaluate how essential they are for our students. We want your team’s feedback on our learning targets too.


    • Jill,
      I think you are right in praising how the college board goes about designing assessments, scoring guides, exemplars and all of the goals you lay out. And I think it’s approach is one that might be worth emulating at the level of small teams of teachers—PLCs and PLTs. In fact, this may be the way to overcome one of what I think is the College Board’s biggest disadvantages, its inertia and need to please everyone, which regresses its curriculum toward the mean. A small team of algebra or physics teachers for example, would be able to be much more nimble in creating learning goals and a whole curriculum that addresses the needs of their students, and they wouldn’t need to wait for the better part of a decade to take action, I would hope.

      I will think more about how we can bring these goals to the work of our physics PLT, and we would love to look at the essential learnings for algebra I, I’m sure.


  5. John,

    Synergy 8 was proposed and accepted as an “NG” course. Assessment would be vigorous, but in an authentic way that does not lend itself to traditional grading. Soon after beginning Synergy, the Writing Workshop teachers petitioned for WW to be non graded; assessment would be based on the 6+1 Writing Traits Rubric. WW was approved to pilot a P/F alternative. I encouraged the WW teachers to push ahead with the petition, and there was good admin support for the trial. Jill and I consider Synergy 8 a persuasive writing class of sorts, so it makes sense to have similar philosophies of assessment for the two courses. There is ample evidence about the problems with grading writing, so that research was in the WW court, as well. Econ 8 remains a graded course with more traditional quizzes, tests, and projects.

    For Synergy 8, I feel that the NG designation has significantly enhanced and improved the course. In my opinion, the students work hard and they see that the learning matters immediately. To improve one’s letter to the deans or a presentation deck of slides is inherently motivating when an improved product will most likely help a team accomplish their persuasion and project goals. I am not sure that improving in order to move from an 88 to a 93 has the same intrinsic power or makes as much sense. Jill and I believe the students had to “detox” from a norm culture of graded work, and we are not sure that a semestermis enough time to really detox and engage in intense interdisciplinary project work.

    Hope this gets to your good questions.


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