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Common Core State Standards: How to Assess Knowledge

Jacqui Murray

This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of TeachHUB Magazine.

Assessment is always challenging, isn't it? Finding evidence that students have learned what you taught; That they can apply their knowledge to complex problems. How do you do it? Rubrics? Group projects? Posters? None sound worthy of the Common Core State Standards educational environ -- and, too often, students have figured out how to deliver within these guidelines while on auto-pilot.

Where can we find authentic assessments that are measurable, yet student-centered? How can we promote risk-taking by students and teachers alike? How can we find assessments that are inquiry-driven, and encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning? How do we assess a lesson plan in a manner that ensures students have learned what they will need to apply in life, to new circumstances they will face when they don't have a teacher at their elbow to nudge them the right direction?

There are ways to make it happen. Here’s one teacher’s approach.


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I observe their actions, their work, the way they are learning the skills I'm teaching. Are they engaged, making their best effort? Do they remember skills taught in prior weeks and apply them? Do they self-assess and make corrections as needed?

Transfer of knowledge

Can students transfer knowledge learned in my class to other classes and/or other parts of their life? Do I hear fun stories from parents and teachers about how students used something learned? Do the students themselves share a snippet with me about how they “helped mom use Google Maps to find ...”? If a student can casually apply what they know to helping others, I know they have a solid command of those skills.

Teach others

Are students comfortable flipping learning and becoming the teacher? There's a hierarchy of learning that goes like this:

  • Student doesn't listen
  • Student doesn't believe
  • Student tries it once
  • Student remembers it
  • Student shows it to others
  • Student teaches others

The highest praise for a student is that they have enough mastery of a skill to teach that skill to others. That's learning.

I encourage it in my classes by having the lab open during recess and lunch, but with students as helpers. I only take 1-2 and always have more offers than I need.


Can students use the right words to share answers? No umms, no hand motions, no giggles. Can they take a deep breath and share their knowledge in a few succinct sentences? This works well on a discussion board, which I use as a summative for vocabulary and problem-solving tests. I set up a discussion board, ask each student to add a problem or vocabulary word we covered, and then comment on a classmate's. They can then use this resource during the test. We've done it a few times, and students have figured out that if they blow off the discussion board part of the assessment, everyone suffers. Friends don't have the study guide, or worse, the answer is wrong because classmates didn't take the time to write it correctly.


I like portfolios, and today, that means digital. Collect all student work onto wikis, digital lockers,, via embed widgets or screen shots, or using the original software. Keep it in the cloud where students, teachers, and even parents can access it. That's transparency. No one will wonder what grade the student earned or why.

Summarize knowledge

But not in an essay. Use knowledge to create a magazine, an Animoto video, a Puzzlemaker crossword (visit Great Resources for ideas). It's the 'use' part of assessment that's most important. Can students use the knowledge or does it just sit in a mental file folder?

Oral presentations

This can be summative, formative, informational, or informal. It can be a quick answer to questions in the classroom, coming up to the Smartscreen and solving a problem, teaching classmates how to solve a problem during class, or preparing a multimedia presentation to share with others online or in person. It includes much more than an assessment of learning. It judges a student's presentation skills and ability to talk to people—life skills are fundamental.

In the end, the choice of assessment depends upon the goal of teaching. Before you teach, decide not only what you want your students to know, but how you want them to be able to use that knowledge. Then, apply any of the assessment techniques above, or come up with your own to more precisely test if your students are achieving those goals you’ve set.


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersCisco guest blogger, a columnist for, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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