Formative Assessment in a Brain-compatible Classroom: How Do We Really Know They’re Learning?

Guest Post by Dr. Marcia L. Tate

Whether we like it or not, students see assessment results as tangible, visible evidence of their worth and value. In the workshop I teach by the same name as this blog, I read a story called First Grade Takes a Test. This story is a wonderful illustration of the correlation between test results and students’ self-confidence.

In the book, first graders are administered a standardized test. Many students find the test difficult, but to Anna Marie, the test is a breeze. As her classmates are pondering questions and drawing in answers on the test booklet, Anna Marie has completed her test and is telling her classmates how easy it was. Sometime later when the children have already forgotten about the test, a woman comes and removes Anna Marie from the first grade class and places her in the gifted program. Soon after she leaves, many of the first graders begin to argue with one another and refer to themselves as dummies since they were not selected. To find out what happens, you will want to read the story or attend one of my assessment workshops and have the story read to you.

First Grade Takes a Test is fictitious. But my life is not! My husband and I have actually lived the plot of this story. Our Anna Marie is named Jessica, our middle child, who qualified for gifted programs throughout her school career and thought that all of the standardized tests she took were relatively easy. Growing up alongside her was her younger brother, Christopher, who struggled with standardized tests but could show you that he was learning in more authentic ways.

Chris is an excellent artist who can assemble anything with his hands. In school, however, he often referred to himself as Dummy and began to hang around with others in his high school who referred to themselves in the same way. Even though we assured him that he was smart just like his sister, his schools were telling him something totally different! You see, in school, the true measure of ability came in the form of criterion-referenced or standardized tests and since Chris did not score well on those, he saw himself as a failure.

In my bestseller, Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites, 3rd ed. (Corwin, 2016) and my latest text, Formative Assessment in a Brain-compatible Classroom: How Do We Really Know They’re Learning? (Learning Sciences International, 2016) as well as the workshops I facilitate, I am attempting to get teachers and administrators to understand that students come with many ways of knowing. If we don’t understand that, then we are likely to limit the types of strategies we use in teaching them and the ways we have of assessing them and, in turn, will lose a large percentage of our student population. In fact, according to current statistics, a high school student drops out about every 26 seconds (

Perhaps if we would spend more time teaching them in ways that the brain actually comprehends and retains information and assessing them using a variety of assessment types, we might see more students walking across the stage after more than 12 years of schooling to receive their diploma. A diploma that will entitle them to continue their schooling at higher education institutions or become gamefully employed in a lucrative career of choice.

Tune in to my engaging webinar and experience 20 instructional strategies for engaging the brains of all students and a variety of assessment techniques for answering the question, What should students know, understand, and be able to do? Enable the Jessicas and the Christophers in your classroom to retain information, not just for tests, but for life!

Join us in welcoming Dr. Tate for a webinar on March 16, 2016 at 3 p.m. EST. REGISTER HERE!


Cohen, M. (2006). First grade takes a test. New York: Star Bright Books. 11 facts about high school dropout rates.…Retrieved February 15, 2016.

Tate, M. (2016). Worksheets don’t grow dendrites: 20 instructional strategies that engage the brain. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Tate, M. (2016). Formative assessment in a brain-compatible classroom: How do we really know they’re learning. West Palm Beach, FL. Learning Sciences International.