HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

Assessment for Success

by Tova Shimon Issue: Hebrew Education
TOPICS : Hebrew Pedagogy

At the core of our Jewish tradition is the metaphor that we all stood at Sinai and received the Torah through our various senses and according to our abilities. This tenet is mirrored in the progressive educational slogans “learning for all,” “no child left behind,” and in the concept of “differentiated learning.”

When the purpose of assessment is to improve student learning, to facilitate early intervention and employ alternative ways of teaching, achievements and motivation are higher.

We talk the talk, but the time has come for us to walk the walk; to take up the tools available to us in this age of technological advances and implement what decades of research have made clear: All children can learn. But we do them a disservice when we misalign learning and testing, and when our methods do not reflect our knowledge about how the brain learns, and when we ignore the modern technological tools now available.

I hope that this article may encourage us all to share a reflective common language about assessment for learning and the use of technology to enhance that assessment.

When assessment is combined with technology to both evaluate the learning process and contribute to improved instruction and learning, it becomes “transformative assessment.”

A change of mind, heart and practice by all involved is required to create a learning environment to which today’s “i-brain” (Internet Brain) children will be responsive, assessment that is aligned with the learning process, and a nurturing school culture for all children.

My concern about testing is first and foremost a result of my professional experience over the past three decades in hundreds of Jewish day schools across the world. My colleagues and I observed the following “red flags”: Many professionals persist in starting the year with testing that disregards the essential need to activate and retrieve previously-acquired knowledge and skills in Hebrew; hundreds of teacher-made tests are still “paper and pencil,” and do not respect differentiation when it comes to modalities and intelligences, even when these are clearly addressed in the taught curriculum; too many teachers design tests that will elicit bell curve results; when tests are closely aligned with curriculum and most or all children pass, too many teachers assume that there’s something wrong with the test; too often, testing is misaligned and contains material that students have not been exposed to; even in cases where teachers collect material in portfolios, they may neglect to analyze them or to use the data they contain to improve learning and teaching; and finally, there are numerous cases of teachers testing exclusively for either content, or for mastery of skills, but not for both.

Unfortunately, too often assessment is still employed purely to sort and select, track, rank and label students so as to deal with them in homogeneous groupings.

We now know that children’s interests and needs are not served when educators equate the terms “evaluation” and “assessment” with written tests that are graded at the end of a term or unit. This is because the results are obtained at the end of rather than during the learning process, and because the assessment is very often insensitive to learners’ needs and to different ways of learning.

Learners’ needs are not respected if testing is misaligned and based on standards, content, or methods they have not been taught or exposed to. In these cases, students’ results are lower than they should be, which causes teachers to “teach to the test” often foregoing the curriculum and its broader goals.

Research is consistently proving the fallacy of testing that is not content- and methodology-dependent and aligned. However, when the purpose of assessment is to improve student learning, to facilitate early intervention and employ alternative ways of teaching, achievements and motivation are higher.

Transformative assessment is achieved when learning is aligned with the curriculum and intertwined with the learning process. To assess learning, one must have clear goals, an understanding of the required sub-skills and an overview of the progression of the curriculum, as each major skill is introduced and re-introduced at different levels of complexity over the course of the year, allowing each child to advance at his or her own pace. By following the learning progression, teachers can make informed decisions about their teaching and offer differentiated learning opportunities and assessment.

Assessment derives from the Latin word assidere which means “to sit beside.” Assessment is meant to be a process and a set of tools that assist educators to “sit beside” our students to support them in their learning en route to mastery of the core content and skills they need to develop for life and those they want to develop because of their unique interests and talents.

Even though we educators are “immigrants” to today’s technological world, it is our job to cater to the “natives,” the children who were born into the technology. We must strive to engage our pupils by offering the curriculum through the same technological medium that is the fabric of their lives. By employing the same tools that they trust and rely on themselves, we can accelerate learning and monitor and analyze progress and achievement more quickly and efficiently.

A personalized profile can be used to compare between students working in the classroom and working at home; between students in the same class; between different classes in the same school, and between classes in different schools.

In the TaL AM program, curriculum-based formative assessment is used throughout the school year to support learning of core concepts and skills. Summative assessment is used to enhance accountability for learning the curriculum, to promote standard-based growth of students’ knowledge and language proficiency from grade to grade, as well as teachers’ professional growth and improved instruction skills.

A balanced assessment system takes advantage of assessment for learning and assessment of learning. When both are present in the system and used by all involved in the learning process, the assessment becomes the index of the students’ and teachers’ success and its cause.

Transformative Assessment as Implemented in the TaL AM Curriculum

The TaL AM curriculum is based on both theoretical and empirical research. During the decades of its implementation in schools, TaL AM has learned that when the five interdependent elements—educators, students, learning environment, curriculum and the learning progression—are aligned and congruent, the results are far superior and the learning process is accelerated.


Educators change the scope and timing of assessments from the traditional summative assessment practice of marking report cards, to a learning-aligned process that combines formative and summative assessment stages and the employment of various assessment tools. Their expectation also changes, to the belief that all students can develop proficiency in communicative skills in Hebrew, and a Jewish identity, through mastery of the core content, concepts and skills. This change represents a shift from the traditional expectation that learning will occur mostly for motivated students who were born with adequate academic aptitude and come from a supportive home environment. Teachers are empowered to change their expectations and their practice because they are supplied with the appropriate tools. Educators share the results of formative and summative assessments to develop strategic plans for improved learning and teaching. School leaders facilitate the assessment stages and participate in studying the results and drawing the necessary conclusions.


Students are fully aware of the main goals of the learning units, and are involved in the creation of the rubrics by which their learning and performance will be assessed. Thus students become accountable and responsible for their own learning and the learning of their peers, and the classroom climate shifts from seeing the teacher as the prime, if not the only, mover of instruction.

Learning Environment

The peripheral learning environment—walls and learning stations—clearly communicates the learning goals and expectations. The very classroom environment facilitates learning, as resources are accessible and clearly labeled and communicate goals, while simultaneously helping to establish the rules of how learning should occur in the setting. Both teachers and students activate the learning environment. The surrounding posters are a pegging system for the key concepts, values and thinking, learning and language skills which are to be mastered over the course of the year. They depict the “big ideas” of each of the units and disciplines. (Please see spiraled examples in www.talam.org file “HaYidion #1” and also anecdotes in www.talam.org file “HaYidion #2.”) The time allotted for the Judaic studies curriculum and the status it is accorded by parents go a long way to determining the outcomes of the learning process.

Web-based learning opens up the possibilities of ongoing formative and standard-based feedback and information for fine-tuned instruction and learning.


The TaL AM program is based on new research as to how the brain learns, retains, retrieves and constructs knowledge and skills. The program offers the material with differentiation options: material for the classroom environment, for mapping progress, and for activating different modalities and learning through multiple intelligences. Learning is spiraled through the years in a progression that respects contextual memory building and retrieval. (Please see SIPUR—Assessment process, benchmarks and rubrics, and “Ani yodea/Ani yoda’at” as well as “Ma lamadeti v’Eich” and the unique symbols for differentiation in TaL AM on www.talam.org file “HaYidion #3.”)

Learning Progression

In each grade, the learning progression is documented through “Hovrot Sippur” curriculum mapping and portfolios. The Hovrot Sippur and the format of the portfolios change from year to year. Portfolios include writing samples, videos of reading, speaking and learning, teacher tests, tests provided by TaL AM and self-evaluations. The assessment techniques are an inseparable part of the TaL AM program. They too, make use of multiple intelligence-based materials.

Assessment tools include videotaped lessons from the various tracks recorded in the middle and at the end of the school year; videotapes of two samples in which students read a one-minute familiar text and an unseen text (also from the middle and the end of the year); and two samples of academic or creative writing to be compared. There are also formative tests during the learning of the unit and summative assessments when each thematic study unit is completed. Further assessment is based on class portfolios that are created by each student over the course of a school year. Additional examples are reading, writing and oral expression rubrics to measure communicative proficiency in Hebrew.

The documented results of the formal feedback from the teachers and the information garnered from school visits and class portfolios guide the initial training of teachers in advance of receiving their new pupils. At the TaL AM Teachers Institutes, educators are trained in the use of the teaching and assessment tools. During the first two years, they receive feedback and learn techniques for differentiated instruction and intervention, based on the results of the assessments.

In addition to the evaluation/assessment process previously described, no discussion is complete today without mentioning utilization of the World Wide Web. TaL AM has begun to include student-centered, technology-based assessment, as Web-based learning opens up the possibilities of ongoing formative and standard-based feedback and information for fine-tuned instruction and learning.

The advantages of utilizing the Web are as follows:

- The tools are familiar to the students.

- In the technological age, feedback is instantaneous, and pupils need not wait for the teacher to check their work. They receive instant, on-line feedback that may direct them to further activities to help them master skills in real time, thus accelerating the learning process.

- The feedback can be easily saved in orderly, organized individual and class portfolios.

- Technology-based assessment provides differentiated means to assess content mastery as well as literacy and communication skills. For example, reading and oral group discussions or presentations are easily recorded on Vemio or on Voice Thread, then assessed and utilized to share results and discuss them with learners. They are also used as the basis for an agreed-upon plan of action to improve skills. Following the intervention and remediation, a new taped assessment can easily be compared to a former assessment to evaluate progress (see Kesher Kol at www.talam.ed.voicethread.com).

TaL AM integrates cognitive research with Dr. Gary Small’s insights about how technology has altered the way young minds develop, function and interpret information. The ensuing synthesis informs both curriculum and assessment.

The grade one Hebrew Literacy Development program, Ariot CAL (Computer Assisted Learning), translates the Ariot CD-ROMs into an Internet-based platform with a front and a back end. At the front end, children interact with stories, songs and games. The back end provides data to teachers and administrators, supplying a composite picture that tallies correct and incorrect answers and reveals how many attempts are made and how much time it takes for each student to succeed at a given activity, so that skill mastery and results may be evaluated and compared.

In this way, a personalized profile is obtained of each student, revealing his or her progress in mastering skills. This data can be used to compare between students working in the classroom and working at home; between students in the same class; between different classes in the same school, and between classes in different schools. The system allows us to learn more about students’ individual needs as well. Educators can now making decisions based on information that wasn’t previously readily available. TaL AM is evolving into a technology-based curriculum that contributes to the differentiated learning that today’s students require.

Technology also enables us to better understand and meet the challenges of time allocation. Since it has been proven that short periods of daily learning are more effective than one or two concentrated weekly sessions, TaL AM utilizes the possibilities offered by the Web to encourage individual work on a computer during and/or after school hours, and participation in e-learning groups several times a week.

The goal is to design a computer-assisted or technology-based curriculum, with assessment tools that are aligned to the approach and content. Teachers would be trained to understand and integrate the results which would create an accessible, cost-effective and timely program that is online, aligned to and congruent with the teaching approach, and monitoring of results.

The world is progressing towards reshaping and redefining schooling based on technology.

Ultimately, the schoolbag will become a virtual carryall and books as we know them will be replaced by ipads, notepads and Kindles.

We are aware that we are only seeing the tip of the technological iceberg, and that governments and education systems across the globe are still grappling with defining the future of technology-based education. However, we cannot afford to wait until the evolution process is “complete” but must embark on the path of paradigmatic change and dare to invest now.

Especially with respect to Jewish education, we cannot afford to have students believe that Judaism or Hebrew is not for them because of misaligned testing tools and learning. No Jewish child should feel excluded from his or her heritage. When utilized in the appropriate manner, meaningful assessment for learning and of learning that is aligned with the curriculum, sensitive to students’ needs and combined with cutting edge technology, is a vital implement in our educational tool kit.

It is critical for all of us to walk the walk and undertake the development and use of technology based curriculum and assessment tools so that the learning process becomes a joyful way of developing our children’s Jewish identity. ♦

Tova Shimon is President and Executive Director of TaL AM, an organization dedicated to the development and implementation of curricula for Jewish studies. She can be reached at tovas@talam.org.

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