Season 4, Episode 2: Assessment with Rhonda Higgins

Welcome to Inspired Proficiency and thank you for joining us for season 4, episode 2. As always, please tweet any takeaways and inspirations to #inspiredproficiency.

Download the episode here or listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts here or find it wherever you listen to podcasts! 

Today’s episode is ALL about assessment. There will be other episodes that touch upon this topic but today is the first of a few.

Ashley reached out to Twitter for help recently when she was having a foot ache. She wants to thank the listener community for recommending so many ideas for her and she has purchased some new shoes and is doing so much better. She also wants to relate to those teachers who are not having the best day because of (INSERT REASON HERE) and are still at work, giving it their all- WE SEE YOU and WE APPRECIATE YOU. She was grateful for her teacher community helping out at a time of low energy and she’s hopeful that she can put together a panel of teachers with ideas for the next time you are in the same situation. Please email Ashley at or send her a message on Twitter if you think you have an idea to share with other teachers for a day that they are just feeling BLAH and have low energy. Even if you think it’s a small thing, it’s all worth sharing and she would love to hear from you!


20190823_180125Today Ashley chats with Rhonda Higgins about assessment in the proficiency classroom with standards based grading. They met through Twitter so maybe YOU could be the next guest!She teaches in North Carolina at an IB school and has been teaching for 17 years.

Why is she passionate about assessment?

  • District professional development action research project on any topic of teacher choosing
    • Offered through the state
    • Worked with other NC teachers
  • She wanted to try another way of grading
    • Learn the language, don’t focus on the number
    • Students commonly finish their two years to graduate and not continue anymore
    • How can we motivate them to learn the language and not focus solely on the number?


What she found in her action research?

  • Inflation and deflation of grades
    • Weighting of gradebook is different in every single class
    • A lot of grades are subjective 
  • Motivation lacked in language learning because students only need 2 years (in North Carolina) to attend college
  • The kids who know how to play school and work the numbers are playing a numbers game and not the learning the content game
  • She discovered the GURUS, as she calls them, of switching up traditional grading practices

** We are no longer in a factory model for spitting out students to work on assembly lines

** Most teachers usually find what works for them when confined in a traditional grading world and don’t have time and energy to be looking for new ways of grading unless they’re actively searching for it or completing research.


Feedback and Grading

  • Requires a changing of vocabulary
  • She does not say grade or grading, only assessments
  • Meaningful feedback
    • Model for students to allow them to provide meaningful feedback to each other as well
    • “You speak really well” is a compliment, not feedback
    • Students need data on how to improve
  • Feedback is data without the evaluation attached to it
  • Feedback options
    • Narrative feedback in paragraph form
      • Not sustainable, too much work
    • Shorthand detailed feedback with codes
      • Huge difference for students to buy into their feedback to decode it and figure out what they need to fix
      • Hold the mirror up to the students with the codes so they can see what they need to
      • Examples
        • SVA- subject verb agreement
        • WC- word choice
    • Progress tracker
      • Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to go Gradeless by Starr Sackstein
      • Kids used a progress tracker (paper or digital)
      • Students write a weekly goal for learning the Target Language
      • Weekly reflection
        • Students check in on goals first few minutes of class
          • Student-led conferences
        • Meeting goal for the week?
        • Need to extend them?
        • By the end of the quarter they’ll have between 3 and 7 goals depending upon how long the quarter is and kids can keep goals sometimes
      • Student-led conferences
        • Hard to talk to every kid 1:1 every class
        • Now she’s uses a Google Form where kids keep track of their progress
        • Teachers can also use paper trackers
    •  Evidence Tracker
      • Students need to show evidence of their goals and achieving them
      • Maybe they made a goal of wanting to speak more, they go to a Mexican restaurant, and they try to speak to that person and can record the audio
      • Can become a portfolio over time with more and more evidence
    • Traditional grading policy
      • Looking at progress towards goals and if evidence shows progress and teacher agrees with student about progress then the student requests a grade
        • Teacher and student will discuss and if teacher agrees they’ll get the grade they request
        • If they don’t agree, the teacher can supercede the student and more time can be given, there are options
      • Push back?
        • She was ready for parents of students who did not like this type of grading but she had very little
        • Assessment is really a conversation between teacher and student about progress so it just opens up a much bigger and deeper conversation
        • Builds a great student teacher relationship
          • She feels like she has more time to speak to and get to know students so much more because of this process
          • Transformative

Goals and standards for students to set their own goals

  • IB (International Baccalaureate) for some classes 
  • North Carolina state standards for other classes
  • Everything they do is attached to a standard and sometimes the two standards overlap
  • Students can see their progress (Beginning = 1, Approaching = 2, Meeting = 3, Excelling = 4)
    • 1 2 3 4 in gradebook to demonstrate levels

Rhonda’s “Aha Moments” from Research

  • Move away from traditional grades
  • 0-100 point scale provides a HUGE gap of 0-59 as failure
    • What if we flipped that around?
    • Some teachers are told to give a 50 instead of 0 to not hurt a student’s score too much and skews the numbers either way
  • Students need to be held accountable to do all the work and not skate by with a 0 for not doing something
  • Feedback that says “you’re not mastering the content” is different than crushing them with a low low number

How can I start moving away from traditional grades?

  • Start small with an idea
  • Start with one class and give them feedback instead of numbers on quizzes or assessments
  • Progress from there and try something else maybe in more than one class or different types of feedback
  • Read first Starr Sackstein’s book about going gradeless
    • Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to go Gradeless by Starr Sackstein
    • Practical ways to move towards different feedback right away
  • Look at your state standards and ACTFL standards when it comes to assessments in the classroom

Game Segment with Sarah Breckley:

Today Sarah shares her tips for a game called Paper Bags/Bolsas de Papel. The goal is to name a hidden item and use a bunch of high frequency nouns. 

  1. Teacher puts things in multiple bags with one item
  2. Close the bags and label them with numbers and first letter of the object on paper
  3. First letter is used as a hint for what’s in the bag
  4. Partner students and they need lined paper that’s numbered
  5. Bags can be all over the room or it can be a timed limit station activity
  6. Can’t open the bag but students can touch the outside and guess
  7. It’s really hard to try to do one with different letters of the alphabet
  8. Upper levels can try to make sentences out of their guesses or stories
  9. Could be themed or random


Spanish high frequency words in ABC order in Spanish

  • Water, avocado
  • Ball, broccoli
  • Food, calculator
  • Money, dice
  • Star, elephant, elote
  • Fruit, flower, flute
  • Glasses, cookie
  • Hamburger
  • Insect, raincoat
  • Soap, ham
  • Kiwi, ketchup
  • Pencil, book, lemon
  • Apple, medicine
  • Nothing EMPTY BAG, snow
  • Ear, sheep, oxygen
  • Paper, plant
  • Cheese
  • Clock, radio, rat
  • Sausage, pencil sharpener, salt
  • Telephone
  • One, candle, unicorn
  • Toy car vehicle, vanilla
  • Yogurt
  • Carrot, shoe, fox


Clean your room

All done in the target language of your classroom!

  • Divide the class into two teams
  • Use ball pit balls, pieces of crumpled up paper, or one ball per person
  • Set a timer for one minute and teams have to try to get rid of all the balls in the area
  • When the timer goes off they count the balls they have cleaned up
  • Then they get time to come up with a new and better strategy
  • Do it a couple of times to see if they have more than one strategy
  1. Have them come up with the rules at the end 
  2. They discuss strategies in the TL
  3. They can count in the TL
  4. Students can narrate what happened in the upper levels
  5. Lots of options to play the game at the beginning and then spend the time talking about it in Spanish for the rest of the class period

Resources and links mentioned on the show:


Rhonda Higgins on Twitter @rhonhigg

Season sponsorship brought to you by:

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Episode sponsors:


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