Skip to main content Skip to main content

Social Studies in Action: A Methodology Workshop, K-5

Assessing Students’ Learning

How do we know students are learning? Because assessment often provides only small snapshots of learning, this session provides teachers with a variety of tools and strategies to assess students' learning in formal, informal, ongoing, and culminating ways. The onscreen teachers analyze classroom video segments, develop criteria for assessment, and learn how to incorporate assessment strategies in a lesson on the most influential citizens in U.S. history.

Assessing Students' Learning

This session addresses two questions that are central to social studies assessment: How do we know students are learning? and How do we know our teaching is effective? Because assessment often provides only a snapshot of learning, social studies teachers need a variety of tools and strategies to gauge students’ knowledge.

To help you refine your assessment skills, in this session you will:

  • Explore the meaning, types, and uses of assessment.
  • Learn how assessment strategies can be used effectively in different learning contexts.
  • Apply criteria to analyze assessment strategies.
  • Apply session content and strategies to your own teaching.


Learning Goals

At the end of this session you will be able to:

• Define assessment strategies.

• Identify criteria for designing assessments.

• Apply a variety of assessment strategies to social studies instruction.


1. Getting Started

Watch the video introduction to familiarize yourself with the session, instructor, and participants.

View Video Segment: Introduction and Gallery Walk

You’ll find this segment at the beginning of the video. Watch for about 10 minutes.

In this segment, workshop participants review classroom strategies they use to assess students’ learning.

2. What Do You Know?

A concept chart can help you identify the assessment methods you currently use in the classroom. To begin, think of the last time you taught one of the following social studies units:

  • Community
  • Geography
  • U.S. History
  • Culture

Next, choose a unit of your own or from the list above. Recall the lessons and assignments you used to teach the unit, and think about the assessment methods you used to measure student learning.

Use the Concept Chart (PDF) to begin listing assessment strategies you already use.

Here is an example:

3. Reflect on Your Work

When you have completed your chart, review the strategies you use and consider the following questions:

  • Why have some assessment methods been more successful than others?
  • What strategies from the video would you add to your list?
  • In general, what are your goals for assessment?


Key Concepts from Glossary

Formal assessment

Informal assessment

Ongoing assessment

Culminating assessment

Performance assessment


Authentic assessment

Portfolio assessment



Read each of the articles listed below to gain an understanding of key concepts related to assessment. As you read, look for these concepts, their definitions, and examples of each.

After you read the articles, write answers to the following questions. You can use the Reading Questions form (PDF).

  1. What factors should be considered in planning for assessment?
  2. How are goals, instruction, and assessment related?
  3. What is the relationship between standards and assessment?
  4. What should you consider as you develop criteria for rubrics?
  5. What are the strengths of the following approaches?
    • Performance assessment
    • Authentic assessment
    • Authentic instruction
    • Portfolio assessment



Save your written work to submit as an assignment.


Performance Assessment (PDF)
Explains performance, portfolio, and authentic assessment.

Wisconsin Education Association Council, Performance Assessment, Education Issues Series, May 1996.

Teaching for Understanding: Ongoing Assessment (PDF)
Outlines key features of ongoing assessment, examples of performances of understanding, and criteria for ongoing assessments.

Active Learning Practices for Schools, Teaching for Understanding: Ongoing Assessment, Harvard University Graduate School of Education and Project Zero.

Current Trends and Practices in Social Studies Assessment for the Early Grades (PDF)
Explores the relationship among goals, instruction, and assessment in social studies.

Alleman, Janet, and Jere Brophy. Current Trends and Practices in Social Studies Assessment for the Early Grades. National Council for the Social Studies, 1999.

Understanding Rubrics (PDF)
Examines rubrics, their uses, and examples.

Goodrich Andrade, Heidi. Understanding Rubrics. Active Learning Practices for Schools, Harvard University Graduate School of Education and Project Zero.


The following video segments illustrate a range of assessment methods in social studies classrooms. Before you watch these segments, you’ll need to print the Viewing Chart (PDF) you will use to analyze the teachers’ goals and to connect their strategies to your practice. Complete the Viewing Chart as you watch, then compare your answers to those of the workshop participants in the video.

View Video Segment: Identifying Assessment Strategies in Classroom Examples

You’ll find this segment approximately 11 minutes into the video. Watch for about 20 minutes.

In the first classroom segment, Meylin Gonzalez’s kindergarten class is studying economic concepts in a lesson that defines “needs” and “wants,” modeling an assignment that each student will complete. In the second classroom segment, Osvaldo Rubio’s class is studying the California Missions in a lesson that culminates in final presentations on each mission. In this segment, Mr. Rubio asks students to develop research questions they will use to guide their projects.

Save your written work to submit as an assignment.


Now that you’ve read about and watched a variety of assessment methods and strategies, consider your goals in the classroom and answer the following questions:

  1. Which of the methods and strategies you’ve read about or observed are most relevant to your work? Why?
  2. What are some ways you can begin to incorporate these strategies into your practice?

Apply - Activity 1

Apply what you’ve learned about assessment to complete the following activities.

1. Assess Student Work

View Video Segment: Understanding Stereotypes

You’ll find this segment approximately 33 minutes into the video. Watch for about 5 minutes.

Libby Sinclair’s fifth-grade class is studying the history of the Negro baseball leagues within U.S. history. Not finding information they need in reference books about African American history, Ms. Sinclair has her students write a persuasive letter to the publisher. In this segment, Ms. Sinclair works with students to develop criteria for their letters.

In this interactive activity, you can use a version of her criteria, presented as a four-point-scale rubric, to assess two drafts of her students’ letters. You can print out the Assessment Rubric (PDF) for reference.

Assessing Student Letters
Go to Interactive Activity 

A non-interactive version of this activity is available as a PDF document.

After you have assessed the student letters, think about the questions below.

  • What did you learn from assessing the letters?
  • What advice would you give each student for next steps?

Apply - Activity 2

2. Designing and Analyzing Assessments

Assessments can be used in several ways. They can help to gauge student learning, uncover misconceptions, extend learning, and reveal the effectiveness of instruction.

Develop two assessments that you can use in your own teaching. The assessments you design may be focused on a lesson or take the form of a culminating activity at the end of the unit. The list below provides suggestions.

  • A series of questions or a summary paragraph identifying the most important concepts or processes covered in a lesson
  • White-board responses during a lesson
  • A drawing, illustration, graph, chart, or map
  • Using a rubric to assess a culminating project or presentation

Note: If you are working with a group and taking all eight sessions, use one of these assessments for your ongoing unit.

Print the Analyzing Assessments form (PDF), on which you will answer the following questions for each of the two assessments you develop.

  • What is being assessed?
  • What is the purpose? How does it address your assessment goals?
  • Are there criteria? If so, when are students given these criteria?
  • How will students know they have learned?
  • Will they receive feedback and from whom?
  • How will feedback help them improve their work?
  • What clues about instruction might assessment results provide for you?

Save your written work to submit as an assignment.


What Did You Learn?
As the session began you developed a concept chart that defined learning objectives and listed strategies you use to assess students’ knowledge about a particular unit. Now complete a new Final Concept Chart (PDF) that includes all the assessment strategies you have studied. Classify each as formal, informal, ongoing, and/or culminating; then choose the strategies that you plan to use.

Once you have finished your new concept chart, revisit your initial concept chart to see how your knowledge of assessment has expanded.

Now, write a brief Summary (PDF). Describe three of the assessment strategies you now plan to use. Explain how you plan to use them and how they relate to your assessment goals, illustrate good practice, and extend your thinking about assessment.

Save your written work to submit as an assignment.

View Video Segment: Mini-Lesson

You’ll find this segment approximately 39 minutes into the video. Watch for about 16 minutes.

Watch the final segment of the video, in which the workshop participants reflect on what they learned and participate in a mini-lesson on the most important people in American history. The mini-lesson illustrates how criteria can guide group work, students’ learning, and final presentations


Refer to the Assignments below to be sure you’ve completed all assignments for this session.



Herman, J. L., P. R. Aschbacher, L. and Winters. A Practical Guide to Alternative Assessment. Alexandria, VA, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2001.

Marzano, Robert J., D. J. Pickering, and J. E. Pollock. Classroom Instruction that Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement. Alexandria: VA, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2001.

Newmann, Fred M., and Associates. Authentic Achievement: Restructuring Schools for Intellectual Quality. San Francisco, CA, The Jossey-Bass Education Series, 1996.



Educational Resources Information Center
Provides educational resources on assessment and evaluation.

Authentic Pedagogy: Standards that Boost Student Performance
Outlines examples of assessment within the framework of authentic pedagogy.

CRESST Research on Assessment
Offers data-driven reports on the relationship between strategies and student performance.


If you are taking this workshop for credit or professional development, submit the following assignments for session 7: Assessing Students’ Learning.

  1. Explore: Read the articles and respond to the questions that follow using the Reading Questions form.
  2. Explain: Watch the video segments, complete the Viewing Chart, and answer the questions that follow.
  3. Apply: Develop two assessments, then complete the Analyzing Assessments assignment.
  4. Evaluate: Complete the Final Concept Chart and Summary.