Student-Choice Assessments

In the past, I’ve used Independent Reading Checkpoints to assess students’ independent reading. However, after several conversations, and my own experience with the assessment, I’ve decided to discontinue its use. I’ve left the artifacts of the Independent Reading Checkpoint on the bottom of this page for your use.

In my experience, teacher-prescribed text assessments do not do the work that reading assessments should do. They do not point out the strengths of readers, nor are they very interesting, ,even for me. As teachers, we should be (1) teaching students to make good reading choices for themselves and (2) teaching students how to monitor their reading so their reading level doesn’t plateau. Assessments should be based on students’ individual growth, not their collective growth, since students come into class on different levels. This mindset ensures that I acknowledge the growth of student who struggle without them coming up short with bad grades. It also ensures that students who are “ahead,” “more advanced,” or “ahead of the curve” (whichever term you want to use), don’t get left behind simply because they are ahead. In short, my assessments are made with the intent to measure growth, not a static reading performance.

The Student-Choice Assessment is one that is based on skills (as opposed to their skill with a particular text) and students’ metacognition of their own abilities. As students are taught skills in their language arts class, they are given the opportunity to show off these skills in their Student-Choice Assessments. Students begin their assessment by identifying a state standard that they would like to illustrate based on the instructional goals of the unit or time period. Students then compose a mini-essay that illustrates their growth or mastery or said standard. Students may identify other standards as well that their response satisfies. These mini-essays adhere to MLA formatting.

Student-Choice Assessments are given four times in a marking period with staggered weights to illustrate growth. There is no reason why an assessment given in the beginning of the marking period should be worth the same as one given at the end of a marking period, as students should have illustrated growth between the two assessments. Weighing them the same is not fair grading practice.

First SCA3 pts
Second SCA4 pts
Third SCA5 pts
Fourth SCA8 pts

Student-Choice Assessments account for 20 points of a student’s final grade and are given about every two weeks. Students are required to have a different independent book for each one, unless they’ve been given permission otherwise (if they’re reading a very long or very difficult book).


Students are scored using the following rubric:

ConventionsTitle and author are both named and formatted appropriately in introduction (book titles should be in italics; short works should be in quotation marks). Other conventions discussed in class are addressed.Title and/or author are present but may not be formatted correctly. Other conventions discussed in class are not addressed.Title and author are not present. Conventions are not addressed throughout response.
ClaimClaim is clear, logical and not oversimplified.Claim is present but unclear or oversimplified.Claim is not present.
EvidenceEvidence is present, relevant, and properly cited.Evidence is present but not properly formatted or not relevant to claim.Evidence is not present.
AnalysisAnalysis connects the evidence to your claim and expands the argument at hand.Analysis is in beginning stages. Analysis connects to claim but does not expand the argument. Author must continue analysis and dig deeper.No analysis present; response relies heavily on summary.
Relevance to Standard IdentifiedStandard is properly identified and accurately illustrated throughout response.Standard is identified improperly or inaccurately.Standard is not identified.

This rubric is a work in progress and something I continue to rethink about. In general, rubrics should be clear and help the student set their priorities and remind them of some of the strategies we’ve been working on in class.

As this is a ten-point rubric, a grade translation follows. Our online gradebook provides the weighted score automatically when you enter an assignment’s weight (e.g. total points: 100, weighted score: 8), so although this looks like a lot of unnecessary math, I’m providing it to show how it will affect students’ grades.

Rubric ScoreGradebook Score1st Weighted Score2nd WS3rd WS4th WS

It may seem generous to some teachers to make the bottom score 50. However, many schools are moving to a bottom-50 grade scale. In my opinion, failure comprising of 65% of a given performance and success comprising of 35% of a given performance is a detriment to a student’s growth. There’s essentially no difference between a 50 and a 0; both are failing grades and the degree of failure between a 50 and a 0 doesn’t matter. The student is struggling or failing to achieve academic growth at that point and intervention is required.


In the following sample, the student identified RL.8.3Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.

The story Booked by Kwame Alexander, is about this boy, Nick Hall, who loves to play soccer. He is all about soccer and wants to play professionally in the future. But his parents think that this isn’t a real job and wants him to be a teacher. But Nick refuses to do that. The author’s craft is that Alexander purposely made Nick and his dad the totally opposite. “Dad’s back in town which means you’re in his study surrounded by ten-foot walls lined with books. You’re thinking of April/Dallas/Anything to avoid reading” (32). This reveals how his dad is into books and reading, but Nick is the totally opposite of him. He is thinking about his soccer tournament in Dallas instead of reading. The purpose of Alexander doing this, is to show the relationship of Nick and his dad.
Another example is when Nick and his dad get in an argument about reading. “Do me a favor and stop complaining about trying to be excellent. Whatever, you mumble” (36). Nick and his dad have different points of views towards school. Nick thinks that education is okay, but it won’t help him when he just wants to play soccer. Nick’s dad wants him to take school more seriously and wants him to do something different besides soccer. If Nick gets the opportunity to play professional soccer, his dad won’t support him as much. But if Nick becomes a teacher, his dad would love that, but Nick won’t enjoy it.
Lastly, the author purposely made them opposites, because when Nick’s dad is in town, all they do is read, and that is not how Nick wants to spend the whole weekend doing. “ You sneak your phone out while he’s glued to some book by a guy named Rousseau, who ironically according to Wikipedia is quoted as having said, I hate books” (36-37). Nick hates reading, and
will do anything to get out of it, even if that means to get yelled at. Nick can’t focus and read for 10 minutes, but his dad can read for hours. This proves how Alexander did this to show conflict and tension between the two characters.

This student, although they did not say so, is identifying the foil characteristic between these two characters. Although they did not identify the actual phenomenon, they describe it accurately and provide textual evidence that illustrate it. More importantly, they identified an appropriate standard for their response. There are parts in this response that could be edited for more serious works. However, overall, this satisfies the rubric and shows student understanding of this particular standard. This response also satisfies parts of writing standard W.8.1.

In the following sample, this student earned a 1 on the rubric.

In Ali by Johnathon Eig, Ali masters the cobra punch. Only a very couple of boxers can cobra punch and that’s because it’s such a difficult punch and it’s so efficient. If someone gets stroked with the cobra punch they will most likely fall to the ground (K.O) or they will seriously tame damage causing them to be more hurt during the game.

Ali takes a lot of rime throughout the story to master this punch. He would train and train and train just to try and master this punch. His trainer thought it was a stupid idea but Ali promised that when he had mastered it no one would be able to stop him.

Ali had an upcoming fight later on in the night and he was feeling nervous. He wasn’t sure what would happen considering the fact that he was only training for the phantom punch and he hadn’t even mastered it. The fight had come up and Ali was getting destroyed. Getting hit here and there and there was nothing to do about it. Ali had overheard the trainers talking about how he doesn’t know anything and how he should have listened. Once he had heard that he started to get furious. He finally started to get some hits on his openent and out of no where, he had done it. So quick no one could even see it. He phantom bunch the openent and he fell hard to the floor. Ali had done it. The phantom punch.

It is clear that this student read their book and understands the plot. However, this entire response is summary. When I look at it, the first thing I notice is that there are no quotation marks or citations. This means there cannot be analysis. There are also several misspellings and formatting issues.


Although I consider this to be a successful assessment, there are things that I think I could do better. For example, the final category, adherence to the standard, should probably be worth more than, say, formatting. However, one could easily argue that presentation or formatting are as equally important as the material itself. Students struggle the most when they are trying to find evidence to support their claims. This becomes somewhat of a snowball effect. If a student picks an appropriate quote, their analysis is more likely to be strong, and their connection to the standard is more likely to be strong as well. On the other hand, if a student picks a weak quote, their analysis and connection to the standard are also likely to be weak. That’s why there aren’t many grades in the middle. Perhaps that’s a flaw I should acknowledge and try to fix.

I suspect that some teachers would be hesitant to adopt an assessment like this, as it takes a lot of the control out of the teachers’ hands. In a typical classroom, the teacher prescribes the text, the teacher chooses (or the curriculum chooses) the standards addressed, and the teacher or district crafts the assessment. Here, however, all of this is flipped. I look back at my old assessments. I once gave a test on The Great Gatsby, full of silly multiple choice questions. One question read, “It is rumored that Jay Gatsby is related to…” and one of the choices were Hollywood Hulk Hogan. Of course there were students who couldn’t help their silliness and would select it, sacrificing their points. Then, there were the easy questions, designed to “give the kid a break.” What sense does it make? How is it helping a student to make some parts of the assessment so easy just to build points and the rest of it difficult enough to push them back down? Just so you could say, “Well at least he got a few points,” as if it’s a game of Donkey Kong. You don’t need multiple choice questions and giveaways to read a student’s writing and gleam from it that they don’t understand the book to the extend they are expected.

One common question I get is: How do you know a student is reading their book? In general, you just know. If you look at the examples posted above, it is clear that both students are reading their books, albeit with differing levels of understanding and analysis. It can sometimes be difficult to parse the accuracy of a student’s understanding of a text. However, even then, it would be illustrative of exceptional writing ability for a student to just make it all up and make it convincing enough to pass as real. A student would have (im)properly earned that 100 if they were able to do so successfully.

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