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Building Simpler and More Efficient Assessment

Curtis Greeley


     When I first began teaching, I thought that I would spend the majority of my time helping students to gain skills and think critically about history. Now, ten years later, I laugh at myself for having been so naïve. It quickly became apparent to me that I would spend the lion's share of my time creating and evaluating assessments rather than planning instruction or actually teaching history!

     To reserve as much time as possible for planning and teaching, I became obsessed with streamlining the evaluation process. To find tools, I explored resources and training available through The Leadership and Learning Center1 the Conference for Critical Thinking2, and participated in the AP World History Reading (since 2003). All have helped me successfully develop my own assessments and scoring tools.

     The secret to creating a good assessment and scoring tools is to first communicate clear expectations to students. This holds true for an essay, a project, a presentation, or any other work. Expectations should be spelled out both quantitatively and qualitatively. For example, if students are to make comparisons, demand that students clearly identify three similarities and three differences for the assigned topic. Either the students meet this condition or they don't.

     Further, build scoring guides around a set of core proficiencies. At the base of this method is the idea that students need to demonstrate clear and precise thinking through their efforts.3 Or as Bill Zeigler once asked, "How sophisticated is the thought and how well is it communicated?4" Create as few as four or as many proficiencies that you feel you need to be demonstrated in the performance of some kind of task.

     For instance, I have created the following scoring guide for the AP World History Review Project, which, in this course, is a graded performance assessment.

Figure 1

     Student work must demonstrate all proficiencies to be considered “Exemplary”. In essence, they "graduate" from the Proficient to the Exemplary criteria. To give students a clear idea of the assignment’s expectations, give students a copy of the scoring guide before they complete the assignment or task.

     If the student fails to address or achieve one of the proficiencies, then the work is evaluated as Progressing. If the student fails to meet two or more of the proficiencies, then the work is evaluated as Not Meeting Standard5. These scoring guides are particularly effective as feedback for students, and provide guidance for revision.

     I have also created my own operational scoring guides based on the guides used at the AP World History exam reading6, guides that expland on the “core scoring” principle found in the AP World History Course Description7. I also have saved time by giving each student a list of common errors, checking off those errors that appeared in that student’s essay.

Figure 1

Copyright © 2003 by College Entrance Examination Board. All rights reserved. Used with permission. AP® and Advanced Placement Program® are registered trademarks of the College Board.


     For AP World History essays, such common errors include document interpretations/misinterpretations, groupings, and relevant/irrelevant points of view. To identify major weaknesses in a paper, I write get brief questions such as "Why did he do that?" or "How can we verify this?" Other than that, I give feedback by circling criteria that weren't met or checking off those that were. Research has indicated that for feedback of assessment to be most meaningful, students need to receive that feedback within three days. Because of this streamlined process, students have immediate feedback – with practice, each student assignment may only take 1-4 minutes to evaluate. It is well known that teachers need to provide students the opportunity to demonstrate their level of thought through writing.

     By using these strategies and techniques, a teacher can set aside time to plan, teach, maintain a personal life and continue to offer students a ample writing opportunities within a rigorous, challenging academic experience. By using these techniques, you will give yourself an opportunity to create some balance in your own life, as I have in my own.

Curtis Greeley is an Advanced Placement World History Teacher at Righetti High School in Santa Maria, California. He can be contacted at



1 See

2 See

3 See Drs. Elder, Linda and Richard Paul, The Thinkers Guide to Analytic Thinking (Critical Thinking Foundation, 2007).

4 Pacific Advanced Placement Institute, Advanced Placement World history Conference. Presenter: Bill Zeigler, 2001.

5 See Ainsworth, Larry B. and Donald J. Viegut, Common Formative Assessments: How to Connect Standards-Based Instruction and Assessment (Corwin Press, 2006).

6 See

7 See



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