Assessment: It’s not a snapshot, it’s a photo album

When teachers are introducing and facilitating learning, they are continually thinking about how to assess and evaluate student performance. Within a lesson, teachers are generally asking the following questions:

  • Can the student show evidence of mastery?
  • Can the student apply the skills to a variety of learning situations?
  • Is the student progressing toward new performance standards and benchmarks?

A “traditional assessment” evaluating student achievement might look at a student’s ability to recall facts and might focus primarily on short-term memory. The most common traditional assessment methods include multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, matching questions, and essays.

In Colorado Academy’s Lower School, we have embraced an approach that broadens the scope of assessment within the classroom setting. Student performance is evaluated in myriad ways and includes feedback from peers and teachers. Think of it as the difference between a photo album and a snapshot. A snapshot shows a child in one moment. A photo album shows the child on many days in many different ways over a period of time. Our Lower School teachers have learned that capturing a student’s true performance comes from multiple assessment formats that demonstrate true understanding and produce a “photo album.”


We ask students to troubleshoot and solve a problem, create a product, or construct a response that demonstrates a skill, process, or concept. This type of assessment is most commonly presented as a long-term project and may require students to work in a collaborative group.


We ask students to make a variety of presentations, including ones that are brief and simple or long and complex. They are typically assigned for a specific day and as a product, like a brochure, prototype, booklet, paper, or display board that accompanies the presentation.


Skilled teachers collect information about students performing various activities without interrupting the learning process. They use checklists, rating scales, rubrics, and notebooks to collect data and use what they learn to help a child progress.


Teachers can interview students to ascertain a level of understanding. The teacher evaluates the student’s responses and determines the student’s level of mastery.


Evaluating can be a two-way street. In conferences, teacher and student engage in a dialogue to assess progress on a specific goal or benchmark.


Students should have an opportunity to reflect on their own work, performance, and development. This form of assessment allows students to develop critical thinking and evaluative skills that lead to independent learning.

 Peer assessment

By the time students enter Grades 4 and 5, they are able to evaluate their peers’ work and performance. When they do that, they see alternative ways of thinking and solving problems.


Journals are a form of record-keeping for students to respond to knowledge or skills specific to a benchmark. Teachers and students may use journals to assess the development of a skill.

When teachers complete a report card checklist and write the narrative section for a student, they use many of these different forms of assessment to provide parents with a clear, accurate perspective relating to skills, concepts, and application. As a school, we value the many formats of assessment more than merely a “letter grade” to communicate how a student is learning and performing. We embrace the “photo album” over the “snapshot,” because it tells us more about the whole child’s progress and helps us plan for future learning.