Considering Learning Targets to Ensure Standards-Based Assessment

Part and parcel to creating clear learning targets for students is ensuring that there is a well-defined link between learning targets and the assessment of student achievement. When assessment doesn’t have a strong grounding in the taught curriculum, students can experience confusion and frustration as they spend weeks working their way through a swath of assignments only to be confronted with an unrelated assessment. Chapter three in Chappuis, Stiggins, Chappuis, & Arter (2012, p. 43) lists three key questions to keep in mind when creating clear targets:

  • Are learning targets clear to teachers?
  • What kinds of achievement are to be assessed?
  • Are these learning targets the focus of instruction?

Thinking about “What kinds of achievement are to be assessed” is a good beginning. However, though seemingly a simple task upon first glance, classifying learning targets accurately can be tricky. Keeping in mind that, “The key question in classifying targets is “What is the intended learning?” not “How will students demonstrate it?” (Chappuis, et al., 2012, p. 57) is one way to address uncertainty. According to the reading, there are five learning targets types. They are knowledge, reasoning, skill, product, and disposition learning targets (p. 44).

I have to admit that I am still refining my skills in articulating clear learning targets in assessment that are directly tied to standards-based assessment. I think this is due in part to working in four different schools in five years; my longest tenure has been two years at the same school. While I am grateful for the variety of grades, subjects and curriculums that I have experience with (and the countries I’ve taught them in), it has been difficult not to have the clarity of hindsight. Instead of being able to shape and apply what I have learned, I’ve had to start all over again nearly every year. Teaching in international schools can be quite transitory.

I did work in Mongolia for two years at an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School as a Grade Five classroom teacher. Unfortunately, the curriculum was in such disarray when I arrived that it took two full years to rewrite. I had to rework math, language arts and six units of inquiry in addition to learning the IB philosophy of teaching. During my second year in Mongolia, the primary school adopted a new math curriculum as well. I lament the lost opportunity to bring my ideas to their fullest fruition; however, I can see where I made progress in matching assessment to defined learning targets over the course of two years.

My artifacts are from a unit of inquiry called Persuasion. In the International Baccalaureate (IB), inquiry drives the written and taught curriculum and is guided through six interdisciplinary themes (The International Baccalaureate, 2012)

  • Who we are
  • Where we are in place and time
  • How we express ourselves
  • How the world works
  • How we organize ourselves
  • Sharing the planet

The guiding principles of assessment, according to the IBO are as follows:

“Assessment is an important part of each unit of inquiry as it both enhances learning and provides opportunities for students to reflect on what they know, understand and can do. The teacher’s feedback to the students provides the guidance, the tools and the incentive for them to become more competent, more skillful and better at understanding how to learn” (2012).

Before beginning each unit of inquiry, I would spend some time with the Primary Years Programme (PYP) curriculum coordinator creating my Unit planner. We would craft a central idea, identify learner profiles and key concepts to target, and create three guiding principles of inquiry. My three inquiries were (1) The purpose of advertisements (2) How the media forms perception (3) Techniques that are used to persuade. Each unit began with teacher provocations, typically three, that functioned as a roadmap for the unit’s taught curriculum and assessment. The art teacher was a good friend and excellent at curricular collaboration (a key component of the PYP program) so each unit typically had either a formative or summative (or both) assessment tied to visual art. I believe that each of the five learning type targets was hit upon throughout the unit. This was made easier with the art integration (skill and product) and focus on the Learner Profile in the IB (disposition targets).

After teaching common persuasive advertising techniques, one of my first formative assessments was a simple assignment, “go home and try to persuade your parents to give/allow you to do something that they normally wouldn’t.” The next day, students shared their experience before filling-out a parental persuasion reflection form. My learning target was knowledge-based; did they know the different advertising techniques concepts well enough to choose which one would be most effect, and then use it successfully on their parents? In hindsight, I wonder if I could also add reasoning as a target as well? Students had to synthesize their understanding of persuasive techniques with their parents’ disposition and tolerance towards unexpected requests to get what they requested. I was surprised at the number of students that were able to identify the persuasive technique they had used and were successful; one students was able to persuade her parents to buy her a new laptop!

Another formative assessment was tied directly to the lines of inquiry the purpose of advertisements and techniques that are used to persuade. I had students go to a website that taught about how kids are targets of the media. They learned about how “kid-friendly”, free websites often are grooming them to be consumers of a particular product. The techniques we focused on were; theme and setting, slogans, characters, activities, and online incentives and freebies. After learning about these techniques on the web activity, their assignment was to design and draw a picture of their own website that used each of the techniques with the purpose of advertising a brand new cereal (figure 1). Their website was scored based on having each of the listed techniques (knowledge and reasoning) and for visual features such as use of color and design (product and skill). After thinking about the purpose of assessment being tied to learning targets, I wonder if I should have included product and skill targets as part of my assessment. I do think that intent and care taken in design is important, but I’m not sure that I should have considered these targets in terms of assessment since this assignment was not an art-integration project. I guess that I am still working-out exactly what I should assess when.

Figure 1

The summative assessment was an assignment art integrated project that asked students to design a parody of an advertisement; I was looking to assess their understanding of the inquiries: how the media forms perception and techniques that are used to persuade. Selecting the advertisement they wanted to work with, the identification of the persuasive message, and an initial sketch of their parody were completed in my class. Their final parody was finished in art class. When I look back on this assignment, I am pleased with the results; to varying degrees most students were able to understand what it meant to create a parody that demonstrated there understanding of perception and persuasive techniques ( figure 2). I focused the formal assessment of this project to the art teacher; we developed a Visual Aid Rubric that focused on product and skill. My assessment was conducted through a whole class sharing of work followed by mini conferences with each student. During the conference, I probed for their understanding of parody and asked them to identify the advertising technique they focused on. I do feel like I should have given students a clear rubric of how I assessed their knowledge and reasoning learning targets.

figure 2

There were a number of other formative assessments in this unit that utilized technology and writing in addition to the art focus.  As I look back and reflect on how well my assessments matched my standards (inquiry points in this case) I can see where I made some missteps in matching my learning targets to assessment. As I continue to grow as a teacher and educator, I will have more opportunities to work on shaping my learning targets to ensure that my assessments are fair and accurate reflection of the taught curriculum.


Chappuis, J., Stiggins, R., Chappuis, S., & Arter, J. (2012).  Classroom assessment for student learning: Doing it right, using it well. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

The International Baccalaureate (2012) The IB Primary Years Programme. Retrieved from


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