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Tool: Using a standards-based analysis protocol

Purpose of this tool: This tool provides a standards-based protocol for analyzing student work. A protocol is a carefully planned and structured way of examining student work with one’s colleagues. Protocols are helpful because they force attention on learning as much as possible by disrupting the tendency to move directly to evaluation and advice. Protocols specify who speaks when and who listens when. They clearly distinguish between describing and judging, and between advising and giving feedback. As such, protocols provide a structure that helps reduce the anxiety teachers can experience when sharing their students’ work with others. Student work can reveal both what teachers have and have not accomplished. By structuring analysis and talk, protocols keep the focus on teachers learning from the work rather than judging students and each other.

How to use this tool: Group members should review the protocol before the meeting so that they are prepared to engage in its various steps. Since teachers encounter a range of problems of practice as they work with particular students and in their unique school contexts, your group may want to consider using other protocols. You can find these in the sources listed at the bottom of this page. Adapt this protocol and others to meet your specific needs.


Standards-based protocol for analyzing student work

The central goals of a standards-based approach to analyzing student work with colleagues is to help teachers: 1) assess their instruction by identifying the gaps between their students’ learning and local/state learning standards, and 2) develop approaches that will help all their students meet the standards. This approach encourages teachers to use standards as a tool for conversation and reflection rather than as prescriptions or mandates. By having teachers engage with the standards, it encourages them to construct shared understandings of the standards and their shared critiques.

The presenting teacher comes to the meeting with an assignment and student work samples. The teacher begins by sharing the assignment materials. These can include assignment sheets and other relevant materials. The teacher describes how the assignment fits into the larger instructional unit or yearlong curriculum and provides information on the students and any relevant contextual information.

The group analyzes the demands of the assignment. Teachers consider what students have to know and be able to do to complete the assignment successfully and what difficulties students are likely to encounter.

The group then identifies the state and/or local learning standards that apply to the assignment. The presenting teacher should share the rubric or scoring guide that s/he used to evaluate the student work. The group examines the rubric and compares it to the learning standards.

The group moves next to examine the samples of student work. The presenting teacher should bring a set of students’ work that ranges from below standards to exceeds standards. Teachers examine the work using both the learning standards and the teacher’s rubric to identify where the gaps between the standards and the students’ performances lie to determine the difficulties students appear to have had in completing the assignment, to determine students’ engagement in the assignment and to assess the quality of the teachers’ assessment plan. The group can use the Analyzing student work grid for this task.

Based on their analysis of the student work, the teachers generate ideas that the presenting teacher can use to revise the assignment, to address students’ learning difficulties and to plan for future instruction.

See also the Agenda for a standards-based discussion of student work.


Sources for other protocols:

McDonald, J.P., Mohr, N., Dichter, A., & McDonald, E.C. (2003). The Power of Protocols. New York: Teachers College Press, 27-28.
The National School Reform Faculty

Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University. Tools for school improvement and Looking at student work

Northwest Regional Educational Lab. (2003). Listening to student voices.

Coalition for Essential Schools. Looking collaboratively at student work: An essential toolkit by Kathleen Cushman.