Informing Instruction with Holistic Assessment

January 5, 2021

By: Heavenly Montgomery, NBCT

Great teachers dedicate time to learn about their students. Getting a holistic picture of each child allows proficient educators to design instruction to meet specific needs. The COVID 19 pandemic has put new obstacles between teachers and students that seem insurmountable at times. I am impressed with the way some educators have adjusted amid turmoil and suffering. Initially, the threat of federal accountability loomed large, as if there was not enough for teachers and students to bear. Formative assessment is more critical than ever. The majority of teachers in the nation are working hard to meet student needs and deserve that trust. Holistic assessment is helping us address gaps in learning by meeting each student where they are. We know that students are losing ground during these unprecedented times, but we must stay encouraged and do what we know works to fill those gaps. 

Educators have supported students in remarkable ways. We have increased our awareness and expertise with digital learning tools with break-neck speed. Teachers and school leaders have also honed pathways to assess student well-being and unlock social-emotional learning at a distance. We know that standardized assessments are not the ultimate means of assessing student learning. So many educators are seizing the opportunity to shift to more holistic means of evaluating students. Teachers that I collaborate with suggest using multiple forms of data to inform instructional practice. Holistic assessment practice considers students’ academic, cultural, and social-emotional needs. 

In the past, I was able to talk to my students and determine their needs. I knew how they were feeling and what they were learning. I could walk around and take anecdotal notes during student discussion groups or “think pair share” exchanges. I could read my students’ frustration and detect that they missed breakfast and offer them something to eat. I could see them squinting and request a vision screening. If the family could not afford glasses, I could ask for support from a school social worker who could provide eyewear certificates. I was connecting with my students and assessing them informally and formally. I knew that I had to help students get their basic needs met before I could move on to engage them in instruction. Over time I learned to employ holistic assessment strategies to see what my students needed. I also learned to scan the environment in my school district and community to see how I could get help for them. Many of those opportunities are not possible in our current environment.

Distance learning requires teachers to reinvent holistic formative assessment practices. The urgency of our times also pushes educators to embrace new opportunities and resources for holistic assessment. 

Social-Emotional Well–Being

Reflective educators analyze all of the essential components of child well-being that impact learning. We are observing the evolution of student learning as peers navigate distance learning. We share innovations and insights with our peers on social media and education conferences. Conversations are still happening in virtual morning meetings to develop a circle of support between peers. My colleagues are showing their commitment by calling students and having one-on-one check-ins. Colleagues have shared that students need time to meditate, talk, and heal in a time of isolation. Academics can’t be the sole focus with a pandemic going on. Free mindfulness technology applications are available for schools to support our emotional well-being. 

Academic Well-Being

Teachers are monitoring students with engaging questioning techniques on digital meeting platforms. There are a myriad of digital platforms for students. It is more challenging when students do not have access to devices and the internet. Constant outreach is occurring every day. Face-to-face and digital students are engaging in questions in simultaneous environments. Students are snapping photos of artwork, writing, and completing math tasks placing them in a digital notebook to meet the expectations in a rubric. Educators are focused on assessing students holistically and we will not allow singular assessments to define them. 

Cultural Well-Being

The Black Lives Matter movement has increased conversations about culturally competent instruction. Assess yourself to remove internal barriers to providing the best instruction for your students. The Teaching Tolerance website has tools to support engaging in culturally competent anti-racist instruction as well as self-assessments for educators. 

When you know more about the identity of the students you teach it is so important to weave their culture throughout your daily lessons. Every culture has contributed greatly to every content area. Lift those contributions up to uplift the students.

Heavenly Montgomery, NBCT

Heavenly Montgomery is a passionate educator who empowers teachers and school leaders with resources to meet the needs of all students. As an educational consultant, she has collaborated with teachers and school leaders throughout the United States and Canada. Her previous educational experiences include elementary school teaching, an instructional coach, a mentor teacher, and a K-12 district program specialist. She has served students in culturally, ethnically, and linguistically diverse communities in Georgia. Heavenly is dual certified to teach in the elementary grades (K-5) as well as secondary reading and English Language Arts (6-12). She is also a National Board Certified Teacher (Middle Childhood Generalist), a Georgia Master Teacher (Instructional Coaching), and a Learning Forward Academy Graduate. Mrs. Montgomery also participated in the University of Virginia Partnership for Leaders in Education to support district turnaround efforts. She holds a Master's degree in Early Childhood Education from Mercer University and an Education Specialists degree in Educational Leadership from Capella University. She advocates for Accomplished teaching as the founder of the Georgia Teacher Leader Consortium National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Network Affiliate. She enjoys living in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and two children.