Teachers teach and students learn. At least, that’s the assumption we make in schools every day. But how do you know that what are you doing as a teacher really works with your students? Determining impact involves more than just entries in a gradebook. Tracking a student’s growth over time is a complex matter and relies very much on teachers working together to understand cause and effect – what influences learning and the size of the impact on learning.

Visible Learning was introduced by John Hattie, an Australian education researcher, in 2009.  Hattie was interested in identifying effective and ineffective educational practices in an effort to make learning more visible for teachers and students. Visible learning encourages teachers to see learning through the eyes of students to help them become active learners. Hattie’s Visible Learning project is a meta-study, an examination of a variety of different instructional practices, that seeks to quantify the effectiveness of those practices to better understand what works and why.


Hattie compared effect sizes of many aspects that influence learning outcomes. Interestingly, Hattie points out that in education most approaches work. The question is which ones work best; this in turn points to where we should concentrate our efforts. Applying Hattie’s method requires pre-testing before instruction and post-testing after instruction to measure the difference. Determining an effect size requires some calculation: determine a standard deviation among student scores then subtract pre-assessment from post assessment outcomes and divide by the standard deviation. This results in an effect size.

Hattie determined that an effect size of .40 is generally the equivalent of one year of growth. The greater the effect size, the stronger the influence. By categorizing influences or approaches to instruction, Hattie created size. Hattie continues to update his list to include more data and presents various organizations of the list to help educators better understand Hattie’s 2018 updated list of factors related to achievement; a 2017 spreadsheet allows users to sort by influence, aspect, factor and effect size; a list can also be found in each text that presents Visible Learning.


Hattie’s research and methodology provides a context for determining growth and what influences that growth. Perhaps most significant about Hattie’s work is that it reveals the highly effective practices to enhance and encourage, thus making better use of limited time and resources. Focusing professional learning and instructional time on the most effective practices maximizes learning and supports catch-up growth. Visible Learning also enhances formative assessment practices by connecting them to growth monitoring.


In 2016, well-respected American literacy researchers Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey teamed up with John Hattie to publish Visible Learning for Literacy: Implementing the Practices That Work Best to Accelerate Student Learning. This text takes a deep dive into Hattie’s work as it applies specifically to ELA/literacy. Fisher, Frey, and Hattie demonstrate instructional moves and note their effect sizes throughout the text. Building on the Text Dependent Questions: Pathways to Close and Critical Reading, an earlier Fisher and Frey text, Visible Learning for Literacy moves students from surface, to deep, to transfer level learning with the most effective practices, as suggested by Hattie’s work.

In 2018, Maine DOE’s Summer Literacy Institute, Promote Positive Impact/Accelerate Student Literacy with Visible Learning, will focus on the application of Hattie’s Visible Learning research to literacy instruction. This two-day event will prepare ELA/literacy teachers and leaders to explore the concepts of Visible Learning to enhance instruction and improve student outcomes. Fisher and Frey associates Marisol Thayre and Olivia Amador-Valerio will lead the institute, providing first-hand experience at both the elementary and secondary levels to demonstrate effective practices that lead to significant growth. Seats are limited; register today. Share this flyer with your colleagues!

For further study of Visible Learning:

Teaching Literacy in the Visible Learning Classroom, K-5

Teaching Literacy in the Visible Learning Classroom, 6-12

Developing Assessment-Capable Visible Learners, K-12

10 Mindframes for Visible Learning: Teaching for Success Book

10 Mindframes for Visible Learning: Teaching for Success, Video, Dr. John Hattie explains why midframes are critical to the implementation of his research.

Writing Assessment: Composing the Essay

Maine’s writing assessment takes two forms: the writing and language test focuses on analyzing the author’s craft and editing skills while the essay evaluates a student’s ability to compose. The essay has changed a great deal in the last 20 years. These changes reflect the current ELA standards, research about college and career readiness, and the influence of technology on writing. A brief snapshot of the evolution of grade 11 writing reveals a move from creative modes of writing to information-based writing. Scoring is now done with an analytic rubric, moving away from the holistic rubric in favor of a more detailed evaluation.

Grade 11: SAT Essay

When College Board updated the SAT in 2016, the essay moved out of the standard form and became optional for students. Maine students in grade 11 taking the SAT for accountability purposes must complete the essay. The SAT analytic essay measures three dimensions: reading, analysis, and writing. SAT Test Design Specifications include the following overall claim for the essay: Students demonstrate college and career readiness proficiency in producing a cogent and clear written analysis using evidence drawn from an appropriately challenging source text written for a broad audience. The source text will be an argument 650-750 words long and appropriately complex for secondary study. The prompt directs students to explain how the author builds the argument and cautions them not to explain whether they agree or disagree with the author’s claims.

SAT Analytic Rubric

Reading: The Reading dimension encompasses students’ comprehension of a source text, including the text’s central ideas and important details and how they interrelate. Students demonstrate their skill in comprehension in part by making effective use of evidence (quotations, paraphrases, or both) from the source text.

Analysis: The Analysis dimension encompasses students’ evaluation of an author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/ or features of the text of the students’ own choosing. Students demonstrate their skill in analysis in part by using relevant, sufficient, and strategically chosen support for the claims or points they make and by focusing consistently on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task.

Writing: The Writing dimension encompasses the cohesiveness of students’ written response to the task as well as students’ use of language. Students demonstrate their skill in writing in part by providing a precise central claim; creating an effective organization and progression of ideas; successfully employing a variety of sentence structures; using precise word choice; maintaining an appropriate style and tone; and showing command of the conventions of Standard Written English.

The role of citation in on-demand writing

Every day in our classrooms we impress upon students the need to always cite sources when using information and excerpts from any source. In an on-demand situation with limited sources (in this case, one source) repeated citation can be quite disruptive to the flow and form of the essay. In this instance, a single source of information with limited time to respond, it is sufficient to reference the article without the standard parenthetical citations.

Essay: eMPower

Students in grades 6-8 will complete an essay that asks them to read a pair of passages and respond to an essential question. The prompt may ask students to compare information within the passages or to analyze the way the author(s) present the information. Students must use evidence from both passages to receive full score for their response.

Students in grades 3-5 are asked to develop an informational or opinion essay that is related to the pieces they have read and from which they should draw evidence to support their responses.

It is important to note that students do not need to adhere to formal citation in this setting. Since source materials are provided, simply referencing “passage 1” or including the title of the passage within the response is quite sufficient. Formal citation should be used in classroom instruction when students have more information about the source, select various sources, and have time to use reference resources to develop formal citation. Rubrics do not include consideration for formal citation.

The Measured Progress essay measure four traits of writing:

  • development and elaboration of ideas
  • organization
  • language use and vocabulary
  • command of conventions

Modes of Writing

A single mode of writing will be assessed at each grade level. The follow descriptions reflect proficient writing within the mode at each grade.

Argument Writing: Grades 6 & 8

The student response establishes a precise claim with substantial, logical support from the text provided. The essay demonstrates coherence and clarity with a clear structure and effective transitions. The essay maintains a formal style and contains few errors. The grade 8 essay provides a strong counterclaim that is not required of grade 6.

Informational Writing: Grade 7

The student response for an informational essay is scored much the same as with an argument. The essay demonstrates thorough, logical development of a task with effective use of the sources provided. The essay demonstrates coherence and clarity with a clear structure and effective transitions. The essay maintains a formal style, uses precise and effective language, and contains few errors.

Opinion Writing: Grade 5

The student response provides a focused opinion in support of the task with specific and convincing evidence from sources. The essay is clear and coherent with a logical progression of ideas and contains few errors.

Informational Writing: Grades 3 & 4

The student response provides a thorough development of ideas in support of the task with specific and relevant evidence from sources. The essay is clear and coherent with a logical progression of ideas, uses precise and effective language, and contains few errors.

NEWSELA Learning and Support: Search by topic to find paired passages. NEWSELA also provides ready-made prompts. When you have an account, you can have students respond digitally and collect them in your digital binder.

READWORKS: Select “paired text” to find lists of paired passages at various levels of text complexity. Search by topic or key word and sort by text type and Lexile level to find appropriate pairs of texts for your students. Sets include questions to accompany the articles.





The Writing Revolution: A Guide to Advancing Thinking Through Writing in All Subjects and Grades

The Writing Revolution

By Judith C. Hochman and Natalie Wexler

The Writing Revolution (TWR) provides a clear method of instruction that you can use no matter what subject or grade level you teach. The model, also known as The Hochman Method, has demonstrated, over and over, that it can turn weak writers into strong communicators by focusing on specific techniques that match their needs and by providing them with targeted feedback.


Writing, Language Development, and Assessment

Maine’s writing assessment in grades 3-8 and 11 includes a section called “writing and language” as well as an essay component.  While there are some differences between the eMPower (3-8) assessment and the SAT (11), the writing and language sections are very similar across the grade span. The similarities include:

  • The writing and language test is entirely passage-based meaning there are no stand-alone items.
  • It is also a selected response (multiple choice) construct.
  • Students make revision choices about the content to address precision, style, purpose, organization, vocabulary, and knowledge of standard English conventions.
  • Sequenced items may be related: one asks for a correct response and the next item looks for the best evidence to support that response.

Where the 3-8 assessment differs from grade 11 is in the sub-score reporting. eMPower reports with an overall score for writing and language with revising narrative text or revising expository/informational text as a sub-score category. Both report on the use of conventions.  Sub-score data can be obtained in the MAARS portal on the confidential side with appropriate permissions.

Through the College Board assessment reporting website, SAT school day data can be viewed and sorted into several categories: words in context, expression of ideas, command of evidence, and English language conventions. SAT sub-scores include analysis in history/social studies or analysis in science which include items from reading, writing and language, and math. At the College Board site, scores can be sorted by score range or by difficulty level as well.

Because the writing assessment is entirely passage based, resources that support close reading are effective to help improve writing skills.

  • Reading Like a Writer provides a structure for reading closely to examine author’s craft. Instructions for making the task a formative assessment are included.
  • Writing to Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading While reading and writing are closely connected, writing is an often-overlooked tool for improving reading skills and content learning. This study identifies three core instructional practices proven to be effective in improving student reading.
  • Writing for Understanding Sequences. The Vermont Writing Collaborative has vetted a collection of content-based reading and writing tasks aligned to the Common Core State Standards.  The lesson sequences were created by educators, are available in grades K-12 and integrate with a variety of subject areas including science, social studies and math.

One area that persistently needs attention is transitions. An effective transition reflects a deep understanding of evidence and enhances connections within a text.

Other helpful resources that help to develop discrete writing skills:

  • In Common provides a range of examples of Common Core-aligned student work, drawn directly from K-12 classrooms across the country.
  • Peer Edit Protocol  A model for helping students learn how to edit a partner’s paper. Modify as necessary according to your needs. This instructional tool can also be used as formative assessment.

Maine’s Writing Assessment

Maine’s state assessment for English language arts (ELA) has always included writing, placing great value on the act of composing.  Beginning in 2018, writing will be assessed through two sections of the ELA test—the writing & language section and the essay.  Additionally, the essay score will be included in the school accountability formula.  Although inclusion of an essay component adds time to test administration and scoring, it increases the breadth of writing standards being measured and provides opportunity for students to compose original text—a skill that is necessary for success in post-secondary education and highly valued in the workplace.  In this discussion, we will take a closer look at what assessment of writing includes in grades 3-8 and 11. Our next blog will discuss instructional practices and provide some helpful tools and resources.

For grade 11 students taking the SAT, College Board considers the essay optional but Maine requires students complete the essay for accountability. The current iteration of the SAT essay is quite different from the essay on the previous SAT. For historical perspective, see The Evolution of Grade 11 Writing Assessment. This document presents one of the last MEA grade 11 prompts alongside one of the prompts from the previous version of SAT, and a sample of a current essay item. Learn more about the SAT essay including how it is scored by visiting this College Board essay resource. This link will also take you to sample essay prompts.

The Writing and Language portion of the SAT assesses a student’s ability to analyze the effectiveness of the author’s style. Students also select corrections and edits to improve a piece. Read this explanation of the Writing and language Test from College Board. Professional Development Modules support enhanced understanding of the SAT including key features, exploration of the components of the subs-core categories, and how to connect with Khan Academy. Note that the entire test is passage based meaning everything from vocabulary to word choice is measured in the context of reading a short passage. Access the Fall 2017 SAT workshop materials which include directions for facilitating professional learning using the materials .

Writing assessment in grades 3-8 utilizes a structure similar to that of the SAT. Students complete a writing and language test that is based on a passage and is entirely a selected response (multiple choice) test. Sample eMPower Writing and Language items can be found on the Maine DOE website. In 2018, the assessment will include an essay which is also passage based. Students will read a short pair of passages and respond to a prompt that asks for evidence from both passages. Like the SAT essay, the eMPower essay is scored with an analytic rubric  which can be found on the Maine DOE website.

The modes of writing for grades 3-8 essay writing will be consistent. Grades 3,4 and 7 students will write informational/expository essays consistent with writing standard #2. Grade 5 students will write an opinion essay while grades 6 and 8 students will write an argument, all three consistent with writing standard #1. All essays are passage-based, requiring students to use information from the texts provided in their responses. See how the essay analytic rubric aligns to ELA standards in this chart.

Contact Morgan Dunton (grades 6-12 ELA specialist) or Lee Anne Larsen (grades PK – 5 Literacy specialist) with questions or to request professional support.

Reading Assessment: Elevating the Role of the Evidence-based Response

The evolution of Maine’s state level reading assessment has led to some key design changes to measure reading standards.  These changes are informed by research and fueled by a commitment to the best interest of students. Understanding the evolution of reading assessment and what that means for classroom practice is key to helping students grow and prepare for what comes after high school: work, school, and life.

One significant change in Maine reading assessment is the evidence-based response. Questions have always been text-based, meaning that students need to demonstrate an ability to make meaning of the text they read independently. and then answer questions that require little or no outside knowledge to respond correctly. New to the reading assessment design is the evidence-based selected response item.  Maine’s reading assessment for grades 3-8, eMPower, includes two-part questions that ask first for students to identify a correct answer demonstrating comprehension, then to respond to a question asking them to identify the best evidence to support the correct answer. This item construct is also evident on the updated SAT (since spring 2016) with sequential items that also ask for the best evidence to support the previous item.

Another change to the reading assessment format is the use of paired passages and questions, utilizing both selected and constructed response constructs, that require students to synthesize and analyze elements across passages.

Close reading habits that encourage careful analysis, especially of the author’s craft and rhetoric, will help students identify the best evidence to demonstrate understanding. Developing consistent strategies for engaging with sufficiently complex texts is essential. Whether its annotation, think-aloud modeling, or directed discussion, close reading habits will help students grow as readers. Further, designing instructional experiences in which students are reading multiple texts connected to the same topic and then engaging in comparison of various aspects of the texts affords students with the opportunity to sharpen their analytic skills while also building knowledge and vocabulary.  Employing text sets developed around essential questions and content related topics is a supportive instructional practice for addressing the standards that expect students to read, synthesize and analyze information across multiple texts.

Here are some items from state level reading assessment that exemplify these key changes:

Grade 11: SAT

On the April 2017 school day test, students were asked to read a pair of passages adapted from speeches delivered by Patrick Henry and Edmund Pendleton following the Constitutional Convention. The first question asks students to demonstrate comprehension of one of the passages: Based on Passage 2, which statement best reflects Pendleton’s view of the Articles of Confederation? Only 21% of Maine 11th graders were able to select the correct response: They had little to do with America’s having prevailed in its most recent conflict. Nearly as many students (20%) thought they were a great concern while more students chose two other incorrect responses (28% for each of the other responses).

The next question asks which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question? Students are then directed to specific lines in the passage and must determine which provides the best evidence to support their response. Each of the selected examples may have a degree of relationship to the previous response, but one is better, a stronger example, then the others. This item construct is new to SAT and not immediately obvious from score data, but can be easily identified when examining the released test.

Grade 6: eMPower

In this example, two texts are paired, a fictional narrative and a poem, about creating music and visual art. The first question asks: Which of the following best states the central idea of Passage 2?  Each response is somewhat true, but one is much better than the others. Response B, Students can get satisfaction from making art, requires inference across the text.

The second part of this questions asks; Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question? The correct response is “That paint does flow like a wider river/ . . . but in time, we can tame it.” Students must carefully assess the relationship between each of the selected segments and the central idea of the passage.

Grade 4: eMPower

A sample constructed item for this grade expects students to read two passages about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s journey with her husband and daughter to the Ozarks and then analyze the passages to determine differences in the information contained in them.

Both passages describe the Wilders’ journey to the Ozarks.  Compare how this information is different in each passage.  Use details from both passages in your answer.

Grade 3: eMPower

In this sample item, students are asked to read an informational passage, Dragonflies: Interesting Insects, and then respond to the following two-part evidence-based selected response item:

  1. What is the main idea of the passage?
  2. Which detail from the passage best supports the answer above?

This item not only expects students to determine the passage’s main idea, but then students need to support this conclusion with the most supportive evidence from the passage.

Supporting Close Reading

Two part or related questions are not necessarily new to classroom practice, but are a recent update to Maine assessment. Look for sample items to see more examples and check out the resources provided on the Maine DOE ELA resources page.

AL: August 2017

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

wonderAugust Pullman was born with a craniofacial abnormality which required many surgical procedures. He was home-schooled until fifth grade when he entered a private school. Auggie has to deal with so much more than just being new. Can the people around him see past his appearance and appreciate who he is? The film adaptation of this novel will be released in November and stars Julia Roberts and Own Wilson as Auggie’s parents.  This is an appropriate read for fifth graders about a fifth grader.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

ThisGlass Castles remarkable memoir reveals the brilliance and destruction of the Walls family. The children learned at an early age to take care of themselves and each other, despite persistent empty promises from their parents.  The book is accessible and compelling, appropriate for both middle and high school students. A film adaptation released in August 2017 is exceptionally well done, capturing the lasting impact of childhood trauma on the author.  Woody Harrelson is particularly talented as Rex Walls, Jeannette’s lovable scoundrel of a father.