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Flexible Assessment

Flexible Assessment

Heather Rose, Curriculum, Instruction, and Innovation


In Frederick County Public Schools, required systemic measures of achievement include Performance Matters benchmarks, formatives, and assessments. Other measures of achievement include diagnostic testing, progress checks, assessed modules, summatives or final exams, EBAS, unit tests, or rubrics among many others. These are familiar types of assessment opportunities that undeniably play a role in generating a student learning profile. Most are given to a group of students on one particular day, in the same location, at the same time of day, with the same learning tools, and without consideration of the cognitive load of any individual. These traditional assessments are typically delivered once all learning has occurred, and without the luxury of time to revise learning. Assessment windows and curriculum requirements often take precedence over a student’s readiness for testing. Required assessment logistics are largely beyond teacher and student control. However, as teachers empower themselves to personalize instruction, and empower their students to have agency, the next step in that journey is to apply flexibility to and personalize the assessment process as well. 

Teesside University is an international business school in the UK with a keen focus on student learning. Through their blog, LTE Online, they have published a number of valuable resources on flexible assessment that are aligned with personalized learning. In the blog post, Flexible Assessment for a Hybrid Model, this definition of flexible assessment is offered:

Flexibility in assessment is about responding to students’ individual learning needs as well as needs of the curriculum. The key is making assessment relevant to the learner. The proliferation of learning technologies and tools coupled with increasing diversification of learner profiles and pathways through… courses provides the context for developing flexible assessment. Here technology is a key enabler for a personalized and active blended learning experience. (para. 3).

Key points here surround responsiveness to curriculum AND learner needs, with an emphasis on the role technology tools play in student agency and immediate feedback. Flexible assessment is inclusive at its core because individual students are at the forefront of the design process. To capture authentic student learning, consider using a combination of varying assessment types to diversify the needs of learners. Will students demonstrate learning best orally, or written? Can they create a presentation or video? Or are they most comfortable with multiple choice and essay tests? Conversely, practicing assessment methods identified as weak could strengthen assessment skills and increase learning outcomes on a broader range of assessment types. Learner choice is a significant part of flexible assessment, and perhaps one of the harder concepts to grasp. Routines need to be created. Low-stakes formative assessment opportunities need to be frequent, and student choice on next steps needs to be part of the instructional design. 

The process of providing actionable feedback needs to become part of the classroom culture. Learning outcomes and expectations need to be explicit. This provides the guidelines and structure for equitable work as students make their own decisions on how to effectively demonstrate what has been learned. This is student-centered teaching that is learning-focused, requiring the use of effective feedback and meaningful discourse to continually move the student forward in knowledge acquisition. At this point, teachers and students alike may recognize a greater value placed on feedback through the process, as compared to a final grade. Feeling fully engaged in the learning process requires teachers and students to learn within transparent and shared environments. Learners need to have a keen understanding of the big picture to know where they are in the process. Being part of creating that process develops student agency. During the process, metacognitive activities like self-evaluation and evaluating exemplary work with rubrics will build students’ capacity to determine how to best assess their own efforts. 

An interesting intersection of flexible assessment is Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and differentiation. All value accessibility, but in quite different ways. According to CAST, the core beliefs of UDL are variability (flexibility), firm goals (clear expectations), and expert learners (empowered students learning with agency). Designing with UDL means students are provided with multiple means of engagement, representation, as well as action and expression. Designing learning experiences with UDL fosters student agency and flexible assessment. Jennifer Gonzalez, Katie Novak, and Mirko Chardin hold a meaningful conversation about this in Cult of Pedagogy podcast #166 titled, If Equity is a Priority, UDL is a Must. Gonzalez states, “If we want all students to have equal opportunities to learn, we have to be incredibly purposeful, proactive, and flexible.” (para. 7). UDL does not require a teacher to design for a specific student, but instead, UDL accounts for all students within an audience by accommodating materials. Another thing specific to UDL is choice; UDL does not prescribe a pathway, but offers choice in which path to take. The process of intentionally accessing material empowers students with choice and voice as they start a unit of learning.

The next layer is differentiation, which is specific to individual students based on data and feedback collected within the instructional cycle. Once a student is working with content, clear expectations, explicit goals, and academic discourse with the teacher and peers guides work. These interactions, along with multiple and variable formative assessments, provide instructional data to drive learning and next steps. Done on an individual basis, this is differentiation. Done with student input, this is empowering. The student enters the content based on choice, and then continues to make choices and move forward based on differentiated learning data. One way to satisfy this feedback loop is with flexible assessment. The combination of UDL, differentiation, and flexible assessment is both accessible and equitable.

“Designing flexible assessment means keeping in mind individual differences between students for the purpose of accessibility, employing different combinations of assessment methods and support to meet the diversity of learning needs for the different groups of students.” (LTE Online, Flexible Assessment for a Hybrid Model, para. 7). Here’s a skillful example of flexible assessment recently witnessed in a Frederick County Public School classroom. During this block, there are five small groups of learners, and the teacher meets with two small groups. The rotation in between the two small groups is used to conference 1:1 with a student, reteach a small lesson to three students, and provide individual feedback on work turned in on Schoology. The remaining three small groups continue working through their playlist with support as needed. As a result, two groups receive direct instruction, there’s a 1:1 conference, three students receive individualized remediation, multiple means of formative assessment are used, the curriculum is followed, individual learning needs are honored, and everyone has the opportunity to ask for clarification. This can happen in a 1st grade classroom, and it can happen in an 11th grade classroom. Considerable onboarding and consistency with routines makes this possible. 

Flexible assessment is an important part of personalized instruction. Using UDL as the design approach will account for all the learners in your classroom, and it allows them to engage in content with agency. Differentiation is the process of gathering and using formative assessment data from individual student engagement (technology plays an important role here) to then remediate, extend, or conclude learning within the instructional cycle. Flexible assessment is the ability for students to choose how to best demonstrate their learning. UDL, differentiation, and flexible assessment used in concert is an effective method to assess learning, and empower teachers and learners in the least restrictive and most culturally responsive and equitable way. 


LTE Online. “Flexible Assessment for a Hybrid Model.” Student Learning and Academic Registry LTE Online, Teesside University, Accessed 7 Feb. 2023 

Jennifer Gonzalez. “If Equity is a Priority, UDL is a Must.” Cult of Pedagogy, #166, Accessed 5 Dec. 2022.

UDL: The UDL Guidelines. CAST. Accessed 5 Dec. 2022.