What we reward sends strong messages about what we value. If we stress meaning and significance in a lesson but then only test for recall of information, we send a message about what is important. Teachers can give significance by what they notice and give time to in class, the questions they respond to, and the behavior they reinforce. For example, do we reward those who win at any cost in sports? Forms of assessment can be adapted to suit a new perspective. Evaluations in history can reflect people holistically and include their spiritual legacy as well as their political, social, and economic achievements.

  • Teachers can work around restrictive forms of assessment, such as required electronic quizzes, fill-in-the-blank exercises, and simple recall questions. These can be limited by using them for just some parts of a unit or lesson. Assessment that requires engaging with meaning and significance or open-ended questions can be used on other parts of a unit.
  • Teachers can explore grace in civics or health or English and use a creative assessment such as drama to demonstrate understanding. They can reward effort and perseverance—not just high scores—in class and adjust their own behavior in PE to reward winning well or handling referees’ decisions well.

These examples show that assessment does not have to be a straitjacket; we can adjust it. They also show that the informal way we give rewards and give significance matters