#194 – Assessment as Revelation, with Dr. Kelly Camak Niccolls

Unpacking Education June 21, 2023 31 min

Dr. Kelly Camak Niccolls joins us to discuss ways to rethink assessment in our classrooms. Using a five-part framework, she explains how we can use assessment as revelation and make assessment a more collaborative, personal, and student-centered experience.

Dr. Camak Niccolls says that this framework is not a one-way-to-do-things recipe, but rather, these elements include “ideas and constructs to help us really think through how we can truly center student as curriculum—how we can really partner and eliminate the boundaries of any type of constraint around assessment.”

Read a transcript of this episode.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

We need to recognize once and for all that standardized tests work best when they serve as a flashlight on what works and what needs attention, not as a hammer to drive the outcome from the top down, often pointing fingers to those with greater needs and less resources.

 Dr. Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education

Amplifying the Brilliance of Students

Throughout our conversation, Dr. Camak Niccolls continually references how amazing our young people are and how assessment can become a tool for us to allow that brilliance to shine. She says, “There is so much more kids could do if we get out of the way. How do we step back and bask in the glory and brilliance of our young people? And that’s good for us. That’s what we need. That’s what we want. That’s actually what we say we do this for.”

Tune in to learn about the five-part revelatory assessment framework and how it can positively impact learning in your classroom. The following are a few highlights from our conversation:

  • About Our Guest: Dr. Kelly Camak Niccolls is a Central Office Administrator in Washington state. She is a longtime educator, former high school English teacher, Deeper Learning equity fellow, and advocate for project-based learning. She says that she is “trying to reimagine teaching and learning every day so that it can actually live out the values it says it has.”
  • Revelatory Assessment: This is a five-part framework that Kelly developed with Abby Benedetto to reimagine assessment, transforming it from a destination to a process of revelation. Assessment should be personal, narrational, relational, iterative, and reciprocal.
  • Personal: For this element, Dr. Camak Niccolls explains, ”What we mean by personal is truly student-centered. What is that student interested in? How do they want to create an assessment process or demonstrate their learning? What do they want to learn about? How they want to tell you or show you they’re learning that—how they want to essentially develop their own success criteria and sense-making in partnership with a class, or with a group, or with their facilitator, but that it’s truly personal to them.” She adds, “What we’re really hoping is that kids are proud of who they are and how they want to learn and journey in the learning.”
  • Narrational: Dr. Camak Niccolls says that this is “the way in which humans have learned and thrived for millennia, since time memorial, good old-fashioned storytelling.” Storytelling allows students to share “the complexity and the richness of brilliance” of their stories, rather than simply being quantified on a standardized test, which can “completely dehumanize the learning experience.” Narration allows teachers to “truly understand how our students are thinking, or processing, or learning.”
  • Relational: Dr. Camak Niccolls says, “I think what we hope for is to really decenter the hierarchy. . . . How are students in relationship, and in community, and places where they feel empowered and worthy, not deferent to the learning environment.” She explains that by creating an inclusive environment, everyone involved can “really know who we are, who others are, how we are beneficial and learn from and are needed to others, and how we receive from them—no matter their status, their title, their age—how they move and live in the world, but that we can really see ourselves as part of a community, and to give to that community, and to receive from that community.”
  • Iterative: This element is about being a lifelong learner. Dr. Camak Niccolls shares, ”It’s a continuous learning journey. There is no end.” Rather than only focusing on “finite constructs” that we often insert into the learning process, like assessments, Dr. Camak Niccolls says, we should acknowledge “that we will always be inquiring, and listening into, and asking, and needing from others, as we journey into our own self-discovery and how we grow and iterate over time.”
  • Reciprocal: This element emphasizes that learning should be about giving and receiving. This applies to both students and educators. While teachers have often been regarded as the providers of knowledge, there is opportunity to rethink this and reframe educators as learners alongside their students, where students have opportunities to show “their brilliance.”
  • Where to Begin: Dr. Camak Niccolls says that self-assessment may be a good place to begin. We can ask ourselves if our actions align to our values and if our classroom reflects those values. We can explore these values in terms of the revelatory assessment framework. When reflecting on this inner work, she says, “You teach who you are. You lead who you are. So it’s also really recognizing where you stand in these five components and how you can roll forward with those.”
  • Learning With: During our toolkit sharing, Dr. Camak Niccolls offers this suggestion: “A good place to start is asking questions and being open to those responses. How can you inquire into your kids? What are you interested in? How would you like me to work with you on this? What is something that I could do differently to help you feel more engaged? Who would you like to work with on this? Really checking in on how often you’re asking your students what they want, and what they need, and how they’re experiencing learning with you, and then, how are you responding to that? How are you honoring their input?”

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • What is revelatory assessment?
  • How can you make learning more personal?
  • How can you make learning more narrational?
  • How can you make learning more relational?
  • How can you make learning more iterative?
  • How can you make learning more reciprocal?
  • What is a first step that you can take toward revelatory assessment?

Extend Your Learning