Contact innovator

Changing assessment practices in secondary schools allows students to follow passions and teachers to personalize learning and innovate

Essentials and Extensions change the paradigm of Assessment and Evaluation

location_on Riverview, Canada
This model is fundamental for teacher innovation. Teachers purposefully prioritize high leverage skills and content, struggling students have more time to learn content and demonstrate proficiency, all students have time to pursue passions, and teachers bring innovative projects into their classrooms. This model decreased failure rates from 30% to 5% and allows students to solve real problems.

HundrED has not validated this innovation

Anyone can submit their innovation to HundrED Open. All information on this page is provided by the innovator and has not been checked by HundrED. Innovation page has been created on January 7th, 2019
Key figures

Innovation Overview

14 - 18
Age Group
3 000
Updated on January 28th, 2021
about the innovation

Built by teachers

This model of assessment was built by teachers collaborating together to address many of the challenges they encountered when trying to implement current assessment practices in the classroom. 

Since its development and implementation it in, primarily math and science classes, it has been adopted in language arts and humanities and continues to be adopted by an increasing number of teachers and schools.

The model has been published in the following

Ryan, C (2018). Two Teachers Journey, One Teacher’s Tale: An Autoethnographic Narrative of Creating an Assessment and Evaluation System Using a Learning Community Framework (Masters Thesis). University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, NB.

Dealy, D., Ryan, C., Fowler, P., and Flinn, M. (2017). Hosting the Saxby Gale at Riverview High: Using Disaster Day to Teach Universal Design, Increase Student Engagement, and So Much More. In Sherman, A. (Ed.), Universal Design for Learning Action Research, New Brunswick Department of Education and Early Childhood Development: Fredericton, NB. January 2017.

Fogarty, I., & Ryan, C. (2017). Bringing Assessment Research to Practice Using an Essentials Model. In J. Cummings, & M. Blatherwick (Eds.), Creative Dimensions of Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century. Boston. Sense Publishers.

Ryan, C. (2016). Filling an Assessment Literature Gap: A Systemic Example of Formative Assessment in a High School Physics Course. In Proceedings of Global Learn 2016 (pp. 52-64). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

Ryan, C. (January 01, 2014). Changing the philosophy of education with an education in philosophy. Antistasis, 4, 2, 38-42.


See this innovation in action

The boring assessment stuff and interesting projects too.
Presented here is a description of our complete assessment model. It is stripped away from our philosophy of teaching and the supporting literature to give the reader a clear picture of how all of the classroom pieces fit together. This represents the culmination of our assessment work and is here so teachers can incorporate aspects of this model into their own practice. I cannot emphasis enough that teachers will have greater success implementing this model only after they go through the hard work of identifying their essential skills and knowledge from their curriculum and enlist administrative support for changes to their practice. This complete assessment system was first presented and published at the Global Learn Conference with the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (Ryan, 2016). Each assessment component has an important role in addressing teacher concerns, providing student feedback, and allowing for personalized learning through the course. It is the strength of implementing these pieces together that allow the system to work in addressing the constraints that teachers face in fully applying assessment research on a course wide or school wide scale. The components are unit tests, lab experiments, a final exam, and an engineering project. Portions of tests, exam, and labs are designated as essential. Students are required to achieve complete mastery of essentials content and skills and doing so earns them a passing mark, 60%, in the course. Portions of tests, and exams are considered extension. In addition to these pen and paper extension assessments, extension labs and an engineering project create the remainder of student grades. The extensions portion is, thus, worth 40% of a student’s mark. Unit tests are administered over a two or three day block of time. The essential portion of a test is given to all students at the same time. Questions consist of word problems and short answer responses that are aligned with the core concepts found in the unit of study. Since the test is short, students complete it, hand it in to be marked, and receive their marked test back within one period. While students are waiting, they work on extensions questions for the coming extensions test. Students who respond correctly to each question continue to work on extensions material. Students who respond incorrectly to one or more questions correct their work. At this point they are encouraged to access their class notes, a textbook, or work with a peer. Students then conference with their teacher on corrected questions where they are asked a follow-up question to ensure they have a deep understanding of the skill or concept. Students unable to answer the question are required to continue this process of reading, learning, and discussing until they prove their understanding of every question. This continues until they have answered every question correctly. This may take several conferences for more challenging fundamental concepts and this often takes place during Designated Study Block. Extensions tests are scheduled two days after essentials tests. This allows time for students to conference and work on extensions questions as needed. This gap day allows students to gain confidence heading into more challenging or novel questions, gives teachers time to address any major concerns that arose during the essentials test, and gives more time for struggling students to demonstrate understanding of fundamental concepts. Completing the essential test may take longer than this period of time for some students. There are no time constraints for when this understanding of foundational knowledge can be demonstrated, as specified by Davies, Herbst & Reynolds (2008), O’Connor (2007), and Stiggins (2005). The extensions test is written by all students in one class period and evaluated soon after. Extensions tests consists of a variety of questions. Some are more challenging, some combine multiple concepts, and others are novel questions that build from the examples done in class. This is the primary opportunity for students to practice solving challenging and novel problems in preparation for the extensions exam. For purposes of mark generation at a given period of time, an essentials test is weighted at 60% and the extensions test at 40%. The mark generated by this combined test is recorded but does not count for the final course mark. It is used as an administrative tool to communicate to students, parents, or other education professionals a student’s progress. It does not factor into marks that students receive on their transcripts. This is a formative tool that teachers use to give feedback to students on how to improve. As this is identified by Burke (2010), Chappuis, Stiggins, Arter, & Chappuis (2006) and Hattie (2012) as a consistently effective method of increasing student achievement, it is critical that this formative assessment not be attached to the evaluative component of a mark. Students and parents are made well aware of this shift in philosophy in the first days of the course, while understanding that a mark can be generated, if needed, for things like post-secondary schools or scholarships. In an effort to cover more content, labs are often squeezed out of the traditional physics class or turned into demonstrations. To accommodate this, students engage in essentials and extensions labs teaching essential skills and extensions content. All students complete four essentials labs and submit a group lab report. These labs are designed to encourage students to focus on the essentials of acting like a scientist. The focus of the feedback from the teacher is on how students can improve on the essentials skills of designing a lab, gathering data, interpreting data, and technical writing. There is no mark given for these labs as students are expected to perfect these skills through the course. There are between eight and ten extensions labs available to work on throughout the course. The purpose of these labs are for students to be exposed to small packets of content through a variety of learning styles. Students complete these labs in less than one half hour and are typically done over a DSB, OSB, or noon hour. Students complete these as individuals or in small groups and are evaluated through a short discussion. Students are given a pro-rated mark based on completion so that if students completed seven of eight they earn an 8.75 out of ten as their extension lab mark. The final exam consists of two essential components and one extensions component. Essential components take one week to conduct and consist of all essential content from the essential unit tests and the essential skills from the essential lab experiments. The extensions component consists of a series of questions similar to the extensions unit tests and is scheduled during the normal exam writing period. This three part exam is administered over the last four weeks of the course as seen in Figure 1.  Final Weeks – Evaluation Period  Essentials week - one class period for the essentials word problems and each of the lab components.                                All students attempt word problem essentials and lab essentials.Flexible weeks - Flexible time for studentsPriority one  Complete essentials Priority two Design, build, and present an engineering project Priority three Extension exam preparation. Exam weekExtension Exam as a standard Exam    Figure 1: Evaluation timeframe  The first week is devoted to having students complete the essential portion of the exam. On the first day students write their first attempt of the essentials exam, which is similar to the essentials unit tests. These are assessed and returned to the students in the same manner as the essentials unit test. The following three days are used to assess students’ abilities in the essentials lab skills. Individual students demonstrate lab skills of interpreting a graph, collecting data, and writing a portion of a report. Students waiting for lab equipment have the opportunity to conference with the teacher on essential exam questions, practice extensions questions for the extensions exam, or work on their engineering project. The second and third week of this block is student directed and devoted to extensions work. This includes teachers lecturing curricular topics deemed extensions that have not yet been covered. Students have class time to practice extensions questions for the exam or work on their engineering project. Often, students alternate between these options along with completing essentials exam questions. Since a student cannot pass the course without earning a 100% on all portions of the essentials exam, every student is given class time to conference to demonstrate proficiency. The engineering project is designed as a unique opportunity for students to pursue a personal interest. The purpose of this project is for students to act like an engineer by defining a problem and then researching, designing, and building a solution. As this is an extension component, not all students are required to complete a project. Students often start this project earlier in the semester as more involved projects will take longer than two weeks to complete. Projects students have taken on include the Engineering Brightness Project (a 2018 HunderED project, and the Saxby Gale project (, pg 76).The extensions exam is written by all students during the regular exam period. This is an exam similar to the extensions tests. The questions are a mix of challenging, multi-concept, and novel problems. The exam is marked as a traditional exam with scores incorporated in transcript marks. All components of students’ exams are used in determining transcript marks. Students have had the entire semester to receive feedback and make improvements as per Davies, Herbst and Reynolds (2008). Teachers are confident that there is long term retention of the essentials skills and knowledge. In this model a final mark is calculated by having the essentials portion of the exam worth 60% (a pass), the extensions portion of the exam worth 20%, extensions labs worth 10%, and an engineering project worth 10%. Because students have multiple opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of the fundamental concepts struggling students have a means to focus their time and effort on fundamental skills and knowledge to earn a credit. Stronger students, meanwhile, have abundant opportunity to extend their learning through individual interests or advanced content. The model described here is used in our academic Physics course. The model has been adapted to other courses and disciplines. 


Achievements & Awards

May 2019
January 2019
Innovation page created on

Spread of the innovation

loading map...

Inspired to implement this? Here's how...

Structured meeting time
Administrators create dedicated time for teachers to meet and have professional conversations. Administrators also need to create structured time to allow for teachers to provide interventions for struggling learners.
Read more
Identify Essentials From Curriculum
Teachers need to identify what content, ideas, and skills are essential and which are extensions. This also includes defining the purpose of a given course or unit of instruction. For example, a science course is taken not just to learn science content but to learn how to think an like a scientist.
Read more
Examine assessments and evaluations
Once the essential skills and knowledge are established, teachers will need to determine how they will assess and evaluate students' understanding.
Read more
Personalize learning
Teachers can now personalize learning and incorporate innovative projects.
Read more
Determine how to evaluate students
Teachers need to determine a means of evaluating students based on their professional judgement, local policy, and reporting structures.
Read more