HEATHER C. HILL: Assessment Academy speaker profile

Hopefully you’ve read by now that Alex Quigley is the first name announced to speak at our inaugural Assessment Academy residential course. Well, here goes with the very exciting announcement of a fantastic speaker who will open the residential course on 1st August 2017: Heather C. Hill, Jerome T. Murphy Professor in Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Heather Hill’s primary work focuses on teacher and teaching quality and the effects of policies aimed at improving both. She is also known for developing instruments for measuring teachers’ mathematical knowledge for teaching (MKT) and the mathematical quality of instruction (MQI) within classrooms.


Hello Heather Hill! Thanks for agreeing to make the long journey to speak at our Assessment Academy course! Our first question for you is: do teachers need to know how to design reliable and valid assessment tasks? Whatever your answer, what is your justification?

This is going to be controversial, but no to the design reliable/valid tasks. In the US, we see that asking teachers to take on this task (which I lump under “curriculum design” more generally) places undue burden on the teachers; I’d much rather have teachers use tasks that they find in well-researched curriculum materials. [As well, from a psychometric standpoint, there’s no such thing as a reliable/valid task—instead, we think about scores as valid or reliable, not the tasks themselves.]

I do believe that teachers need to be able to validly interpret results from assessment tasks — I.e., what does Johnny’s answer mean about Johnny’s understanding of the topic?


What advice can you offer teachers who want to use assessment more effectively to support student learning?

Use quick check-ins and visual cues to assess — the most effective teachers I’ve watched are continually monitoring their class for understanding, either by reading faces or by doing a very brief thumbs/up thumbs down at the end of class.

Exit tickets are tremendously popular here. I don’t have a sense for whether anyone has researched them, but I think that they make a lot of sense. Students do a last task prior to leaving the classroom, and the teacher goes through their work not to grade it, but to ensure mastery of the material.

Stay away from “studying data to improve learning” programs — most have not worked in the US!


Imagine that your country’s government told you that they would implement three – but only three – changes across the education system and that they would be sustained over time. What three changes would you suggest and why?

Well, I study teacher quality writ large, so I’m going to ask big here:

  1. Reforms to teacher recruitment, such that we are bringing in the most qualified candidates. This would likely entail a salary bump as well as incentives for young people to enter the profession.
  1. Clearing out the “regulatory underbrush” that exists in US schools (much of which has resulted from accountability), and allowing teachers to improve at their core function: teaching students.
  1. Supporting teacher learning with a) strong curriculum materials and professional development and b) 1:1 observation and coaching, particularly for novice teachers.

I’d add a fourth—delaying tenure requirements and making them more stringent — if I could.


Thanks for your time, Heather Hill! We look forward to welcoming you to Durham in August.

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