Too often, we spend time trying to determine how to reshape curriculum and instructional strategies so that students will perform well on a given assessment when we should instead be asking how to make assessments work in support of student learning and teachers’ professional growth. But how do you select assessments that are accurate, standards-aligned and powerful enough to measure and support what matters? Here are seven questions to guide your thinking as you shape your classroom, school or district’s assessment toolkit.
Identify why you’re assessing students and how you intend to use the information obtained from the test. Are you measuring student growth over time to inform instruction, assessing mastery of course content or determining student performance against Common Core State Standards? Use your goals to drive which assessments you use and what you do with the resulting data.
Educators and students find it particularly valuable to get assessment data as soon as possible following a testing session to influence instructional strategies, while school and district leaders may be more interested in understanding progress and challenges on a larger scale. In either case, timely assessment data helps to inform decision-making.
To be truly useful and reliable, assessments should evaluate the knowledge and skills relevant to a student’s goals, and they must do so accurately. Accurately measuring student learning, both growth and achievement, is complex. An assessment scale that has been validated and stabilized over time produces data that is credible and consistent.
Educators determine specific instructional strategies and use assessments to gauge the success of these methods. Assessments can also help identify content that will be engaging for each student and help them to master academic standards. This is particularly important in the transition to the Common Core State Standards, which emphasize both new content and cognitive strategies for students. As educators adjust instruction accordingly, they need assessments that can give them insight into student progress on all aspects of this new set of expectations.
High-quality assessments undergo a rigorous process to ensure items measure what they are intended to, do not introduce bias for or against particular student populations and avoid potentially sensitive or offensive content. Assessment items should be field-tested for viability, evaluated for bias and, ideally, scored relative to a norming population that is updated regularly to allow for meaningful comparison of scores between similar students, groups of students, schools and districts.
Teachers and students benefit from targeted assessments that are delivered at strategic intervals throughout the academic year. A comprehensive review of your assessment system, particularly as you consider adding a new measure, will help to streamline your approach and provide better insight into instructional strategies and results.
Assessments should engage each student in their own learning and prepare them for success. Many educators find value in using assessment results as one component in a student-driven goal setting process.
Take another look at the assessments you’re using to see what measures up and what’s just not working. When assessments are selected and used thoughtfully, teachers gain instructionally useful information, students get a more personalized and engaging learning experience and leaders can make more informed decisions about resources and interventions. That’s a valuable use of everyone’s time and one that should lead to better outcomes across the board.