Since the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), schools have had the autonomy to balance annual assessments with assessments that provide regular, actionable feedback on each student’s growth, regardless of where he or she begins the school year. This new flexibility requires a balanced approach to using assessments to provide multiple measures of student achievement.
In 2016, NWEA released a national survey conducted with Gallup that found most parents value classroom tests; teachers value multiple types of assessments; and, perhaps surprisingly, students are on board with the amount of testing they receive. But there is considerable confusion around state accountability tests, as fewer stakeholders — particularly parents — grasp the intended purpose of these assessments.
Let’s step back and examine the types of assessment available to educators as they build a balanced assessment environment.
- Classroom/Teacher-developed assessments. Assessments created by teachers to evaluate their students’ learning progress during instruction. Their purpose is to provide frequent feedback to students. These include quizzes, reflection activities and student self-evaluation.
- Formative assessment practice. We’re not talking about a “test”; formative assessment practice is a planned process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides in-the-moment feedback for adjusting ongoing teaching and learning to improve students’ learning. Its purpose is to help teachers gather evidence of learning, adjust instruction in process, and help students identify and internalize their learning goals, reflect on their own understanding, and evaluate the quality of their work.
- Diagnostic assessments. Assessments used to identify academic strengths and areas of need. Their purpose is to diagnose problems in students’ understanding or gaps in skills, and to help teachers decide next steps in instruction. These include skill inventories, oral fluency, phonemic awareness tests, etc.
- Interim/Growth assessments. Assessments used to identify individual strengths and weaknesses and measure academic growth over time. These assessments may be administered multiple times to measure progress or growth. Their purpose is to help educators or administrators track students’ academic trajectory toward long-term goals.
- Performance tasks. Authentic, meaningful tasks that require students to synthesize knowledge and skills learned and apply them to a real-world problem or situation. Creating a product and/or performance that demonstrates their level of understanding.
- Summative assessments. Culminating assessments that measure and report whether students have learned a prescribed set of content. Their purpose is to give an overall description of students’ status and evaluate the effectiveness of the educational environment. Large-scale summative assessment is designed to be brief and uniform, so there is often limited information to inform instruction or diagnose learning issues. These include end-of-year subject or course exams.
- Accountability assessments. The purpose of these assessments is to provide summaries of whether or not students are meeting required state or federal standards (such as Common Core standards). This includes end-of-year state or district assessments.
- System-level assessments and international benchmark assessments. These assessments are used to understand the learning needs of education systems, providing school-, district-, state- and country-level comparison data. Unlike the other assessment types, these measure at the school level (not the individual student) and are not aligned with any specific set of standards. Only a small representative sample of students take them. Results are used to inform school leaders and policymakers about system-level best practices that they can use to develop strategic improvements.
Armed with the knowledge of the various educational assessments available, and with understanding of the purpose of each, educators can build a balanced assessment environment using multiple measures.