How Effective Assessments Make the Difference

Regardless of recent legislation limiting the amount of time allowable for district-wide assessment that has been passed in many states, the primary goal in assessing students is to obtain evidence of student learning to support decisions at the student, program, and curriculum levels. However, given the recent legislative changes, it is incumbent on the developers of assessments and assessment programs at the local level to ensure that the opportunities for student assessment yield the information needed to make the right decisions. Effective assessment can make the difference between making correct decisions and being left with data that lacks the accuracy or precision to address student and district needs.

Effective Assessment Answers Important Questions.

Essential to every assessment is a purpose – and the purpose is connected to questions to which users want answers: Is this curricular model yielding improvements in student learning? Is there evidence that students are progressing toward mastery with this lesson plan? There is no doubt that well-designed assessments – whether single inquiries being asked contemporaneously during a lesson or blueprinted end-of-course exams – are the tools educators have to collect the data on which they will base answers to these questions. Therefore, effective assessment is essential so that responses are grounded at all levels in evidence-based judgements. When we ensure effective assessment, we ensure that we improve the validity of our inferences and answer our questions with clarity.

Effective Assessment Informs Instruction and Practice.

Effective assessment can illuminate the pathways for change in real-time for both students and teachers (and, of course, programmatic and curricular changes). Too often viewed as retrospective in many ways, assessment data analyses do not need to be relegated to post-mortem examinations of what did not work in instruction or practice. Using instructional rubrics in scoring, assessing against well-developed learning progressions, and designing assessment tasks with student metacognition in mind can all help to form decision points in the teaching and learning process. Starting with even one element of more effective assessment can immediately begin to pay dividends in terms of student achievement through highlighting the instructional decisions that can affect learning trajectories.

Effective Assessment Promotes Self-Regulated Learning.

Self-regulated learning (SRL) improves student outcomes, and assessment can be used as a conduit through which SRL can be encouraged (Andrade & Brookhart, 2016). Integral to the process is constructing assessment tasks to promote goal-setting by clearly articulating learning targets against the standards and ensuring that the tasks are written to the learning target in terms of content and cognitive demand. Feedback is also an additional component to which assessment can attend. Providing assessment tasks on which feedback can be provided in the context of the learning target and made actionable by students is essential to promoting SRL. Once accomplished, assessment aligned to the process of SRL becomes instructional in nature.

Effective Assessment is Ongoing and Collaborative.

Assessment makes the difference when it becomes a process rather than an event. In practice, assessment is too often isolated from instruction in its development. It rarely becomes the topic of professional development and is frequently considered to be well-understood by many in the field without assuring that it actually is. In order to make a difference, assessment should be given as important a role as instruction, collaborative between teachers, instructional leaders and administrators, and integrated into ongoing professional development programs. Although data discussion is a focus of many PLCs, faculty meetings and professional development, it cannot be forgotten that the data are generated by assessment. Ensuring that teachers and others are included in the development process, attending to an assessment’s position in the overall instructional program, and making assessment an ongoing process with everyone (including students) involved will serve to make assessment more effective and meaningful for making decisions.

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