Exploring Assessment Questions

Our recent webinar, “Designing Meaningful Assessments to Drive Student Achievement,” connected educators from across the country, focusing on building more effective and powerful assessments. As often happens, the hour-long webinar was packed with great information and we ran out of time to address some of the assessment questions that were posed by the webinar participants. Dr. Dave Nelson took a few moments to answer some of those questions, and we’re sharing those answers today!

Q1: Wouldn’t learning targets help to benchmark along the way towards the standard and the identified assessment limit?

Dave Nelson: Establishing learning targets is a powerful way to inform both the instructional and learning process. Often, the deconstruction of standards into learning targets leads to the development of learning progressions, which both teachers and students can use to understand a student’s position on the trajectory toward mastery of a standard. Importantly, when students can position themselves on a pathway of learning targets, they can easily begin to understand the next steps that are needed in order to move toward success. As we noted in the webinar, an essential element of assessment is that there is an ability for the users of assessment data to respond in some meaningful way, and there is no doubt that defining learning targets supports this.

Q2: Can learning targets be documented like the standards?

DN: Yes, learning targets can be defined from the deconstructed standards, but they are more instructional in nature than standards. While standards define a learning outcome, the learning target identifies the observable evidence that students are making progress toward the learning outcome. In that sense, then, they can be identified just as standards are, and they can easily be connected to assessment items that inform well the position of the student along the path toward meeting the goal of the standard. In the Performance Matters platform, districts can work with their CRM to have learning targets uploaded in order to be selected when assessment items are developed.

Q3: Will pre-empting questions by students for a learning target be helpful for a child?

DN: It can be illuminating to probe students for their understanding in order to develop learning targets. Part of the process of developing learning targets involves identifying misconceptions, prior knowledge and even clarifying vocabulary that will be needed or terms that will need to be defined in order to present the targets in student-friendly language. Of course, sharing the learning targets with students once the targets are developed will help to inform where clarity is needed as well as help students to self-assess against the learning progression.

Q4: How can we efficiently share the results with students in order to provide feedback and opportunities for action for assessments in the platform (absent a student portal). how are districts managing this?

DN: Sharing results and feedback with students is a critical piece of embedding the assessment process into the instructional process as a cycle of learning rather than seeing assessment as a standalone or disparate event. In the absence of being able to provide individualized feedback to students, group discussion of assessment items and the intended responses and thinking processes that were targeted can be valuable in the learning process for students. Peer-to-peer evaluation of approaches, planning of next steps and goal-setting has been shown to be useful in supporting students toward meeting learning outcomes. This is especially salient for formative assessment that is occurring as instructional and learning responses can be made to influence progress.

Q5: Is an assessment a reflection of an educator’s performance or is it a process of learning a child’s level of understanding of a topic

DN: There is a large body of research on the use of student assessment scores in the evaluation of teacher efficacy. Because this is a great question related to the use of assessment data, I would like to frame a response in the context of using assessment data for their intended purpose. When we administer an assessment, we are attempting to gain evidence that will support us in making a decision around a question we have developed. Inasmuch as the question might be, How much did this student learn this year because of being in this teacher’s classroom, we might contemplate the notion that assessment data are reflective of teacher performance. But, we must remain mindful that the availability of instructional strategies, curricular resources, and students’ extant abilities and knowledge influence students’ progress in any one year.

Did you miss the webinar? Don’t worry! You can download the recording now!