In a recent blog series, we shared seven ways to create a fair assessment system along with five ways to spread the word.
As you create and build your assessment system, however, we recommend identifying the purposes you need to fulfill with assessments as your starting point for planning the system. Start the process with a clear view of why you need assessment data and how you will use these data. Does your school board require an annual report of student achievement that requires integrating data from a number of sources? Do educators need assessment data to place eighth graders in the proper high school math classes? Do you have student-led conferences where students need data to explain to parents their strengths and weaknesses, show the progress they have made over time, their goals for the future, and how they are working toward these goals? Starting with the purposes for assessment helps assure that the assessments that eventually become part of your system are aligned to the needs of educators.
Identification of these purposes is best done as a collective effort. Education systems are complex. Without input from all of the stakeholders who use assessment data, it’s easy to miss an important purpose or to spend too much time and effort getting one type of data. Identifying purposes collectively will not only assure a much more thorough review, but will also build a shared understanding and create buy-in to eliminate redundant assessments or to expand to cover other critical purposes not addressed well by assessments used currently.
Here are some actions you can take:
- Convene a team of educators representing the variety of stakeholders in your district that administer, use, and care about assessment data. It is important to be inclusive: for example, consider the unique needs of stakeholders across grades, the perspectives of teachers of English language learners, of students with special needs, new teachers and experienced teachers.
- Have them create common definitions of the types of assessments you have in your district – formative, diagnostic, benchmark, interim, summative.
- List all the purposes for which your education system needs data to function well. Why is data needed for individual students – for what purpose do students and parents need data? Teachers or classrooms? Principals and schools? Superintendents and district leaders?
- Rate how critical that purpose is to the efficient and powerful functioning of your system on a scale of 1-5. For example, how critical is it that students set goals with assessment data? Make notes about any interesting reasons for a purpose being rated a 1 or a 5.
- Identify how well your current system provides and uses data for this purpose on a scale of 1-5. Make notes about why you give it this rating. For example, using data for Response to Intervention screening may be rated a 3 because some places do it well and others do not; therefore, the rating was driven by inconsistent practices across the district. These notes can help identify underlying issues, for example, if the issue is with the assessment itself or if there may be a need for additional support on use of the assessment data.
- Review the two different ratings and find areas of similarity and disconnect. Areas of disconnect are ones where important purposes are not being fulfilled or where you are putting resources and energy for little value.
Creating a fair and balanced assessment system is crucial to using assessments effectively to support learning and success. Starting with a clear understanding of how the assessment data will be used should be step one.