One of the most common criticisms of high-stakes accountability tests – and assessments as a whole – is that they force schools and teachers to narrow their curricula and “teach to the test,” thereby undermining a teacher’s ability to individualize instruction according to the needs of each student.
However, assessment literate educators know that high-quality, balanced assessment systems do just the opposite. They provide education stakeholders — from state officials to teachers and principals, to students and parents — with the necessary information to adapt the learning process at various levels to meet the needs of each and every student. In shifting from a single-measure accountability framework under No Child Left Behind, defined as grade-level proficiency, to a multiple-measure approach, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) enables schools and districts to change the public dialogue about assessment systems, clarifying how each component — formative and interim evaluations, as well as summative, year-end tests, etc. — provides they key information that different stakeholders need to support student learning.
The Make Assessment Work for All Students: Multiple Measures Matter eBook by Gallup-NWEA was their third look into how different K-12 stakeholders think, feel, and understand about assessments, and is the largest and most comprehensive research effort on the topic to date. The eBook explores in detail what principals, superintendents, teachers, students, and parents think about assessments and delivers some fantastic insights. Here are five key findings worth calling out:
- Education stakeholders value assessments broadly, but views vary by assessment type and purpose. Principals find many types useful, underscoring the importance of supporting multiple types of assessments. Parents consider multiple types of assessments, including interim and formative assessment, helpful to their children’s learning; however, they are skeptical that state accountability tests improve the quality of teaching. Large majorities of teachers report that they use assessment data for a variety of instructional purposes in their schools.
- Parents need more information and communication about assessments. While most parents understand that state accountability tests are used to evaluate school and district performance, many mistakenly believe that these types of tests are used to monitor student achievement and to inform instruction. What’s more, more than six in ten parents say their child’s teachers rarely or never discuss their child’s assessment results with them.
- Administrators are still getting to know ESSA, but superintendents are optimistic about its impact. More than two-thirds of superintendents say they have developed an assessment plan for their district. And of these, the majority say the number of assessments will not change under ESSA. While 53 percent of superintendents believe that ESSA will have a positive impact on their schools, only 32 percent of principals feel the same.
- Gaps in understanding of the purpose of assessments remain. Most teachers, principals, and superintendents do not believe that state and federal policymakers understand the purpose of different types of assessment, highlighting the need for dialogue around assessment and ESSA implementation. Teachers are doubtful that parents understand formative or interim assessment – the diagnostic tools and practices teachers frequently use to gauge student understanding and to adapt the instructional process.
- Teachers need additional training to maximize the power of assessment data to inform instructional practices. Teachers mostly feel prepared to deal with all aspects of assessment tests and data, but they are more confident about administering these tests than interpreting them or communicating with parents about the results. Data coaches are available in a relatively small proportion of schools and districts, but among principals who have access to data coaches, 71 percent say they have improved student learning.
Educational assessments are powerful tools that can provide valuable feedback to teachers and students, but they are also at the center of political debates. For assessments to work well, we need to have a clear understanding of the purpose of each assessment, and to communicate better about assessment, why and how we use each to support student learning.