There are major gaps that exist between how prepared teachers and district administrators are to use assessment data to drive learning, and this undoubtedly needs to change. After all, while district administrators have some say in what tools and curricula are used, it is teachers who are on the front line leading the charge. They are the ones who ultimately must impart the knowledge and learning that drive student growth. So what should we do? As district administrators, as teachers, as policy makers, as parents?
Last year, our sponsor NWEA partnered with Grunwald Associates to conduct a survey of district administrators, teachers, and students on their attitudes and beliefs about assessment. While overall the results show some surprising alignment around the need for assessment that supports learning, it also shows divisions in the education community with regard to the current state of assessment in schools. The survey data led to some ideas that need to be considered, so that a better understanding of assessment and how to utilize assessment data is achieved.
- Involve students in assessment policy processes. According to the study, students recognize the need and role of testing. Overall they care about their performance, but the assessments need to be relevant to them, provide timely and meaningful feedback, and ultimately help them learn. With all the new summative assessments and standards at play, students (and their parents) need to be better informed and engaged in the process.
- Assessments need to be prioritized based on how they impact teaching and learning. This is one area in which students, teachers and district administrators all agree, and yet they all say they are spending too much time elsewhere. More time needs to be spent on formative and interim assessments that can directly inform teaching.
- Assessment literacy in both teacher preparation and professional development programs is badly needed. With a common assessment vocabulary and formal program to impart the smart use of assessment data, teachers will be better equipped not only to use the data to inform instruction, but to communicate the results with students and parents.
- Improve the collaboration around assessment data among teachers. The survey showed that those teachers and district administrators that collaborated with their peers to interpret and use assessment results were more confident in their ability to use the results effectively to support teaching and learning. Finding the time to structure learning communities to discuss assessment results and subsequent teaching opportunities would likely benefit all parties.
- Increase the investment in technology infrastructure. Assessments are moving online, and this brings with it the opportunity to analyze results and deliver teaching opportunities more efficiently. But teachers and district administrators need the resources and training necessary to make this happen.
Assessment is a fundamental part of the teaching and learning process. But more time needs to be focused on how the assessment data and results affect what matters most – delivering deeper and more personalized learning.