Assessment Education Perspectives

Should State Assessment Results Be Used as Baseline Data? A Tale of Two Sides


To say education today relies heavily on assessment data would be an understatement.   Data-driven instruction, rigor and differentiation are the hottest buzz words in the field right now, and rightfully so.  We know that a one-size-fits-all model cannot and will not work for 21st century learners, but then the question becomes what and how should we assess in our classrooms?  We know we need to engage students and meet them at their individual levels if we plan to help them succeed academically.  So where do we start?

Obviously, we begin with baseline data.  There are so many different assessments we can use to establish what a student knows and what they are ready to learn, it can be challenging to know where to begin.  In most schools, baseline data will come from a variety of sources—from diagnostics, interim assessments, preliminary benchmarks or entrance exams. But, what about state summative assessment data?  Should the results be used as baseline data for students at the beginning of a new school year?

Tweet: Should state #assessment results be used as baseline data? #edchat #educationLike most things, there are two sides to the debate:

Yes.  State assessment results should be used to make decisions about students in the beginning of the school year.

Many schools use student scores on standardized tests for making decisions in terms of grouping and class placement as well as other generalizations about the student.  It is not uncommon for these results to be used to determine eligibility for advanced class placement or for remediation purposes.  High-achieving classes are usually formed using this data and some students are even held to different expectations based on their performance.  We measure growth and effectiveness of teachers in many cases based upon their students’ growth and performance on these tests, so it makes sense to use the results as a baseline for students at the start of the school year.

No.  State assessment results are not an adequate form of baseline data and should not be used to make decisions.

On the other hand, some people would argue that the time that passes between the date the student takes the state assessment and the start of the new school year is way too large to consider these results accurate for determining a student’s current level.  In some cases, students are tested as early as February with the new school year starting in August.  How can we say data from six months ago is appropriate for decision making?  Can we assume the child has not grown or acquired any new skills over that time?  If the answer is no, then why would we use this data to make such important decisions about our students?

No matter which side of the debate you are on, the fact of the matter is we need to consider the validity of the data we are using to drive instruction.  We are never going to improve education overall if we are not asking the tough questions, considering all sides and challenging assumptions made in the field.  So are you?  Are you doing what is best for your students each and every day?  It all starts at the beginning.  At the base.  With baseline data.

Talia Zito

Education Specialist,

Charter Schools USA



Talia Zito

Talia Zito is a Curriculum Specialist at Charter Schools USA. She has also worked as an intensive reading and elementary school teacher in Seminole and Broward County Public Schools (FL).