Editor’s note: The Thomas B. Fordham Institute recently launched “The Acceleration Imperative,” a crowd-sourced, evidence-based resource designed to aid instructional leaders’ efforts to address the enormous challenges faced by their students, families, teachers, and staff over the past year. It comprises four chapters split into nineteen individual topics. We're publishing each as a stand-alone blog post.
Assessments include tests and quizzes, as well as regular checks for understanding, which provide detailed information about what students do and do not yet know.
Regular curriculum-aligned assessments provide students and teachers with the feedback they need to improve teaching and learning.
For teachers, data on classroom performance provide insights about their instruction’s effectiveness and individual students’ understanding and misconceptions. For students, timely and meaningful feedback on mastery and performance can help them chart progress and better achieve learning goals.
- Select a curriculum in part based on the strength of the varied ways it checks for understanding, and how other regular formative assessments are handled within it.
- At least once a month, dedicate a grade-level professional learning community meeting to analyzing student work and planning instructional strategies in response.
- In English language arts, distinguish carefully between assessments that uncover problems with foundational skills and those that are aimed at evaluating more complex comprehension issues.
- Guide students to review and reflect on their performance on assessments as a means to accelerate learning, including by setting goals, identifying obstacles, and planning for future success.
Our recommendations are heavily influenced by a practice guide published by the Institute of Education Sciences in 2009 called Using Student Achievement Data to Support Instructional Decision Making. IES published the guide despite acknowledging that the research into using assessments to make instructional decisions is not yet conclusive about what works. This indicates the important role of assessments and how desirable it is that we channel them in the most effective ways possible.
Nonetheless, two of the recommendations informed by the IES guide do have some basis in research findings: making data part of an ongoing cycle of continuous instructional improvement, and teaching students to examine their own data and to set, reflect on, and assess learning goals.
Using data to drive continuous instructional improvement means that teachers and instructional leadership teams should:
- Collect and prepare a variety of data about student learning. Data from curriculum-aligned and curriculum-embedded assessments are the most valuable, such as those from performance tasks, quizzes, or exit tickets. Students’ writing, including sentence-level activities, is another important source of data that has too often been overlooked.
- Interpret data and develop hypotheses about how to improve student learning. Such work should happen independently and in teams, and analyses should be done at the classroom and individual student level. Variability in classroom-level data can provide important insights into expectations and content coverage that teachers and leaders will want to address. Much of the work of this kind of collaborative reflection will happen during grade-level professional learning community time.
- Distinguish carefully between assessments that uncover problems with foundational skills (such as phonemic awareness or phonics) and those that are aimed at evaluating reading comprehension. Poor results on reading assessments are usually interpreted to mean that students require more practice in comprehension skills and strategies, when the struggle may well be with phonemic awareness. If the problem is actually a decoding issue, remediation should be targeted to that. If it’s a comprehension issue, care should be taken to determine whether the problem was a lack of background knowledge or something else.
- Modify instruction to test hypotheses and increase student learning. Again underlying the importance of working in subject or grade-level teams, many of the strategies the IES panelists advise for potentially modifying instruction (e.g., targeting intervention, ensuring performance expectations are clear and grade-level appropriate, peer observation) point to the importance of collaborative, curriculum-based professional learning.
Assessments can also help students develop metacognition about their learning, which can support them as they improve their own performance, with the following actions by teachers:
- Explain expectations and assessment criteria. Teachers should articulate and share explicit learning goals for lessons and assignments, as well as clear scoring rubrics before and after assignments are complete.
- Provide feedback to students that is timely, specific, well-formatted, and constructive. The literature is rich on the importance of each of these.
- Provide tools that help students learn from feedback. Such tools include templates asking students to list strengths and weaknesses in their responses, worksheets to facilitate reflection, and charts to track progress.
- Use students’ data analyses to guide instructional changes. Listening to student reflections on their own performance relative to established rubrics can provide useful feedback for teachers.
Black, P., and William, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education, 5(1), 7–74.
- Feedback should be rapid so that students still remember the task and the skills when they were being assessed.
Brunner, C., Fasca, C., Heinze, J., Honey, M., Light, D., Mandinach, E., and Wexler, D. (2005). Linking data and learning: The Grow Network study. Journal of Education for Students Placed At Risk, 10(3), 241–267.
- Feedback should provide concrete information and suggestions for improvement
Hamilton, L., Halverson, R., Jackson, S., Mandinach, E., Supovitz, J., and Wayman, J. (2009). “Using student achievement data to support instructional decision making (NCEE 2009-4067).” Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.
Halverson, R., Prichett, R. B., and Watson, J. G. (2007). “Formative feedback systems and the new instructional leadership.” WCER Working Paper. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Herman, J., and Gribbons, B. (2001). “Lessons learned in using data to support school inquiry and continuous improvement: Final report to the Stuart Foundation.” Los Angeles, CA: Center for the Study of Evaluation, University of California, Los Angeles.
May, H., and Robinson, M. A. (2007). “A randomized evaluation of Ohio’s Personalized Assessment Reporting System (PARS).” Philadelphia, PA: Consortium for Policy Research in Education. University of Pennsylvania.
Phillips, N. B., Hamlett, C. L., Fuchs, L. S., & Fuchs, D. (1993). Combining classwide curriculum-based measurement and peer tutoring to help general educators provide adaptive education. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 8(3), 148–156.
- Providing students with thoughtful and constructive feedback on their progress may improve student achievement.
Saunders, W. M., Goldenberg, C. N., & Gallimore, R. (2009). Increasing achievement by focusing grade level teams on improving classroom learning: A prospective, quasi-experimental study of title 1 schools. American Educational Research Journal, 46(4), 1006-1033.
Stiggins, R. (2007). Assessment Through the Student’s Eyes. Educational Leadership, 64(8), 22–26.