An Integrated Approach to Common Assessments Through the LMS
If you’re involved in education, you’ve likely read numerous posts, articles, and social media blurbs about testing, particularly in recent years. Concerns about loss of instructional time, timeliness and usability of data to inform instruction, and impact on perceptions of teacher performance are central to these discussions.
However, it’s important to note that assessment and testing are not synonymous. Effective assessments are a vital part of the instructional and learning processes, and finding ways to use assessments for learning continues to be a core focus at many K-12 and higher ed institutions around the world.
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It’s important to make a clear distinction between testing and assessment, especially in examining how they serve your instructional goals. “As we look to our future, if we wish to create a different reality and tap the full potential of assessment as our ally in improving student learning, we must refocus our efforts around a new overarching assessment belief: we must strike a balance between standardized tests of learning and classroom assessment for learning.” (Stiggins, Rick. "New assessment beliefs for a new school mission." Phi Delta Kappan 86.1 (2004): 22-27.)
Central to the work many of our clients are doing with PLCs is this idea of exploring ways to strike that balance. Most districts employ different standardized assessment tools to help gauge student achievement (iReady, ACCESS, Colorado SAT, Colorado Measure of Academic Success or CMAS, etc.). These tend to be assessments of learning rather than assessments for learning, they often live in separate systems with separate reporting functions, and they aren’t integrated into the daily work that instructors do with students across their systems.
Impacting student learning at the classroom level, then, requires a way to collaboratively develop and deploy assessments, provide timely and meaningful data to teachers, help students see where they are in relation to learning goals, and assist parents in understanding how their students are progressing.
Pursuant to those needs, Cherry Creek Schools (my former district) piloted Schoology’s assessment management platform (AMP) during the spring of 2016. The purpose of this tool is to integrate common assessments that are aligned to institutional standards into the LMS and, in turn, the everyday workflow of teaching and learning.
We gave several assessments during the pilot phase, including an Algebra 1 assessment to over 4,000 students. Our goals were fairly typical for common assessments: to see how well students performed on specific standards, to look for gaps between instruction and student learning, and to use data to improve student achievement.
Going through this process using Schoology’s AMP, though, did more than just help us explore common assessment data—it underscored the importance of integrating assessments rather than isolating them. For us, this integrated approach could solve several key issues that surface at strategic, tactical, and operational levels of our organization:
At the district level, it greatly streamlines the processes surrounding assessment delivery and data analysis. Assessments can be easily pushed into existing course sections while giving us a mechanism to collect, view, share, and disaggregate data without having to export it into another system.
At a PLC level, educators are able to collaboratively create common assessments (both formative and summative) to measure targeted instructional goals in an already familiar environment. Instead of relying on third party assessments that may or may not measure our instructional goals, we were able to measure what we value at a deeper level. And we could build it in a tool that we already use.
At the teacher level, it provides immediate access to data and, more importantly, these data are integrated into coursework that is measured on a day-to-day basis. Course-specific assignments and assessments (which can already be aligned to standards in Schoology by standards-alignment in courses) can be seen alongside common assessments, not isolated from the data picture.
Students and parents can see personalized information about standards progress in a comfortable space where they are already doing daily work, taking assessments, and setting/tracking their own learning goals. Too often, students have to use an unfamiliar interface which can impact their ability to show what they know, and the resulting data often isn’t visible or accessible to the very people it’s designed to affect—the learners.
As you move forward in your PLC work to create that balance between assessments of learning and assessments for learning, it will be increasingly important to make common assessments fit seamlessly into your learning environments at strategic, tactical, and operational levels.
When those assessments naturally fit into what you do and how you work, you can truly impact instruction and learning.