The Role of High-Quality Assessment: Enhancing Curriculum and Instruction
Say the word "assessment," and most people envision sweating bullets over a final exam or major unit test. The questions are many, the stakes are high, and there are no do-overs if you make a mistake. There's a reason this is the go-to image of assessment: For most of us, it's how we were taught. For many students today, it's how it feels to take state-mandated achievement tests each spring.
While end-of-year standardized tests play an important role in measuring broad trends across grades, schools, and districts, they shouldn't be the end of the story when it comes to comprehensive assessment.
High-quality assessments are balanced to provide instructors with ongoing feedback about student progress. In particular, data gathered from assessments given throughout the learning process give educators the information they need to adjust their instruction. Assessment, then, isn't the final word; rather, it should be part of an ongoing conversation that helps all students get exactly what they need to meet learning standards.
What Does A High-Quality Assessment Look Like?
Whether your goal is to choose a ready-made assessment program from a publisher or design better quizzes and tests for classroom use, it's important to understand what high-quality assessment looks like. These features are the most critical:
- Standards-Based: Great assessment is carefully connected to the learning standards your district or state has adopted so that questions are relevant and provide meaningful insight on student learning.
- Balanced: Truly useful assessment isn't a one-time test, but rather a series of quizzes and informal check-ins throughout the learning process. Classroom assessment is just as important as state-wide testing.
- Valid: Assessments should be designed by true subject experts, including the classroom teacher. This ensures that questions are well-written, unambiguous, and have been vetted for accuracy.
- Flexible: There's more than one way for students to show what they know, and high-quality assessments provide multiple ways to demonstrate skills. Offering students choice is empowering and gives them a chance to shine.
- Informative: The best assessments offer useful information about what students know and what they still need to work on. Ideally, there's a system in place that makes it easy to crunch the numbers and compare results to quickly recognize patterns. This data can then be used to design further instruction to shore up weaknesses as required.
To measure the effectiveness of your assessments, use the checklist above as a guide. Does your current assessment system or individual item meet those requirements? To get a full view, it's necessary to include teacher as well as administrator feedback. Instructors are in a better position to determine whether frequent, informal assessments provide enough information to be useful in guiding their teaching on a regular basis.
Since they're intimately familiar with the details of the curriculum, they'll also be able to tell if assessments are relevant. Administrators should provide feedback on the usefulness of the data they receive from assessments and the ease of crunching the numbers in the ways most meaningful to them to monitor big-picture progress.
Benefits of A High-Quality Assessment for Students
Though much attention is placed on how schools and districts use data from various assessment systems, individual students also directly benefit from carefully crafted assessment. For one thing, they gain confidence in their own skills and in their relationships with their teachers when the assessments they must complete are aligned to the work they've done in class.
If you've ever had the experience of sitting down to a test filled with questions about topics that weren't discussed in class, you know just how frustrating it can feel. Because high-quality assessments are designed to be relevant, they eliminate anxiety about being unprepared and help maintain strong student-teacher relationships.
A high-quality assessment also provides second chances for students to succeed. Great assessments aren’t just about a one-time exam. Instead, frequent, formative assessments are given throughout the learning process, and students know that they will be allowed the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and show growth. This takes some of the anxiety out of testing and encourages a more growth-oriented mindset in the classroom.
The Impact of A High-Quality Assessment on Curriculum and Instruction
For instructors, one of the biggest benefits of excellent assessment models is that they provide the information they need to improve or change the course of their teaching. When high-quality assessments offer an easy way to look at data about whether the majority of students have mastered a learning goal, instructors can put that information to good use right away.
For example, if an individual teacher discovers that half of her students are making errors in multiplication facts dealing with numbers larger than 5, it doesn't make sense just to hand out a grade to each student and move on to long division. This data lets the teacher know that she needs to review the problem areas and provide extra practice before moving on. The data is even more useful when taken to an individual level, as the teacher can target remediation where it's needed and provide enrichment activities or individualized learning for those who are ready to move on.
Likewise, assessment data is useful at the administrative level when it comes to revising and updating curriculum. For example, when results show that a significant number of students struggle to identify poetic devices, it's worth looking at the ELA curriculum to see where poetry units need to be updated and enhanced.
Great assessment isn't merely about giving a grade to students and educators. At its best, high-quality assessment provides actionable information to inform curriculum and instruction decisions and allows for a real-time change of course to meet students' needs. The first step is to vet and design relevant, standards-based assessments that are used at many different stages of learning. From there, educators should approach the resulting data with a spirit of flexibility and adjust their strategies accordingly.
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