The Hidden Potential of Classroom Assessments
- February 26, 2020
Of all the assessments teachers, schools, and districts use, classroom assessments provide the most detailed, precise, and timely information. These everyday quizzes, unit tests, and exit tickets provide:
- Formative information teachers need to improve instruction
- Focus for teacher-parent communication
- The data teachers rely on for report cards
These uses are important, but they represent only a fraction of the true potential of classroom assessments. Classroom assessment results contain rich, meaningful data that holds hidden potential for informing all aspects of the school improvement process.
“Classroom assessments hold hidden potential for informing all aspects of the school improvement process.”
Assessment data holds great potential for informing school improvement efforts but realizing that potential has been an elusive goal. A key lies in the assessments that we look to in order to inform our practice. The current paradigm is to focus time and attention on state test results. Yet over the 20 years that mark the era of large-scale assessments, state assessment data has failed to inform instruction and strategic initiatives in ways that close gaps and increase equity. The quest for more timely, meaningful data to inform instructional practice has led many to adopt computerized interim assessment systems. Unfortunately, these too have repeatedly fallen short in achieving their desired potential as Heather Hill, professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, points out in this recent piece from EdWeek.
While studying state and interim assessment data has fallen short in its impact on student learning, under the right conditions that I discuss here, school and district leadership can turn their attention to the information that is closest to the student/teacher relationship: classroom assessments.
Untapped Potentials of Classroom Assessments
Classroom assessments, when put solidly at the center of PLC conversations, provide the clearest insights into potential responses. These assessments provide tangible evidence of student performance in response to instruction. They should be at the heart of conversations as teachers reflect on and refine their practice. When teachers share common classroom assessments and use the results from those assessments to collaborate and plan, their work is more efficient and effective.
When classroom assessments are at the core of regular data cycles, consistency of pacing and instruction improves among teachers who teach the same content.
Informed and Embedded Professional Learning
Classroom assessments, tied to standards, hold the best information for guiding strategic professional development initiatives. When leaders (coaches, professional learning specialists, principals, and others) can view organized classroom assessment results, they can identify patterns of performance that inform decisions related to focus and resource allocation. Because these assessments tie directly to classroom lessons, learning becomes grounded in action.
When classroom assessments take the front seat, focus improves, and instruction is aligned with a clear set of objectives. Teachers are no longer considering different goals such as, “Should I teach toward this end of unit assessment, or prepare my students for the next computerized interim assessment?” Focusing on one set of learning targets and objectives improves communication, planning, and helps everyone to act with intention.
When teachers have more ownership over the selection of and use of assessments, their intrinsic interest in student success on those assessments improves. Contrast this buy-in with complaints that teachers espouse when it comes to state and interim assessments: “We didn’t teach it that way,” or, “We haven’t taught that yet.” Aligned with instruction, from the classroom and graded by teachers, classroom assessments support teacher buy-in.
A Light in the Classroom
Leaders never have enough time to be in classrooms. When the focus is on classroom assessments, leaders gain direct insights into the content that is the focus of instruction, as well as classroom methods, pacing, and expectations.
Understanding Curricular Implementations
When assessments directly align with adopted instructional materials, they provide leaders with ways to understand and monitor the effectiveness of implementation. Medium and large districts often spend millions of dollars on adopted materials. The assessments that are part of those materials have the potential to provide direct evidence of the success of those materials. This allows leaders to respond and maximize the impact of a new adoption.
When teams of teachers focus on a common set of classroom assessments, consistency across grading practices increases. By making classroom assessments the focus of collaborative work, teachers come to common understandings of what proficiency looks like. As a result, transparency and consistency across grading practices improves.
Eliminate Middle Layer Assessments
Minimize the need for additional interim assessments. When classroom assessments provide the information that school and district leaders need for their work, additional assessments become redundant and can be minimized or eliminated.
Beyond their critical importance as formative assessments and their central role in determining grades, classroom assessments hold more potential for improving instruction and learning outcomes than any other type of assessment. Classroom assessments should:
- Be central to data meetings and the collaborative planning and strategic work of schools
- Inform district-wide decision making and professional development initiatives
- Be used to monitor the success of curricular implementations
Classroom assessments hold untapped potential to fuel school-improvement processes for classrooms, schools, and districts, but how can this potential be unlocked? Read my recent post here on how to unlock the potential of the meaningful data in classroom assessments.
Interested in seeing how the company that I built helps brings classroom assessment data to the forefront? Check out a free, interactive demo of our software here.
About the author, David Woodward:
I came to math education in a rather round-about way. My undergrad studies were in German and music, and my Master’s degree is in bilingual education and ESL. I work as both a math instructional coach and founder and president of Forefront Education. Learn more about the company I founded and my background here.
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