Jenn Mitchell has spent over a decade working in education, first in higher ed as a graduation advisor, FERPA trainer, and associate registrar. She later found her home in edtech, where she has led strategic marketing initiatives for several SaaS technologies, expanded partnership programs, and launched a series of transformational professional-development events. Jenn now leads product marketing at Instructure, evangelizing the adoption of the Instructure Learning Platform to improve teaching and learning.
Instructure’s annual State of Assessment in K-12 Education uncovers key trends on driving effective assessment in schools.
A new school year, filled with new faces, new possibilities, new challenges, and new lessons will likely also be filled with the familiar ongoing effects of learning gaps many students have experienced over the past few years.
As K-12 educators rely on assessments to gauge student progress in this year’s curriculum, teachers need the support and skills to leverage the resulting data to quickly adjust for entire class instruction and design interventions for individual students. In order to do this, we need to build capacity with teachers when it comes to building high-quality assessments and conducting data analysis. To do this meaningfully, we need to understand how assessment is viewed and used today.
According to Instructure’s recent research study, 2023 State of Assessment in K-12 Education, in partnership with Hanover Research, most educators perceive their school or district culture as assessment-focused (81%). Still, less than two-thirds of educators (62%) would describe themselves as proficient in assessment literacy, and (64%) feel comfortable with the state standards applicable to their specific courses.
This revealing data highlights two important things: the significance of assessment and data literacy, and the value of taking the time and effort to build a positive data culture.
Time to Prioritize Assessment Literacy
Assessment literacy is continuing to be a hot topic in K-12. In order for assessment to have an impact on learning, teachers must ensure they are testing on the right things. Do they understand their standards? Do they understand how standards progress from one grade to the next?
Once they are familiar with learning standards, teachers must write high-quality assessment items at the appropriate depth of knowledge levels to reflect those standards. It is only then that the insights become actionable through proper data analysis.
Knowing that few teachers receive high levels of assessment training in their pre-service programs, the task of building assessment literacy often falls to school- and district-level administrators through continued professional development. By committing to the principles of sound assessment practice, educators can drive effective learning and foster student success.
Some key considerations when prioritizing assessment literacy include:
- Develop and communicate your school or district’s “why” statement for assessment. Consider asking questions like “Why are we asking students to show what they know?” and “Why are we asking educators to take precious time to build assessments?”
- Provide time for teachers to collaborate around standards. This collaboration will help define which are priority standards and which are supporting ones. Identifying prerequisite skills and how students will apply those skills in the future is also helpful.
- Allow educators to create assessments and analyze data together. No one enjoys working in a silo or feeling like they are on an island, so open up opportunities for group analysis. This type of collaboration requires additional supports; ask yourself the following questions:
- Are there resources educators have access to that will streamline the assessment creation process?
- What hurdles do teachers face in creating high-quality assessments?
- Do teachers feel safe discussing their data?
- What resources do teachers have access to for intervention, remediation, or enrichment?
- What support can be provided at the school or district level?
- Celebrate success. Build excitement around assessments, especially when acknowledging students who have mastered new skills or improved overall. Also, celebrate the investment of teachers by highlighting when learning cycles have become more effective. Once you celebrate, lean into setting new goals for ongoing success.
Building a Collective Vision of Assessment
According to the State of Assessment in K-12 Education, both teachers and administrators value assessment and the data it provides, but they tend to view it and use it in very different ways.
First, teachers and administrators tend to rely primarily on different data sources and applications. Teachers often utilize data gathered from in-class formative assessment to inform instruction and meet individual student needs. Administrators, on the other hand, are more deeply immersed in interim and summative assessment trends over time to inform programmatic decisions.
Additionally, administrators often have more training in assessment and data analysis than classroom teachers; this uncovers the need for continuing professional development to bring the two data sources–and skillsets–together in order to provide a more holistic picture of student learning.
To bring the two sides more in line, consider these tips:
- Acknowledge the different drivers as you look at the data together. Where do teacher and administrator goals overlap? What is the collective definition for student success in the school or district?
- Establish a common language for assessment. What do formative, interim, and summative assessments mean at the school or district? How does each type of assessment drive learning forward?
- Hear everyone’s voices. What active communication channels surround assessment between teachers and administrators? Which teachers are seeing positive assessment results and how can they be shared through actionable PD and collaborative PLCs? How do students feel about assessment in the school or district? Are there other more authentic assessment modalities to explore?
We can shift the negative connotation around assessment and bring stakeholders closer with a focus on assessment literacy and an alignment of values. When everyone keeps the focus on students in service of a shared vision, schools can be the bridge to creating a positive assessment culture. One that reduces stress and celebrates achievements of all sizes.