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The Journey to Academic Success: Assessment Through the Year

Many journeys have a purpose. For our learners that purpose is academic success. To begin planning the role assessment plays in a student’s academic success we need to understand the purpose of different types of assessments.

Outlining the journey

Assessments are used to:

  • diagnose where students are before learning activities start
  • check during learning so both teachers and students may adjust teaching and learning
  • verify learning along the way, particularly the attainment of learning aligned to standards
  • verify end of unit/course proficiency

All assessments become part of the roadmap to academic success. We use the results (actionable data) to create learners’ knowledge maps indicating what they know and don’t know and where they need to go next.

Various types of assessments generate actionable data–diagnostic, formative, interim or benchmark, and summative. The most actionable data is timely, easy to understand, immediately actionable, and aligned to standards (national, global, CASEL, NGSS, etc.), social emotional learning or those supporting culturally and linguistically diverse learners.

Diagnostic assessment: precedes instruction and is used to identify what learners know/don’t know about a topic.
Formative assessment: a planned, ongoing process used by all students and teachers during learning and teaching to elicit and use evidence of student learning to improve student understanding of intended disciplinary learning outcomes and support students to become self-directed learners (CCSSO, 2021).
Interim assessment: administered at intervals between instructional periods to help teachers better understand what a student knows and needs, and to determine progress toward learning goals; it measures student growth and identifies patterns or trends (NWEA, 2013).
Benchmark assessment: a formal, periodic assessment administered during specified times that aligns with established proficiency expectations (e.g., standards, reading benchmarks); it measures the degree to which students have met these expectations (Nhouyvanisvong, 2016).
Summative assessment: culminating assessments that report the evaluation of learning, skills acquisition and standards attainment; can be used for a single unit or for the entire school year; used to determine whether students have learned what they were expected to learn.

Mapping the Journey

With the data we need to collect identified, we can start building the map. Actionable data is critical to define a learner’s starting point. We can’t plan our stops on the roadmap without having data that allows us to personalize learning for our students. The Data Quality Campaign tells us that quality data used with strong pedagogy, content knowledge and professional judgment can improve learner outcomes. Making actionable data readily available to both learners and educators means everyone has an opportunity to collaborate for academic success.

Some governments publish assessment guidelines (i.e., Emirates Schools Establishment (ESE) Assessment Policy Guidebook and Exam Regulations for the Academic Year 2021/2022). These guidelines provide information on the type of assessment, grades for administration and a timetable for completion and contribute to the assessment plan schools develop. Determining when these check-ins on learning occur during the journey to academic success is important. However, the companion to which assessment when that is sometimes left out of planning is the opportunity to pause, dialogue, reflect, and discuss the data–the opportunity to make it actionable, to adjust the journey. As the assessment plan is built, these reflection and discussion pauses are critical junctures in the journey. Educators need time to identify strengths and needs, as do learners. Educators and learners may need to make route adjustments in the journey. The actual map of the journey may need to vary with new or revised goals in mind.

One new aspect of this journey is the role of social emotional learning. Many of the materials available to schools specify these aspects of SEL: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. You might notice overlap with these ideas and what we’ve learned about self-regulated learners—those who select and set goals, monitor their progress, manage time and resources, and make responsible decisions, to name just a few of the characteristics. Some schools are beginning to assess SEL as part of their support to learners’ academic success.

Journeys often have an end goal and timeline in mind. Using academic success as the goal, the end date may be the school year or a student’s career in a particular school (multiple years). Either way, planning the route (and allowing for adjustments) with an end date in mind means a calendar may be useful. Some assessment policies include calendars or date guidelines (Assessment Policy, athena Education, 2020-2021).

There are multiple aspects to consider when building an assessment calendar, a particular aspect of the journey to academic success. Important planning components may include:

  • Assessment resource
  • Assessment purpose (accountability, instruction, students, etc.)
  • Who administers
  • Assessment window (dates)
  • Results available (dates, format, etc.)
  • Dialogue opportunities
  • Participants (grade levels)
  • Target subjects
  • Testing method (helps with planning space and technology usage)

Creating a plan/calendar of the assessment, administration dates, grades affected, and dialogue opportunities can help surface challenges that might arise due to space, technology and grades being tested. What wouldn’t appear on this calendar would be teachers’ use of formative assessment, which happens day-to-day, minute-by-minute during instruction and some diagnostic assessment which might be part of the teachers’ formative practice.

The assessment aspect of learners’ journey to academic success is complex. How do educators (and students) get enough quality, actionable data to set the goals for the journey, outline the path, know when to check in along the way, and identify the necessary adjustments to meet the goals? Being knowledgeable about different types of assessment and planning time for making sense of and using the data are part of the plan. Professional development to support educators in those areas is also part of the plan. As with many journeys, side roads are often explored. Unplanned discoveries are made, and horizons expand.

What does the academic year in the life of a teacher look like in terms of assessment? Explore our free academic assessment timeline and see how different types of assessment can inform instruction.

We’ve also included some information on how Edmentum can support you and your school with rigorous assessment options.

This article was written by Kathy S Dyer.

Kathy Dyer is an innovative educator who has served as a teacher, principal, district assessment coordinator, and adjunct professor. She has a passion for learner-centered learning—opportunities for learners of all ages to learn with, from, and for one another. Believing that all learners can learn more and grow more, Kathy is passionate about helping schools and educators get better at what they do.

Kathy combines a deep understanding of adult learning with a passion for collaborative problem solving to help school systems improve student outcomes. Her work has been featured on eSchool NewsEducation DiveEd Circuit, Teach. Learn. Grow. blog, and Getting Smart.

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