With an increasing emphasis on using data efficiently and effectively to make instructional decisions, it is important for all educators to adopt a common language and common understanding of assessment so that we can work collaboratively to improve educational outcomes for all students.
Testing, Assessment, or Evaluation? These three terms are often used interchangeably, but it is important to acknowledge the differences and, more importantly, to be thoughtful about the difference in our professional practice. A test is an instrument, it gives us data and evaluation is a process of making judgments and decisions about that data. For example, the Paul performed at the 10th percentile on the Reading Comprehension portion of the Iowa Assessments (test); he is performing far below proficiency and the expected level (evaluation). Assessment, by contrast, is a process of asking and answering questions and must always, therefore, begin with a question.
There are four types of assessment, meaning that there are four types of questions, which our student data can answer – screening, diagnostic, formative, and summative. Screening assessments answer “Who?” questions such as, “Who is not meeting grade level expectations for reading accuracy?” In order to answer this screening assessment question, a test of reading accuracy must be given to all students, perhaps a grade level running record. A team of teachers would then look at their common assessment data, the running records, and identify students who are not reading the material accurately.
Next, they would probably ask, “Why are they not reading accurately?” This is a diagnostic assessment question. Diagnostic assessment answer the “Why?” questions and helps us to identify specific skill deficits so that instruction can be targeted to a child’s, or group of children’s, specific needs and deficits. In our reading example, the team might analyze errors from the running record or give a phonics test. It is important to be thoughtful about the diagnostic assessment that we choose and use what we need to answer the questions that we generate from the information that we already have about a child or group of children. Remember, data is useless unless it answers a question.
Once the team pinpoints a specific skill deficit, they can develop individual or group instructional interventions to teach the missing or underdeveloped skills. As students receive the intervention, the team of teachers needs a mechanism to answer the question, “Are they making progress?” They need formative assessment tools, which answer questions about progress and whether or not students are learning the material that is being taught. Formative assessment is also used to inform ongoing instruction.
As the team monitors student progress, they are looking forward to a summative assessment, which will answer the question, “Did my students learn the material?” A summative assessment question may be answered by a standardized test, like the Iowa Assessments, or teacher created tests and quizzes.
If all schools develop and use a strong process of screening, diagnostic, and formative assessment, then summative assessment and evaluation will become much less scary for teachers and school leaders. It is crucial that schools develop effective assessment practices in order to assure improved educational outcomes for all students.
All of Great Prairie’s certified staff and a growing number of administrators and teacher leaders across the agency are reading Leaders Make it Happen: An Administrator’s Guide to Data Teams. This book provides a framework for schools to develop Instructional, Building, and District Data Teams to systematically and collaboratively assess student learning and progress and make instructional and administrative decisions based on data; not gut reactions. In other words, using data to take the guesswork out of teaching and turn “I think” into “I know.”
Through Data Team pilots at Keota, Central Lee, Cardinal, and North Mahaska, internal and external professional development, book studies, and professional conversations, Great Prairie is working with our LEA partners to foster common language and understanding as well as the development of effective and efficient data based decision-making practices.
Cory C. Johnson, EdS, NCSP, School Psychologist
641-472-3414 ext. 5408