Creating or Selecting Effective Interim Assessments

 Effective Interim Assessments Are Essential For Guiding and Tracking Student Learning While Also Reducing The Achievement Gap.

High quality interim assessments identify the gap between actual and desired performance and suggest actions that is required to close the gap. It provides information about students’ strengths and weaknesses and helps teachers map out an improvement strategy, including differentiating the instructions.

Student Learning

This article examines the intended goals of interim assessments in elementary and high schools. The core principles that must be applied while creating rigorous interim assessments or selecting available assessments are as follows:

  1. Always keep the end-objective in mind

The quality of a school depends on how good it’s students perform in end-goal assessments. At elementary level, such assessments mostly include statewide or district-wide exams, whereas for secondary level, it could include SAT/ACT scores or AP/IB exam results. It is therefore important that decisions, while designing interim assessments are not vague or ill-defined. Assessments must be designed in reference to the specific demands of the end-goal assessments.

  1. Align Your Tests to Help Students Perform in Their End-Goal Tests

Often schools are sensitive to teachers’ resistance towards periodic tests. Teachers claim that over-testing decreases instructional time. Hence tests are watered down making it easier for them to meet their proficiency targets. The problem in this approach is that it leaves significant parts of the curriculum out of the tests and does not prepare students for the demands of high-stake end-goal exams.

There are various steps that need to be followed in order to create pre-assessments that are aligned to end-goal exams. Questions and topics usually employed during such exams must be identified and sorted.  Examining actual state tests provide insights on the types of answers expected, scoring patterns, length of exams and the stamina required to complete them. This alignment is not only limited to content but should also follow the format, length and each important details of the test.

  1. Verify the Third-Party Tests While Purchasing

In order to ensure the best possible preparation with up to date content, schools often purchase sample test examinations from third party test providers. But before purchasing the tests, the school leaders and teachers should verify whether those tests are aligned to the schools per-assessment goals. Third party test providers should be pushed to modify the tests for better alignment with the school’s academic goals, if required.

  1. Assessments Should be Designed to Help Students Succeed in College

The skills required to pass state exams often fail to prepare students to succeed in college or other post-secondary environments. While assessments need to ensure students perform well in state exams, their ultimate motive is to also ensure that students are equipped with the rigor and skills needed during their time in college and beyond.

High schools have a much clearer path to take as they attempt to align their interim assessments with end-goal exams like ACT/SAT, AP/IB etc. It is much more difficult for elementary and middle school teachers to prepare tests as they have to follow state exam curriculum. Elementary schools are defined as starting from Kindergarten to Grade 5, whereas middle school contains classes 6, 7 and 8. It requires much more strategic planning to reach that level of preparing assessments. Here are some examples of college-ready rigor for those grade spans:

  • Reading at Elementary Level

At the elementary level, an effortless way to push for greater rigor is to set higher reading-level expectations and evaluate students’ progress at above-grade reading levels. The most useful information that an interim reading assessment can give is each student’s reading level, as well as an analysis of the skills that need improvement.

There are a number of widely-used scales of text difficulty (e.g., Fountas-Pinnell, Lexile, Reading Recovery, DRA) that allow teachers to place students on a continuum of increasing reading proficiency. For example, the Fountas-Pinnel system expects kindergarten students to achieve levels A, B and C while students in grade 1 to achieve levels C to I.

Pushing kindergarten students to reach level C or D by the end of the year can be one strategy to inculcate rigor required for the next level.

  • Math at Elementary Level

Set higher grade-level expectations. For this the assessments can start introducing math concepts from the next grade level. The process can start slowly where first graders are taught 20% of second grade math, while second graders are taught 50% of third grade math and so forth. Preparing students who are already grade proficient for their next class is the key here.

There are two ways of structuring interim math tests: (a) gradually unveiling the cumulative curriculum by adding each quarter’s new material, so that each successive assessment gets longer and longer (North Star Academy, consistently ranked as one of the top private elementary school chains in the US uses this approach); or (b) giving a different version of the year-end test each quarter and instructing students to ignore the items they haven’t covered yet (Edison schools of USA use this approach). Either way, teachers can figure out a student’s status with respect to year-end proficiency, while including high-grade math.

  • Math at Middle School

Middle school math curriculum introduces students to the basic concepts of linear equations and expressions but algebra comes only at the high school level. Introducing algebra as an alternative method to solve problems and making students use algebra actively can make exercises more interesting. The goal is not only to inculcate rigor within students but to also make them prepared for future studies.

  • Reading at Middle School Level

Using the similar tactic, of introducing algebra in middle school, for reading, might not be as straight forward. It is not wise to give students harder text to read. It will not fulfill the purpose as insufficient vocabulary might limit their comprehension ability. The important task is to carefully choose a text with grade level vocabulary but complex meaning. This way the teacher can assess critical reading which could hardly be possible with middle school novels or texts.

  1. Assessments Should be Cumulative

Effective assessments ensure they revisit material from earlier in the year. This review is especially important for subjects like math where retaining previous knowledge is must to learn newer concepts. There are two methods that are generally followed. In the first method, the interim tests become longer as the year progresses, while in the second method all material from day one is tested and tracked to check student’s progress. One of the most common mistakes that the schools make is they convert interim assessment into unit tests rather than cumulative assessments.

  1. Teachers Should have The Ownership of Assessment

Give teachers the opportunity to put meaningful inputs in creating or selecting assessments. Teachers’ active involvement in this process ensures their commitment. Teachers must be given the ownership in delivering assessments, evaluating them and providing timely and actionable feedback to students. The ownership and commitment will drive accountability and stake in the results as well.

Well-written and carefully thought-out assessments help highlight the strengths and weaknesses of a student and provide feedback to improve instruction. They lead to two of the most important objectives of the school – They help students achieve better results in end-goal exams while preparing them to succeed at the college level.

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