Juan D’Brot and Erika Landl are senior associates at the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment, commonly known as the Center for Assessment. Both were instrumental in producing this year’s Reidy Interactive Lecture Series, which focused on interim assessment, and the Center’s Interim Assessment Specifications Process. The Prime caught up with them as they finish a busy year.

How do you define interim assessment?

An interim assessment is a tool that provides information about student learning throughout a course, grade or instructional sequence. It is differentiated from formative assessment in that it is not a process that occurs during or in concert with instruction. The results can be used to inform instruction (i.e., for formative purposes) but they do not constitute formative assessment. Similarly, interim assessments differ from summative assessments in that the results are not used to make decisions about the full range of knowledge, skills and abilities acquired by the end of a course or grade.

Why are interim assessments valuable in today’s testing environment?

If designed appropriately, interim assessments can be used to inform several types of educational decisions, including those related to:

— the quality of programs and initiatives
— how students are progressing in a particular content area
— where additional instruction is required
— where professional development may be required
— how well curriculum and instruction reflect the standards.

In addition, they can be used to measure standards that are difficult to assess, facilitate self-monitoring by students and help educators understand how items can be designed to reflect the complexity of standards. However, the value of an interim assessment is dependent on how well it is aligned to a specified purpose and use.

What is the proper role of interim assessment in a balanced assessment system?

A balanced assessment system is one where various assessments in the system (1) are coherently linked through a clear specification of learning targets, (2) are comprehensive in scope, providing evidence that supports educational decision-making by different stakeholders, and (3) serve to continuously document student progress over time. Interim assessments can contribute to the utility of assessment systems if thoughtfully developed to address a particular need, but they are not a required component of a balanced assessment system. Consequently, the “proper” role of interim assessment, if any, will vary depending on the portfolio of assessments that already exist and how the results from the assessment are intended to be used.

What insight can an interim assessment provide that we might not otherwise have?

A well-designed interim assessment provides a way of supplementing and corroborating existing knowledge of student performance, curricular effectiveness or instructional delivery. For example, a granular interim assessment could be used to formally confirm estimates of student achievement and progress based upon educator’s formative assessment practices. Alternatively, an assessment that is broader in scope/content coverage might be used to evaluate how well curriculum is being delivered by educators or received by students. The intended purpose and use of an interim assessment must be defined in advance to ensure that districts and schools choose options that are aligned with their goals.

How can states and districts maximize effective use of interim assessment data?

Effective use of interim assessment information is dependent on whether the assessment fits into a well-defined vision for teaching and learning. Before implementing an interim assessment, users should consider the following:

— What purpose is the interim assessment intending to serve? How are stakeholders (e.g., instructional leaders, teacher teams, educators and students) expected to use information from the assessment?

— How does information from an interim assessment inform progress toward teachers’ instructional processes and student learning goals?

— How does the interim assessment supplement existing assessment information or local assessment practices in the district or school?

We believe that leveraging a thoughtful process that enables districts and schools to evaluate and select interim assessments that are well aligned to their needs and goals will lead to more valuable applications of interim assessments.

The Center is developing a tool to guide states and districts through a process to evaluate interim assessments and identify those that best meet their needs. What can you tell us about it?

The Interim Assessment Specifications Process was developed to help those tasked with identifying, developing and/or procuring local assessments do so through a systems-based lens. There are three phases to the process:

— In Phase 1, leaders work together to articulate the state/district vision of teaching and learning and the intended role of assessment within that vision; discuss existing assessments within the system and whether they support that vision; and identify and prioritize gaps in the information believed necessary to help students, educators and schools improve.

— In Phase 2, educational leaders articulate the characteristics and features an assessment must demonstrate to support the intended use and identify the specific types of evidence necessary to support decisions about technical quality.

— In Phase 3, users will evaluate whether assessments are (1) aligned to the state’s vision, (2) being used as intended and (3) facilitating desired changes in behavior.

What advice would you give decision makers who are considering interim assessment?

While it is often overused, it is important for decision makers to draw on one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Begin with the end in mind. While a state/district may have a good, general idea of what they want from an interim assessment it is easy to lose sight of desired outcomes if the intended purpose, use and desired characteristics are not clearly defined. Therefore, we encourage states and districts to place the intended use and utility of interim assessments at the forefront of the evaluation process by: 1) clearly defining the role interim assessments should play, if any 2) determining and prioritizing assessment needs, and 3) articulating the specific assessment design characteristics necessary to meet those needs.