When assessment scores are reported, test items are often released with them to give teachers, administrators and parents a better sense of the test and what it measures. At New Meridian, we are taking that idea further. 

The Enhanced Item Release Program is a project launched in Illinois that aims to augment released test items with additional information about student performance that can make assessment data more helpful to districts and the communities they serve. Earlier this year, two dozen teachers in and around Chicago gathered to get a look at the new program—and to help improve it. 

“Assessment plays a vital role in improving student learning, and parents are empowered and engaged when they better understand their child’s progress.”

– Dr. Suzanne Johnson
Interim Superintendent of School District U-46, Elgin, Illinois

The Enhanced Item Release Program is designed to give educators, parents and other stakeholders information to help explain and contextualize state assessment scores. Rather than simply releasing sample test questions, the system “maps” those questions to how students in a state actually performed. The result is a report with actionable data about what students likely can and cannot answer correctly, which can help improve instructional planning, resource allocation and parent-teacher communication. 

Figure 1. An example of an item map with released items.

The Enhanced Item Release Program comes at a time when states are trying to derive more from their assessment programs, making a more direct connection between testing and classroom learning. “By releasing actual test items to illustrate what students can do at each score level, we can better help families, teachers, and students understand the results and support students’ learning and growth,” said Arthur VanderVeen, founder and CEO of New Meridian.  

First ‘Enhanced Reporting’ Workshop

The Enhanced Item Release Program is part of a broader New Meridian effort to boost what is known as “assessment literacy,” the ability that parents, teachers and other stakeholders have to more easily understand and use assessment results. The program comes in addition to a full suite of assessment literacy materials that New Meridian released in recent months. 

The goal of item mapping is to tie released items to actual test results, helping parents, teachers and other stakeholders better understand the process. To do that, it requires input from educators as the program evolves. That’s why teachers from districts in Chicago, Rockford and School District U-46 in Elgin, Illinois, gathered to take a look at the released items from the Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR), sorted by content and difficulty. The assessment content applied to math and English language arts in grades 3-5 and 6-8. 

Figure 2. An example of an enhanced item release presentation.

The workshop, conducted for New Meridian by the Human Resources Research Organization (HumRRO), allowed teachers to take part in a discussion about what additional information might be included on score reports or item-release documentation, making those documents more useful. Each panel was also asked to develop descriptive statements for each performance category on the item map, which describe the knowledge, skills, and abilities of students within that performance range. The statements are critical to providing necessary context for teachers, students, and parents. 

“U-46 appreciates the opportunity to be a part of this effort,” said U-46 Interim Superintendent Dr. Suzanne Johnson. “Assessment plays a vital role in improving student learning, and parents are empowered and engaged when they better understand their child’s progress.” 

New Meridian’s Enhanced Item Release Program is being studied in Illinois, where teachers are giving direct input to maximize the utility of assessment reporting. And that’s exactly the type of real-world input that will give state assessments more value. As VanderVeen put it, “We are thrilled to have worked directly with Illinois teachers to derive richer, more meaningful reporting from the Illinois Assessment of Readiness.”