As educators, we are constantly bombarded with news about the pandemic and the “learning loss” that occurred. Most articles attribute this decline to inconsistent attendance, the switch from in-person to virtual, and other classroom disruptions. Solutions seem to be in shorter supply.
As districts and states start to navigate recovery, assessments are often seen as the key benchmark in determining the progress made compared to pre-2019 through 2020 school year levels of achievement. That seems like a right-minded, data-driven strategy, but it can have an impact on how both teachers and students approach learning.
In the classroom, teachers are facing increasing pressure to have their students perform well on state-wide assessments. That raises questions. How do I determine what my student knows and whether they can apply that knowledge? Can I embed assessment into my curriculum in an engaging way? What will my state assessment system focus on? Answering these questions will allow both teacher and student to lower the anxiety around testing and gain the tools needed to provide support.
New Meridian is committed to helping educators with this type of assessment literacy, and we have created courses to increase understanding and awareness. To learn more, work your way through the courses. Until then, here are some answers to common questions.
What is the definition of an assessment?
An assessment is anything that educators can use to measure what students can do. Note that there is no need to use this tool as a part of a student’s grade. An assessment can simply be used to gauge student progress and inform teachers where individuals or groups may need extra support.
What purpose does an assessment serve?
Assessments can serve many purposes. They can evaluate prior knowledge and preconceptions; quickly check for understanding to adapt teaching strategy; and determine the level of content mastery for state accountability measures. A common criticism is that teachers “teach to the test” when it comes to state assessments. Ideally, state assessments should be tied intentionally and directly to the curriculum being taught in the classroom. That way, educators can teach to the curriculum and not the test.
Can an assessment also be engaging?
Any quality assessment should encourage students to think critically. In recent years, the topic of socio-scientific issues (SSI) has been increasingly explored. These are issues that have both a scientific component and implications for society, like the exploration of food deserts or the testing of testosterone levels in professional athletes. When students see a connection between what they are learning in the classroom and their everyday lives, they are more engaged. Pushed further, SSIs can be leveraged to have students propose solutions to worldwide problems.
How do I incorporate assessment understanding in my classroom?
It is critical for educators to understand the state-level assessment process. This should include not just the scoring methodology, but also the item development process and criteria. Understanding how assessments are created will pay dividends when you are asked to administer them in the classroom. State education departments often have opportunities for educators to be involved in the creation of items, the establishment of cut scores, and reviewing post-assessment data. These activities are time well spent for every teacher.
What happens before an assessment appears in your classroom?
New Meridian values the wealth of knowledge teachers have, especially in terms of the content and pedagogical knowledge they bring to high-stakes assessments. It is for these reasons we have set up two separate science educator cadres to review and develop science assessment items in the states where we work. The review cadre serves to give educators more agency in a field that is frequently considered to be a “black box.”
For example, while working with educators from the state of Maine, members of the cadre found the process of setting a cut score to be enlightening. We developed profiles of students who would find themselves between proficiency classifications, such as “well below” and “below.” Teachers took pictures of our work to bring back to their schools to implement these ideas in the classroom.
The more a teacher knows about the development and scoring of a state assessment, the better their students can perform. As an educator in Massachusetts, I would frequently incorporate released items from the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) as open response items on my exams. I was then able to grade those responses using the state-provided rubrics and discuss the results with the class. My students reported that this took some of the mystery out of what was on the test, providing a clearer understanding of how they would be graded.
The responsibility of creating and implementing a quality state assessment system lies not only with the participating state but also with assessment vendors. More needs to be done to support educators in their journey to assessment literacy. To that end, New Meridian has developed a series of interactive learning courses that guide the user through balanced assessment systems, data-driven decision-making, and our work in Maine. New Meridian is dedicated to helping educators better understand the assessments they administer.
To learn more, access the courses.
Amy Byron taught chemistry and biology at the high school and college level for more than fifteen years. She is currently the Product Manager for the New Meridian Science Exchange.