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Establishing Comprehensive Assessment Plans for the Common Core

Student progress is best measured by accurate data gathered from effective assessments

Whether assessments administered in a district are producing useful data can be determined through establishing a comprehensive assessment plan. Assessments should support a district’s strategic plan and determine student progress according to Common Core State Standards. This web seminar, originally broadcast on February 20, 2014, featured experts in curriculum development and school improvement, who presented the best ways to develop strategic assessment plans, how to determine assessment effectiveness, and how to inform stakeholders of student progress.

Assessment Solutions Consultant

Our philosophy at CTB/McGraw-Hill is to make sure we are always increasing student learning. Our job is to figure out how to make administrators’ lives easier in this mission. There are many places we can pull data from. When you are look at assessments, administrators should see if any of them overlap in purpose as far as gathering data. Do we have a plan for systematically administering all assessments and using the data that result? Have we communicated that purpose to our stakeholders, including students, parents and the community? Do we have a plan to measure students’ learning and program effectiveness? Ultimately, can you answer: Are we making progress?

Assessment Solutions Representative

When we start talking about a strategic plan, one central purpose of the Comprehensive Assessment Plan is to be sure the metrics are in place to measure the established goals of the strategic plan. The Board of Education’s goals are the backbone of the strategic plan. Board communication in reports will outline progress on each goal. This is really important work in our school districts, and we often do not plan the metrics to measure that important work. We are so busy doing activities that we often do not think about how to measure the effectiveness of the activities. For each goal in a strategic plan, district-level staff create plans to meet those goals. Large quantities of resources are dedicated to these plans. For example, many of us have been engaged since 2009 to shift our curriculum toward the Common Core State Standards.

A lot of time has been spent planning for this change and ensuring our students are college and career ready. However, we do not see district leaders taking that same strategic approach to planning for the assessments that will provide us with the data that show our progress in student learning, and which prove program effectiveness. As assessments are considered for measuring each goal, each assessment needs to be utilized judiciously and with a clear purpose. Oftentimes, we are also finding that tools are overlapping. We are getting similar data from many assessments. Sometimes, some of these overlapping tools can be eliminated. More often than not, however, I find more gaps than overlaps. What measures of student learning does your district have in place that already measure goals? What goals need additional or different measures to help us measure that increased student learning we are after? Once the district goals are matched to the assessment information already in place, then we are ready to consider the pieces of a comprehensive assessment plan.

Adam: We need to implement strategic measures of how students are doing on the CCSS. While more testing may not be the answer, strategic and balanced assessments are. You need to develop a list of needs: Do we have growth data? Do we need benchmarking data? Do we need reading data? Whatever those needs are, you must identify them throughout your district in a strategic manner to ensure you are fulfilling state requirements and assessing what you need to assess. Maybe you have done a one-to-one initiative and you need to report to your board that it has made an impact and money was used effectively. I suggest you create a chart to determine what your assessment needs are for each grade level. Your chart should indicate what assessments you are currently doing. This is an easy way to see what is being covered and where the gaps are. As an example, growth is one of the needs in a district. List the tests, by grade level, and how you are measuring growth. If you need to show growth at all grade levels, doing this exercise may help you realize you are missing a growth assessment for a specific grade. And perhaps you will realize you are administering two tests for growth in a particular grade. Creating this chart can help you judiciously select the best assessments that may be able to cover multiple needs.

Reed: You should create charts that communicate to the Board and other stakeholders the purpose of assessments. Needs and goals should be matched to each assessment administered to justify its purpose. You should communicate to stakeholders that you are looking to eliminate redundancies and that you chose assessments that serve more than one need and multiple meaningful purposes. Assessment data that goes unused is indicative that a test should not be given at all. We often hear teachers and others complain “we test too much.” What they are really saying is, “We don’t use the results from these tests.” So, they view these tests as irrelevant. It is not really about less testing, it should be about administering more operable tests that provide the data we need to strengthen student learning and therefore show progress toward our goals.

Adam: The biggest thing you need to do for your stakeholders is answer “Are we making progress?” Is there data to answer that question? Are students learning? That can be a hard thing to quantify without numbers or a mixture of qualitative and quantitative data. In order to answer “are we making progress,” we need comprehensive, balanced assessments. No one who starts off doing an assessment plan from scratch has every gap filled. That is okay. By doing a comprehensive and balanced assessment plan, what you are doing is justifying needs and showing where you do not have assessments. You can communicate to stakeholders that you may later expand when the need to fill a particular gap gets greater. Balance is about offering all types of assessments. You should do progress monitoring on a weekly or biweekly basis. You need interim assessments that benchmark where students are at the end of a quarter. You need summative assessment data, which is the only way to indicate whether you achieved what you set out to do at the end of a year. Doing all of these assessments can give you a complete picture of your students’ progress. By utilizing a comprehensive, balanced assessment program, you can make sure you are covering all data needs. When you are describing your district, you can talk about your strengths and opportunities for improvement with informed data. You can be as transparent as possible to your Board, parents, and community. A comprehensive, balanced assessment program is the only way you can have confidence in an evaluation of everything that is going on in your district. Ultimately, you need to answer, “Is this right for students?” By using your comprehensive, balanced assessment program, you are looking at what works and does not work. It is okay if something does not work, but you need to have the data that demonstrate what does not work. Data is the beginning of wisdom, not the end. We do not have students in school to get a good score on a CCSS assessment. We have them in school to increase their learning. Data simply informs where you move next and if you are making progress.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to: