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Multiple Measures Done Right: The 7 Principles of Coherent Assessment Systems

Strategies to meet district needs

Now more than ever, education leaders are being asked to develop assessment systems that support a huge variety of needs—student learning, system accountability, program evaluation and more—while providing the most value in the least amount of time. To meet this challenge, there are several principles that can guide administrators in creating the most effective assessment systems that meet their district’s needs.

In this web seminar, the vice president of education research at the NWEA discussed some of the keys to creating coherent assessment systems.

Vice President of
Education Research

There are seven standards or principles that define the purpose-driven assessment system.

1. Define your purpose for assessment. It’s important that any assessment you’re using has a purpose, that the purpose is valid and that all teachers in the system understand what that purpose is.

In our most recent survey, seven of 10 teachers, principals and superintendents said students are spending too much time taking assessments, but three-quarters of students and more than half of parents actually believe that students spend the right amount of time or too little time taking assessments.

When the purposes of the assessment are known and directly related in the eyes of the students to their own learning, they see assessments as being highly valuable. Their criticism of state assessments tends to be that these tests are delivered at the end of the year, and oftentimes results aren’t received by the students until the next year—if received at all—and they don’t see the impact that they have on their learning.

2. Educate teachers. If teachers don’t know how to properly administer the assessment so you’re getting good data out of it, and teachers don’t know how to apply the results to improve learning in the classroom, then the assessment is largely a waste of time.
One thing that’s important to focus on is making sure that assessment results are being used and that they’re being used to the benefit of students. That requires training and professional development. If that’s delivered and if the teachers are getting it and they are making use of it, your prospects for improving learning get a lot better.

3. Align results to audiences. The results of the assessments need to be aligned to the needs of their audiences. One of the things that’s often not considered when we’re looking at an assessment program is what kind of data each of your audiences is actually looking to see.

Assessments are used with a wide variety of populations in school, ranging from the school board to students, teachers, parents, school administrators, district administrators, community members who reach their judgments about school from what they read in the media, and state and federal officials who may be using data for compliance purposes. Those audiences all have different needs. 

4. Group students more effectively for instruction. There aren’t many teachers who can have 32 different instruction plans for 32 different kids, but teachers frequently group students for instruction to try to meet the needs of each and every student in the room.
One thing we suggest is to take the time to train teachers in how to have productive and positive parent conversations, and particularly how to provide parents with the kinds of data that they’re most interested in. If teachers feel well-prepared for these conferences, if they have the data they need, they’re more confident. When they’re confident, they can develop a higher level of trust with parents. And trust generally leads to support.

5. Assessment results need to be delivered in a timely and useful manner. Probably the biggest criticism that we hear of state assessments is they’re delivered in the spring. Results typically aren’t available until after school is dismissed for the summer. What you essentially have from the state assessment is an autopsy of last year’s students, and not a lot of data that’s useful for teachers to plan instruction.

That’s not to say that state assessment results aren’t important or that they can’t be useful, but for the particular purposes of teachers who are focused on the instructional utility of assessments, results of a state assessment aren’t typically timely enough to meet that need.

Make sure that you’re adjusting your testing calendar to get educators the data they need when they most need it. In particular, you want to fit your schedule for professional days; if you have professional days with data dialogues, it’s important that they have fresh data to work with. Be sure the most recent data is always available to teachers at that time.

6. Support all learners. One of the problems with NCLB and one of the things that we find with some of the metrics in use at school systems is that at times they focus too much attention on very small, select, idiosyncratic groups of students, and there aren’t metrics in place that require teachers to give some attention to every student in the building to make sure that all students are getting ahead.

This is one of the biggest challenges teachers face when we move from evaluating proficiency to evaluating growth—teachers now have to think about more than just the bubble kids. The metrics are requiring that we focus our attention on everybody. That’s a good thing.

7. Invite collaboration. If you want to build trust with your stakeholders, ultimately your stakeholders have to believe that you’re talking about student performance in an objective and transparent fashion.
If all our metrics and all our reporting to parents and stakeholders is just touting—sharing only positive information—then we run the risk of not building trust. I often refer to a quote from Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.”

Accountability is a dialog between stakeholders and the leaders of their schools. The first part of the dialogue is understanding and aligning our assessments to the goals and objectives of the parents in the schools and the community. The second part of that dialog is discussing how schools are doing in reaching those goals. The most important part of accountability is talking about what you’re doing to improve performance based on that information, which is the essence of leadership.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please visit: