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Using smart assessments to drive personalized learning

Why choosing the right diagnostic tools is critical to differentiating instruction for all students
Katie Nicholson
Katie Nicholson

What advances have you seen in the area of assessment that can reduce testing time for students?
Computer adaptive tests (CAT) are really growing in popularity. With an adaptive model, which technology clearly facilitates, great efficiencies are gained. Through adaptive assessment, skill gaps can be identified not just within a grade level, but across grade levels. Traditional fixed-form assessments don’t facilitate this efficient, yet comprehensive, understanding of student skills and needs.
Technology-driven assessments, particularly adaptive assessments with broad skill coverage, also allow administrators to move away from thinking about assessment in discrete and siloed formative and summative buckets that require different tools for each. If the assessment collects the right data and offers a solid range of reporting, a single assessment can fulfill most data needs. So instead of thinking, “Here are all the assessments I have to give,” administrators should ask themselves, “What critical needs are we trying to meet through assessment and why?” Then ask, “Which single assessment tool can meet as many of those needs as possible?”
For example, i-Ready Diagnostic can identify areas of strength as well as need across a broad range of skills and levels, so that teachers can differentiate instruction for each student, while at the same time providing administrators with aggregate performance statistics to guide resource allocation decisions and to meet accountability needs.
Districts should be aware that a single adaptive assessment can meet a range of formative and summative assessment needs, which may help them eliminate the need for multiple tests throughout the year. Ultimately, less time spent on assessment means more time teachers can use for instruction.

What additional supports can administrators put in place to give teachers more time in their day?
It is important to explain to teachers the goal of administering a particular assessment and what types of valuable data they will receive as a result. Being relieved of the burden of collecting their own data will save teachers time, but to take full advantage, they also need to know how to act on the data they collect. With certain tools, such as i-Ready, the assessment data is already tied to instruction, both online—through a personalized learning path—and teacher-led, through either small-group mini-lessons or whole-class instruction. The right professional development is also critical—it helps educators understand how the information is collected and how it can be used to help them in the classroom. We see the most success in schools where there is a “go-to” i-Ready user who deeply understands the assessment tool and can help the entire team make the most of the information and instruction resources.

What should be the ultimate goal of an assessment? How can administrators fully reap its benefits?
I think everyone can agree that no assessment should be administered purely for assessment’s sake. Assessment should both inform good instruction through high-quality, valid, reliable and actionable data, and drive good instruction through direct connections to instruction, whether it’s individualized, small-group or whole-class instruction. A good online system will act almost like a personal tutor for students. It will not only provide actionable data, it will take some action(s) to drive instruction, ultimately relieving some of the burden on teachers who spend hours trying to interpret data, plan instruction and figure out ways to truly differentiate to best support their students. A good assessment not only provides aggregate data for summative purposes, but also ensures students get exactly the instruction they need when they need it. For more information, visit i-ready.com.