Interim Assessments – What they are and how to use them to benefit student learning

Interim Assessments – What they are and how to use them to benefit student learningWe’ve blogged quite frequently on formative assessment, from what it is to how to use it successfully in the classroom and as part of teacher professional development. This blog begins a shift in focus toward what NWEA is well known for – interim assessment.  We’ll use it as a launching pad for subsequent blog posts on how interim can be a vital tool for teachers and educators, and why assessment literacy is so important today.

First, let’s define interim assessment.

An interim assessment is administered at different intervals (hence the name) between instruction. The data from interim assessments can be used for several purposes – all of them intended to deliver instructionally useful information to teachers, students, principals, district administrators and parents. Here are some ways educators use interim data:

+ to measure student achievement – where students are starting – and growth over time

+ to identify patterns in learning for particular students or groups of students

+ to target additional resources for students and teachers –  examples of this include placement into intervention or talented-gifted programs for students, and professional development opportunities for teachers

+ for principals and district administrators, the data are useful for determining flexible groupings, tracking progress toward critical milestones – for example, are our third graders on track to be fluent readers by the end of the year?; evaluating program impact and predicting outcomes for state accountability tests

+ for parents, interim data can help them understand how their child is progressing, what areas he or she needs extra help in – and where he or she is doing well

At the core, interim tests help teachers better understand what a student knows and what concepts teachers must focus on to ensure grade-level performance.

Interim assessments are sometimes called “benchmark assessments,” but there is a subtle difference. Here’s the definition of benchmark assessments:

Benchmark Assessments are given periodically (e.g., at the end of every quarter or as frequently as once per month) throughout a school year to establish baseline achievement data and measure progress toward a standard or set of academic standards and goals. Typically these assessments are formal, and may be computer-scored and administered. They provide teachers with information about which content standards have been mastered and which require additional instruction, identifying students’ strengths and needs. Well-articulated benchmark assessments can also be used to measure student progress over time.

Assessment data can be a powerful tool in the hands of an educator—if it is used properly and understood thoroughly. But doing this requires true assessment literacy.