Assessment is most powerful when it is used to help students learn and teachers improve their practice. For me, that’s what the “action” in actionable is. For teachers and students to be able to identify and take actions there are a few features about assessment (and its accompanying data) to keep in mind:
+ Timeliness of the data
+ Understandability of the data
+ Ability to apply the data
The timeliness of data helps determine just how actionable it is in informing teaching choices and student learning. It can be both a) in the moment, and b) returned quickly. Sometimes in the assessment world, the terms short-, medium- and long-cycle are used to describe examples of timely data.
Data in Action
Let’s take two scenarios – formative (short-cycle) assessment and interim assessment (long-cycle).
The interim assessment, given at three intervals through the year – fall, winter and spring – provides multiple data points which can be used to look at student growth. Using data from the fall assessment, teachers can work together in a PLC to understand where their students are starting. What do they understand? What do they need additional support in? Then they can develop learning plans and set goals with their students.
The winter test provides a check on how students are progressing toward those goals, as this interview with Alex McPherson, a teacher at KIPP Charlotte, North Carolina makes clear.
“In some ways, winter is almost more important than spring. This is the one chance that we have to assess and adjust. Spring is the end game, but we can use winter as a temperature gauge to see how we’re doing. We found that even with the switch to Common Core state assessments, MAP really did predict passing results. If you value spring testing, you have to value winter testing. If you’re going to use it instructionally, then the winter test is super important.”
Interim assessment data is useful to support more than just goal setting and monitoring progress. This data also informs plans for learning paths, flexible grouping and differentiating instruction.
With formative assessment, used within instruction, both teachers and student have the opportunity to make immediate adjustments to instruction and learning tactics. If a teacher employs individual whiteboards (a form of an all student response system) to see how students would graph information from a science problem, within 30 seconds he can determine which of 3 courses of action (and there maybe more) to take: 1) everyone got it and we can move on, 2) some students got it and some did not so perhaps small groups are formed or 3) he can ask clarifying questions of students who both got it and did not get it so understanding the thinking behind the answers and then determine what actions to take.
Does timeliness matter?
In a research report NWEA had commissioned by Grunwald Associates, apparently it does. For parents, assessment results begin losing their relevance within one month after assessments are administered (67%). Among teachers and administrators, 67 percent “completely” or “somewhat agree” that formative and interim assessment results deliver timely data as compared to 32 percent with summative assessments.
Consensus suggests that timeliness of assessment data matters, but what do you think? Share your thoughts with us below in the comments section.