We Need Tests that Support Teaching and Learning

We Need Tests that Support Teaching and LearningIn our Make Assessment Matter report published earlier this year, NWEA found that educators and students value assessments if they are meaningful and focus on student learning. In the national study of teacher and student perceptions, conducted on behalf of NWEA by Grunwald Associates, 96 percent of teachers said they use assessment results to improve teaching and learning in the classroom. Nearly three-quarters of educators use test results to adjust their instructional strategies. And two-thirds use tests to plan and differentiate instruction for high-, average- and low-performing students.

These findings, along with the results of our 2012 For Every Child, Multiple Measures report, paint a clear picture on the role of testing in our schools. There is real value to testing, as long as the assessments are high quality, student-focused, and the results useful in the classroom.

Yet we still see articles, such as the one recently posted in Education Week, that claim “we don’t need standardized tests.” Such sentiment lumps all tests together, failing to distinguish between formative, interim and summative assessments, and the different kinds of questions educators need to answer. More troubling, such perspectives conflates all assessment types with high-stakes tests, doing a disservice to teachers, students, parents and administrators. It disregards the sophistication that teachers and, notably, students – as revealed by Make Assessment Matter – bring to the subject.

This discussion and others like it illuminate the need for greater understanding of assessment, or assessment literacy, by all stakeholders in education.

In Make Assessment Matter, educators spoke loudly on the subject. While 80 percent of teachers and 91 percent of district administrators said they work with their peers to use assessment results to inform instruction, the majority of teachers, 55 percent, revealed they were not trained in the effective use of assessment and resulting data in their pre-service preparation. Eighty five percent of district administrators said that their teachers had not been adequately prepared to integrate assessment results into their teaching practice by their teacher preparation program.

2013 National Teacher of the Year Jeff Charbonneau explains it very well. “No teacher is completely against testing – heck we’re the ones who created tests. The key to testing lies within the assessment. Testing is not the problem – what we do with tests and how we interpret them is.”

Concerns about testing should encourage all of us to examine which tests are most valuable for our teachers and our children. We need to work together—teachers and parents, policymakers and community leaders, advocates and administrators—to make sure that we are using the best tests available, and using data to answer key questions efficiently.

This means we must address the gap in assessment literacy for those involved in the learning process. Reliable, accurate information on where each student is on his or her learning path is an invaluable tool for personalizing instruction and realizing greater outcomes. The real goal, one on which we all need to focus, is making sure that our students are learning and growing. To accomplish this, assessment is a vital tool.