How remote testing can keep students connected and on track

When you administer an interim learning assessment like MAP® Growth™, you get back mountains of data that helps you answer all kinds of important questions. For example: Which kids are struggling to stay on grade level in reading? Are we doing enough to get our students ready for college? How should we be allocating resources to make sure all our students get the support and opportunities they need?

Schools know that good data is key to answering these and other questions. Ultimately, though, testing is about more than the data. It’s about making—and keeping—strong connections with students. Like a first-day-of-school photo that goes in the family album, an assessment provides a snapshot of student learning progress. It helps schools, teachers, and families pay close attention to students’ individual growth.

But when the connection between student and school is interrupted, as we’ve seen during the pandemic, these snapshots take on a special importance. For teachers who can’t see their students in person, assessment data may be more valuable than ever before. Fortunately, you don’t have to delay testing until students are back in the classroom. Just as schools have pivoted to remote learning—and have learned a ton in the process about how to do it well—they can adopt remote testing, too.

Recovering from learning loss

Learning loss is a fact of academic life. Summer vacation means more time spent at the beach or running around with friends than maintaining learning gains from the previous school year. Teachers know this phenomenon well.

But learning loss in 2020 is noteworthy. Since the abrupt closure of schools last spring, many students have experienced learning loss that exceeds the typical loss we see every year. (For more on this, read “Learning during COVID-19: Initial research findings and 5 things we can do.”)

[T]esting is about more than the data. It’s about making—and keeping—strong connections with students.

Of course, not all students experience learning loss, and for those who do, the degree of loss varies widely. But the likelihood of learning loss, coupled with gaps in assessment data from the spring and even fall, have made it more critical than ever to ensure you’re keeping abreast of each student’s learning progress. The easiest way to do that is with regularly administered remote assessments—which can help you zero in on each student’s zone of proximal development (ZPD) and make teaching more effective.

Doing remote right

As schools gain more experience administering assessments remotely, best practices are emerging that educators and school leaders are eager to share. These include articulating a clear purpose for remote interim testing, communicating frequently with families to ensure they have the information they need, and adapting practices that have worked well for other districts while keeping your own district’s needs top of mind.

[N]ot all students experience learning loss, and for those who do, the degree of loss varies widely. That’s all the more reason to make sure you’re keeping abreast of each student’s learning progress.

If you’re looking into remote testing, learn from the experience of others. A large school district in Texas, for example, found that the benefits of remote testing for its 64,000 students clearly outweighed the logistical challenges. Two districts in the Phoenix area have also found success with remote testing, using student-centered strategies that you can adapt for your own environment. For more tips, check out our article “11 ways to be a remote testing superhero.”

Finally, know that NWEA is fully prepared to support remote testing throughout all stages of the process. Check out the dedicated support site we created to provide comprehensive guidance and support for your remote testing program, no matter what form it takes. You’ll find:

  • Product-specific remote testing guidance for MAP Growth and MAP® Reading Fluency™
  • An on-demand webinar answering educators’ pressing questions about remote testing
  • Recommendations for creating successful remote testing environments
  • Remote testing FAQs

With all the challenges of keeping kids educated during a pandemic, it’s understandable that many schools—and many families—want a break from testing. But opting out, while possibly dialing down stress levels in the short term, may not be the best long-term path for many schools.

We encourage all school leaders, teachers, and families to get clear on not only what we gain from rigorous assessment data but also what we lose when we lack it. For more on this point, read our white paper, “What you lose when you take away interim assessment data.” And join us for our January 19 webinar, “Assessing student learning in the ‘new normal’: Considerations for policy and practice,” to learn more about how assessment can—and should—shape learning during COVID-19.

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