3 timely ways to make great use of assessment data

With so many question marks in the air these days, isn’t there something reassuring about good data that gives us reliable answers? This is certainly true in education, where schools rely on assessment data to inform their efforts to deliver equitable, high-quality instruction. Unfortunately, a public health crisis that’s kept kids out of the classroom and changed the testing calendar has interrupted the flow of data, too.

And yet, amid the setbacks of COVID-19, teachers and students alike have adapted in admirable and inspiring ways. Some students have even found that remote learning suits them quite well. But without as much face-to-face contact, teachers have a big challenge in making sure each student receives the support they need to stay on grade level and meet their academic goals.

NWEA’s guide “Get ahead of the curve: How data can improve teaching and learning” lays out the many ways that good assessment data can drive better outcomes with effective, personalized instruction. Educators may find this guidance especially valuable today, with students experiencing higher levels of learning loss as they try to keep up in less-than-ideal circumstances. With good assessment data in hand, educators can identify the gaps holding students back and adapt and customize their curricula accordingly.

Let’s look at three key ways that data can help improve teaching and learning, especially in these challenging times.

1. Personalize online learning

Whether students are gathering in a brick-and-mortar school building or in a virtual space, the purpose of assessment remains the same: assessments generate valuable data that provides insight into individual student achievement and helps schools ensure that kids are getting the right instruction at the right time. In a virtual setting, personalized instruction can include approaches such as:

  • Dynamic groupings. Even in a physical classroom, many teachers experiment with small, flexible peer study groups based on students’ interests and learning progress. In the online space, virtual breakout rooms and other collaborative features lend themselves well to small-group learning.
  • Self-guided online learning. Some students do great on their own. Teachers can offer them technology-assisted personalized learning pathways that are tailored to their needs, whether the students are on, above, or below grade level.
  • Interest-driven reading and writing assignments. With students doing more schoolwork independently these days, teachers can easily customize reading and writing assignments based on individual students’ interest areas and abilities.

2. Use responsive planning to optimize the value of data

In a previous blog post, Brooke Mabry explained that assessment data is most valuable when it’s collected in the context of responsive planning, a student-centered approach that begins before the start of instruction and continues throughout the learning process. With responsive planning, teachers work toward an end goal by creating a roadmap that includes assessments, instructional activities, and tasks that mesh with students’ learning needs and preferences.

The first step in responsive planning is to identify the desired learning outcome, with grade-level standards as your starting point. Next, determine the evidence of learning. Which assessments will you use to measure the effectiveness of your instruction? This is important, as you’ll be using these assessments to make continual adjustments to your teaching.

The next step is to plan instruction at grade-level standards. Guided by your desired learning outcomes, you can move on to planning the instructional activities for students that will get you there. Assessment data will be essential in identifying learning gaps and ensuring that each student is challenged at just the right level to keep them engaged and motivated.

Finally, as instruction proceeds, respond and adjust in real time. Using a mix of assessment data and your own instincts regarding how students are doing, adjust your instructional strategies and pivot as needed.

3. Lean on the Learning Continuum

If there were ever a time to have solid assessment data, it’s now. With the learning loss and unpredictable academic calendars we’ve seen this year, the data from a testing instrument like MAP® Growth™ can be one of a teacher’s most valuable resources in understanding how students are doing and keeping them on track. It’s an excellent complement to the formative assessment data that teachers gather every day as they interact with students and make their way through the curriculum.

While MAP Growth generates the data, the Learning Continuum serves as a starting point for putting that data to good use. The Learning Continuum offers a class-level view of students’ RIT scores, helping teachers chart each student’s learning progress and plan their instruction accordingly. Additionally, the Learning Continuum identifies the zone of proximal development, or ZPD, that sweet spot for each student where they are pushed toward a goal that’s achievable but may be just out of their reach.

Learn more

For more perspective and pointers on how data can help improve teaching and learning, download “Get ahead of the curve.”

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