Dive Brief:

  • A report released Wednesday by assessment experts and education researchers suggests high-quality assessments could be an essential tool to identify learning loss and lead to effective intervention. 
  • Representatives on the panel that contributed to the report, released by the Center on Reinventing Public Education, identified seven strategies to make assessments impactful: 
    • Take the first few weeks to rebuild relationships, focus on social-emotional learning, ensure well-being of students and communicate with parents.
    • Identify the purpose assessments will serve by asking “Who is making what diagnosis to inform which actions?”
    • Ensure assessments don’t harm students by taking away from instruction, funneling students into remediation or misinterpreting results.
    • Link assessment data, including formative assessments, to the curricula and teaching materials. 
    • Use formal interim assessments to guide school and district decision making around interventions and resource allocation.
    • Tap parents as “co-teachers,” allowing them to weigh in on their child’s progress and weaknesses. 
    • Do not replace end-of-year summative tests with diagnostic assessments meant to gauge individual learning needs.
  • The report cautions against the misuse of diagnostic tests and doing more harm than good by making hasty or ill-informed decisions once data is collected. 

Dive Insight:

As schools approach the fall, there is an emerging debate about whether diagnostic assessments will hurt or help students as they recover from trauma and learning loss. This report seems to weigh in on that debate: High-quality assessments with clear purpose can help, and ill-designed ones with no clear purpose can harm. 

If a district has in place formal assessments that are appropriately interpreted and inform teachers’ instructional planning, the authors suggest to continue using them.  

 

However, the panelists warned against succumbing to the rush in the assessment market and suggested instead designing meaningful exams aligned with district goals. Letting those goals guide how the data is used can also avoid harmful decision-making, like employing the data to hold students back a grade or to track students into low-level content, which could widen the achievement gap. 

 

To make the most of results, the authors stress focusing on professional development so teachers can interpret the data and let it guide their instruction beginning in the fall. But districts should also ensure only trained professionals are charged with acting on the results  for example, don’t task a classroom teacher with inadequate mental health training to interpret SEL results for a student. Instead, refer that student to a trained counselor who can appropriately identify the issues and intervene based on the data.

 

The report also stresses a holistic view of students and their needs. Academics and instruction should not be looked at in silos this fall, but rather their SEL needs and overall well-being should be taken into account. Open communication with parents will not only allow instructors to get a complete picture of where students stand, but will also ensure the district can identify and help families in need by directing them to resources. 

“Educators have to do their best work, on steroids,” Robin Lake, one of the report’s authors and director of CRPE, said in the briefing.

She also warned four months of learning loss would be akin to an approximately $2.5 trillion dollar hit to the GDP as a long-term cost if losses aren’t addressed. 

“Now is the opportunity to make testing really meaningful,” Lake said. “The truth is that kids have always been at different levels and have always had different needs.” 

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