It’s time to rethink state assessment

District leaders and teachers have long desired less testing―not to mention timelier and more meaningful summative test results.

State departments of education are looking for ways to reduce overall testing and support teachers in challenging students to meet or exceed grade-level expectations.

The goals are shared, and yet a divide between district and state assessment has persisted. It doesn’t have to be this way. The Every Student Succeeds Act introduced the opportunity for states to bridge this divide by adopting innovative models for statewide testing. At NWEA, we’re excited to support states in this effort by developing new approaches like adaptive, through-year assessment.

It uses assessments administered in the fall, winter, and spring to measure both growth and proficiency and produce summative proficiency scores at year’s end. We are building this solution for grades 3–8 in English language arts, mathematics, and science. Our goal is to support state departments of education in thinking differently about accountability assessment and in partnering with districts to improve teaching and learning.

Through-year assessment takes what districts love about MAP® Growth™—that it meets kids where they are, regardless of grade level—and adds measurement of grade-level performance (otherwise known as proficiency). Grade-level performance information from the three assessments culminates in summative proficiency scores, eliminating the need for the annual summative test.

We can unify state and district assessments to amplify impact.

State departments of education that adopt through-year assessment will benefit from a more coherent and efficient assessment system. They will also see how much learning is happening in schools from fall to spring, providing a clearer view of school performance.

Growth measures currently used by states are rooted in year-over-year changes in summative proficiency, which is important data. But it doesn’t show when schools are growing students a lot, even if they aren’t yet proficient. Considering within-year growth as an additional measure will better inform states about which schools need the most help and which ones are using promising practices that could be shared with similar schools.

Districts in states that implement through-year assessment will experience a reduction in overall testing because it will provide the growth and benchmark data they get from current interim assessments while also replacing the annual summative test. Through-year assessment will be configured to reflect the specific “blueprint” a state uses for its summative test. It will yield instructionally useful grade-level performance information, while still adapting outside of grade level as needed.

Each adaptive assessment draws from the full test “blueprint,” so districts can retain local control over curriculum, scope, and sequence. In addition, each assessment informs the next one. Results from the three tests are not “added up”; if students aren’t proficient in fall or winter, those scores won’t count against them. They just get another chance in the spring to show what they know. Through-year assessment will also link to the MAP Growth scale, so districts in states that adopt it will still have access to RIT information and our national norms.

It takes time and partnership to change the system.

What we’re doing has never been done before, so it is going to take time for us to build this solution. We’re lucky to have two partners on board with us to serve as critical early adopters: the state of Nebraska and a consortium of districts in Georgia (as part of Georgia’s participation in the federal innovative assessment pilot program). Both will engage in research studies with us beginning next school year to inform their transition to through-year assessment. Through our work together, we’ll be able to ensure that we develop a valid, reliable solution that meets requirements for summative measures and produces timely information that is easily understood and applied in the classroom by educators.

That said, maybe as you’ve been reading this, you’ve thought to yourself, “That doesn’t sound like the right fit for our state or for us.” That’s okay, too. We understand that some states are perfectly happy with the traditional summative test or are looking for other ways to improve it and know that MAP Growth—our flagship product—will continue to be the right solution for many districts. Through-year assessment is just one more solution we are adding to our portfolio to support educators in fostering equity in opportunity to grow—and to achieve—for all kids.

We must do better for our students. Now, we can. 

It’s time to challenge ourselves and the status quo. It’s time to dismantle the barrier between assessments that drive student learning and assessments that measure school performance. Together, we can build a unified, innovative approach to assessment. What better time than now?

Join us and learn more about through-year assessment.

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