Local Measures Critical to Assessing Student Levels of Understanding

October 14, 2021
Well designed local measures of learning is the cornerstone of any school’s plan to build a foundation for instructional recovery.
Written by Nick Siewert, Senior Educational Consultant

As students fully return to classrooms across the country, teachers and school leaders have heeded the advice of experts and the dictates of common sense to focus the initial days and even weeks of school on promoting student well being and developing a sense of belonging in classrooms and school communities. As assessment expert Thomas Guskey noted, “Instead of asking 'How will we know what our students know?', it could be more productive to ask, 'What do our students need?'"1 But as school returns to a more normal cadence, inevitably and rightly educators will be seeking to understand student levels of understanding and mastery of grade level skills to answer the critical question, “What is the extent of unfinished learning and how can we gather the best information to illuminate a path forward to accelerating learning for all students?” Schools face a monumental task: preparing for the daunting challenge of instructional recovery, while simultaneously focusing on inclusion in the classroom and identifying the key prerequisite knowledge and skills each student needs to work on grade level. In this context, having a full picture of where students are is critical. All schools should be relying on a balanced diet of assessments to paint this picture.


School District Tools
Districts and schools are leaning heavily on large scale online diagnostic tools such as iReady and NWEA’s MAP. These tools use adaptive models to serve students questions based upon their prior answers to arrive at a performance level for a skill set as efficiently as possible. While these assessments were developed by talented scientists and educators and enjoy strong reputations, their use as information about student levels of understanding should be balanced with locally designed, culturally responsive measures.

Local Measures

Whether a school is using a teacher developed, third party or hybrid curriculum, local teachers are uniquely positioned to craft and administer baseline and ongoing assessments that are sensitive to the needs of their students, designed to show what students know and structured to measure the effects of their teaching. Emerging from the pandemic, three key considerations should drive assessment design:

  1. Is the assessment targeted to assess grade level standards in an actionable way? What is our plan for using the data and can we craft a timely instructional response? 
  2. Will this assessment encourage students to give their best effort? Are the questions, readings or problems designed to establish relevance and engage students’ minds?
  3. Is the assessment designed to provide students multiple ways to encounter the material and show what they know? Does it use the principles of Universal Design for Learning?

Our Assessment Review Tool provides a thorough framework to assess the quality of existing assessments and make improvements, or to generate new ones. Whether your school is looking to extend learning time, engage in high dosage tutoring or any other strategy, the effectiveness of your approach to unfinished learning will depend on your ability to accurately measure student progress, both initially and throughout the year. In the current context, well designed local measures of learning should be the cornerstone of any school’s plan to build a foundation for instructional recovery.

Further Reading

For more information on developing culturally responsive assessments, check out Next Gen Learning’s article Keeping Students at the Center with Culturally Relevant Performance Assessments

To learn more about Universal Design for Learning and assessment design, we recommend Edutopia’s article Using Universal Design to Create Better Assessments.

1 http://tguskey.com/when-school-is-back-in-session-where-will-we-begin/


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