8 questions for educators as they use assessments to support student learning

For assessments to be used effectively in schools, it’s important for districts and schools to consider what assessments are intended for and how the data gained from the assessments will be applied to support student learning. Building and maintaining a balanced assessment system is essential for schools, but the process can be complicated. 

Asking these eight questions can help school district leaders who want to make sure they’re using and administering formative, interim, and summative assessments at the right times and in effective ways. Considering these key questions can help districts build assessment systems that better support student learning and improved outcomes.

1. What is the purpose of this assessment?

An assessment’s purpose includes the intentions of the designers who created it, as well as the district’s intentions in selecting it. To understand what a given assessment is meant to do, take a careful look at the materials that accompany it and any pertinent communications from the district. When in doubt, ask questions. The right questions can help those around you achieve the clarity they need to fully understand what an assessment is designed to accomplish.

2. What does that purpose mean for how I should use this assessment?

In contrast to an assessment’s purpose, its use refers to the real-world utilization of an assessment by teachers, support staff and specialists, and building or district administrators. With all these different stakeholders doing all sorts of different things to help students learn, no single assessment is going to meet everyone’s needs. To understand how an assessment might be useful to you, pay close attention to how those around you talk about it and use it.

3. Is there a disconnect between an assessment’s purpose and use?

When the way an assessment is used runs contrary to how it was intended to be used, that’s a major red flag. For example, if a formative assessment is being used for grading, this disconnect between purpose and use can interfere with students’ motivation to learn, it can reproduce existing inequities, and it can be confusing for students and families. Inappropriate uses for assessments lead us to make bad or poorly supported decisions that ultimately inhibit learning. Once you’ve identified an assessment’s purposes and uses, compare them side by side, carefully looking for any uses that might ask an assessment to do something inappropriate.

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