By: Dr. Raymond Yeagley
I believe the highest value of student assessment is to provide data and information that can support and facilitate stronger instruction and increased student learning. As we develop assessments, whether teacher-created tests for a single classroom or large-scale assessments given to millions of students (frequently referred to as standardized tests), it is crucial that we keep student benefit in the forefront of our thinking.
We do this, of course, at a time when assessments – virtually all assessments – are coming under attack. While challenging, it is important we determine the right amount and kind of assessment needed for a school or classroom. To get there, we must understand test purposes and identify appropriate uses of the test. In a 2012 study conducted for the Northwest Evaluation Association by Grunwald Associates, parents, teachers and administrators saw great value in assessment that helps to monitor individual student progress over time and provides information to the teacher early enough to inform instructional planning.
There are large-scale assessments designed with a purpose of tracking growth over time and of providing the teacher with almost immediate information on individual student achievement and growth. These data can facilitate temporary grouping, differentiation of instruction based on student need, and can give evidence of content coverage at the school and district level as related to state content standards. These tests have been validated for this purpose and have established a track record for reliability and usefulness in informing instruction.
When these tests are used for purposes not intended in the original test design, such as teacher evaluation, there is a new challenge. That challenge is to establish, with research evidence, whether the test is valid for the new purpose and whether that purpose has value for students.
Those who develop assessments have a responsibility to share the evidence that established validity and reliability for the test purposes they support. They also have a responsibility to respond to questions about whether their tests have been validated for other purposes. But they must be mindful that states and school districts have the right to decide how to use their own student data. If the tests are to be used for purposes not currently supported by empirical evidence, as is the case with using previously developed student assessments to determine educator effectiveness, then the users share in the responsibility of providing the evidence of validity for the other purposes and for creating or securing the tools needed to implement the new purpose in a responsible way.
In the current debates about appropriate testing in the schools, those on both sides of the issue need to take a careful look, not only at the quality of the tests, but also at how those tests are to be used. Rhetoric that a particular test is not valid often ignores the question, “valid for what?”
If increased student learning is our shared top priority, we must ensure that teachers have all of the tools deemed useful to the process. Used correctly, high quality assessment is such a tool, empowering teachers and guiding student learning.
Dr. Raymond Yeagley is Vice President and Chief Academic Officer at NWEA. Prior to joining NWEA in 2005, Raymond enjoyed a twenty-nine year career as teacher, principal and superintendent of schools.
Student Data and Educator Evaluation: Focus on Learning and Professional Growth
Across the country, school districts have responded to state and federal calls for heightened accountability in part by reshaping educator evaluation systems. Increasingly, district leaders are introducing student assessment data into the formulas used to inform these processes. In this three-part guest series, leaders at the not-for-profit Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) consider the impact of using data from tests designed for instructional purposes to guide educator evaluations and call for a renewed focus on student learning and professional growth for teachers.