Assessment supports everything we do in schools. Without quality assessment practices that produce accurate data, we can’t determine the strengths and needs of our students or how to differentiate in their learning; which schools are performing well and which need assistance; and what programs and strategies are working and which aren’t.
So, where do we begin to help each of our students learn and improve our schools and programs?
We begin with our local educational systems—our districts and our schools.
Quality Assessment Practices
To assist our students in their learning and provide the best learning environments, we must have a balanced assessment system. This means we need to meet the informational and decision-making needs of each user of assessment information in our systems, including students, teachers, parents, administrators, policy makers, and community members. Because there are so many users of and uses for assessments, that assessment information has to be accurate, understandable, and usable. The well-being of students is at stake regardless of who is using the assessment information.
Beginning at the System Level
In a balanced assessment system, we need to question each of the assessments given in schools and classrooms across the local assessment system:
- Who are the assessment users?
- For what purposes are they assessing?
- What assessment results do they need?
- Under what conditions must these assessments be given so they get the appropriate and accurate information they need and can understand?
The conditions needed for all assessments that students take reflect in different terms the Five Keys to Quality Classroom Assessment (Balanced Assessment Systems, 2017, p.5):
- Clear Purpose — The purpose(s) for the assessment must be clear. We must know who will use the assessment results and how will they use them to support student learning (formative) or to certify student learning (summative).
- Defined Targets — The learning targets being measured must be clearly and appropriately defined so we know which assessment method to use and how to build it with the necessary quality ingredients.
- Quality Tools — All assessment instruments and their procedures must be of high quality so they produce dependable, accurate information for the users.
- Effective Communication — Systems must be in place to communicate the results of the assessments effectively and in a timely and understandable fashion for all assessment users.
- Student Connection — In the use of assessment in the decision-making process, the direct link to student motivation should be acknowledged. With proper use of assessments and their results, all learners remain confident that success is within reach if they keep striving to learn.
Assessment Systems and Their Leaders
In our book, Balanced Assessment Systems: Leadership, Quality and the Role of Classroom Assessment, we guide leaders at the district and school levels in analyzing their local systems for balance and quality in order to determine what balanced and quality assessment systems they already have in place and what actions they should take to sustain long-term learning and implementation of balanced, quality assessment practices.
It’s our belief that, with focused leadership, a shared vision of balance and quality across a system, and knowledge of the action steps needed for long-term learning and development and implementation of balanced, quality assessment practices, leaders will be able to set the stage for long-term learning and change.
In bringing these balanced assessment practices to every classroom, every school, and every district, the students will be well served on their journey of learning and are destined for success.