When schools open up next fall, balanced assessments that provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning will be more important than ever. Educators and learners will face unique challenges to make up for ground lost in Spring 2020, and most schools will not have statewide summative assessment data for the 2019–20 school year.

Lack of statewide data—which are often used to evaluate changes in programs, policies, and practices at the school level—can be problematic, but school leaders can look at other evidence, including teacher feedback, to determine whether they should continue with these changes into the 2020–2021 school year. Schools that make regular use of interim assessment data are better prepared to evaluate student progress than those that do not.

Schools that make regular use of interim assessment data are better prepared to evaluate student progress than those that do not.

Schools outside the United States, as well as nonpublic schools in the United States, may also be lacking summative data they are accustomed to receiving. Other evidence can likewise be used to inform the effectiveness of those institutions’ programs, policies, and practices.

Statewide summative assessment data are typically less useful for evaluating individual learner performance than are more frequent and focused assessments during a school year. That’s where a balanced assessment system provides important information for teachers in the classroom. Cognia has long advocated for a thoughtful selection of assessments to create a balanced system. The resources and professional learning we offer educators encourage and demonstrate the appropriate use of good data that supports high-quality instruction.

Interim assessments can be an important part of a school’s approach to balanced assessment. They are typically administered three times per year: near the beginning of the year, midyear, and toward the end of the year. Cognia Interim Assessments—offered for reading, language usage, and mathematics in grades 3 through 8—are aligned to college and career readiness standards such as the Common Core State Standards. These assessments are administered efficiently online with prompt results, helping teachers make crucial adjustments in their practice to improve individual student and overall classroom success.

Every new school year brings the question of whether, and how much, students have regressed in their learning. This season’s long break from school-based instruction intensifies that question. Some students will have lost ground, and may not be ready to embark on next year’s learning standards. Teachers will need to gather information on learner progress from sources including the learners’ previous year’s teachers, theirparents or guardians, and the learners themselves. Teachers will also need to exercise professional judgment and make direct observations. An interim assessment can provide essential insight into students’ readiness or progress, administered soon after school resumes or later in the school year after remediation and initial instruction occur.

Flexibility and thoughtful planning will be especially important for school year 2020–2021. Teachers can use an interim assessment when students return to create a baseline for students’ progress in the current grade. They can apply formative techniques to zero in on learning targets from the previous grade where students may have gaps.

Additional administrations of interim assessments later in the year can monitor learner performance and growth toward end-of-year goals. Such assessments can also help identify learners who need support and additional intervention or curricular areas that need particular attention.

Interim assessments, particularly when used in conjunction with formative assessment practices and resources, can be powerful.

Interim assessments, particularly when used in conjunction with formative assessment practices and resources, can be powerful. Cognia Interim Assessments help institutions identify possible gaps at the cluster or domain level in the standards, and Cognia’s formative resources, available now, enable teachers to obtain more detailed information about learner progress at the learning target level.

In a previous Source article, Cognia CEO Mark Elgart and UCLA professor emeritus and assessment expert Jim Popham made a powerful case about the value of formative assessment practices in improving instruction. With such practices, teachers can check frequently on students’ progress and, if students are floundering, help them get back on course right away. The formative process provides immediate evidence about how well students are learning and how much ground they need to make up, helping teachers adjust what they are doing.

Formative assessment is not a point-in-time assessment but an ongoing process of instruction and feedback among teachers, students, and their peers. Evidence gathering can be formal or informal, group or individual—such as over-the-shoulder observation, questioning, interviews, and self- and peer-evaluation activities. Many typical practices such as homework and quizzes can be used formatively.

The COVID-19 crisis makes it especially important for educators to gather accurate information about student performance and school success, to curtail the expansion of achievement gaps and to continue to improve instruction. Whether school buildings reopen or virtual instruction and learning continue, taking advantage of key features of a balanced assessment system can help compensate for the lack of year-end summative data and continue to improve instruction.

Webinars offering expert advice and discussion about formative assessment practices, effective use of assessment data, digital learning, and the impact of COVID-19 can be found on our resource page.

Mark Johnson
Mr. Mark Johnson joined Cognia (formerly Measured Progress) in 2011 and serves as the Measurement Services Senior Advisor, Content.  He taught mathematics at the middle and high school levels for 17 years. Early in his career, Mr. Johnson recognized the importance of good assessment in education and became a leader in the Vermont Portfolio Project in 1990. He continued as a teacher consultant for 13 years for a variety of assessment projects such as New Standards Project, Massachusetts Portfolio Assessment Program, and Massachusetts’ Teacher As Assessor initiative. Mr. Johnson embarked on a full-time career in assessment in 2003, joining the Office of Student Assessment at the Massachusetts Department of Education, where he served in a variety of roles, including as Director of Test Development, prior to joining Cognia.  He has a degree in Secondary Mathematics Education, with honors, from the University of Central Florida.  He and his wife, Nancy live in Frenchville, Maine, U.S.A., on the border with Canada.