Sarah Schuhl, a consultant specializing in mathematics, has been a secondary mathematics teacher, high school instructional coach, and K–12 mathematics specialist for nearly 20 years.

Another Test? How to Plan Assessments So Students Can Learn

Ever feel like you are giving assessments all the time? Between the pretest, post-test, quizzes, district benchmarks, state interim assessments, or other nationally normed progress monitoring assessments, when is a student supposed to learn? When is a teacher supposed to teach? Is it possible to have too many assessments?

Years ago, when my son was in eighth grade, he no longer wanted to go to school on Fridays. This was strange since he loved Fridays. When I asked about the change, he let me know he had a test in just about every class every Friday, and he just didn’t feel like taking tests all day. Who can blame him? I naively asked what he might do with the assessments to learn from them on Monday. He let me know that the scores would be posted on the wall and the class would move on.

This is not unique to the secondary level. At one elementary school—between the progress monitoring assessments, state assessment interims, and district benchmark assessments for ELA, mathematics, and science—the teachers did not believe they could even take the instructional time for short teacher-created common assessments. They asked, “When are students supposed to do the learning the assessments are measuring?”

One is left to wonder—what is the purpose of each assessment, and how are teachers and students using the information for continued learning? What is the assessment plan?

Assessment Planning—Timing and Purpose

It might be time to step back and ponder your school’s, your team’s, or your own use of assessments. Some questions to consider when reflecting on the importance of each assessment include:

  • Why is this assessment being given? What will teachers and students learn from the results?
  • How will teachers respond instructionally—by standard or target—to the data?
  • How will students respond to the data for continued learning—by standard or target?
  • How does each assessment contribute to a student’s assessment experience?

If we are going to use assessment for both teacher and student action, assessments should have a purpose. It is about having a plan. It is not about giving a quiz midway through a unit just because the unit is half-completed or a weekly assessment on Friday just because the week is over. It is not about giving practice state assessments for the sake of practice alone. It is not about giving a full-length pretest just for the purpose of measuring growth or when you already have data showing whether or not students learned.

Rather, when does it make sense to check in with students and respond if they are or are not learning? When do you want students making corrections in thinking based on the results? How is instructional time being used wisely? If a learning purpose cannot be given for the assessment, then the assessment might not be a needed or we need to define how the results are used.


Create a calendar and mark the planned assessments for students in a grade or course. Does the plan contribute to assessment-fatigue and flawed data? If so, what are the changes needed? When will the data be analyzed from each assessment for a teacher and student response?

Assessment Planning—Teacher and Student Learning

As I work with teachers or teams to plan for assessments, we consider the following:

  • Which standards are students expected to learn by the end of the unit?
  • Of those standards, which are more critical than others for continued learning?
  • What will the end-of-unit assessment be and which standards will it measure? Should it be constructed response, selected response, a performance task, or a combination of formats?
  • When should shorter common assessments be given mid-unit to check on the more critical standards so there is still time to respond instructionally before the end of the unit?
  • How will students reflect on their learning from assessments to name the standards or targets learned and those not learned yet?
  • How will students revise their learning from each assessment as part of their learning journey?
  • Which questions and scoring guides or rubrics are best to use to generate accurate information for both teachers and students?

For any larger-scale assessment, teachers and teams consider the following:

  • What have my students learned that will be measured on this assessment?
  • How will the teachers use the results for continued learning in core instruction or intervention?
  • How will students use the data to reflect on learning to date and set a goal or create a learning plan?

In other words, regardless of assessment, how are students and teachers learning from the results? How is data quickly gathered and analyzed while the learning is still current for students?


Create each assessment with teacher and student reflection and learning in mind. Consider formatting the assessment to have parts devoted to each standard or targeted addressed. Consider how students will complete a reflection sheet or data notebook sheet to track learning to date and make a continued learning plan. Ask students how the evidence on the assessment shows them whether or not they have learned the standard or target.

There is a need for meaningful assessments that contribute to the learning of teachers and students. And many assessments do meet these criteria. The challenge is to plan for the evidence of student learning needed on every assessment and then work with students to learn from each one. Are you up for the challenge?

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