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.

Learn from Assessments?

Consider an assessment you or your collaborative team recently gave in a grade level or course.

  • What did you do with the results?
  • What did students do with the results?
  • How did the students and the teacher(s) learn from the evidence of student learning?

All too often the data gathered from scored assessments are recorded in an electronic grade book and forgotten until it is time to generate report cards. After all, the next unit of study is beginning and there is more to teach and learn. Plus, with so many students absent on the day of the assessment, it is impossible to give back the assessments and have students learn from them in a reasonable timeframe. In fact, handing tests back is another problem because too many students would use it as an opportunity to cheat and share the assessments with those who haven’t taken it yet. What is a teacher to do?

Such excuses that stop teachers from using assessments for student reflection and goal setting stopped me too. However, once I learned to collaborate with colleagues, analyze data, and use a reflection sheet for continued learning with students, I realized the scope of my missed opportunities. It turns out that assessments provide a rich opportunity to drive future teaching and learning for both teachers and students—not just to generate a grade.

But how? What must teachers consider as part of the assessment process to grow the learning of teachers and students?

Assessment Design

First, how does the assessment design impact reflection and next steps? On our teams, assessments became much more meaningful when we decided to write the learning targets on each assessment. Now we could score the assessments by target and students could better reflect and determine which targets were learned and which were not learned yet. We also had to make sure the design included a balance of lower- and higher-level tasks to match the standard assessed for accurate feedback. Finally, when we scored the assessment questions using points, we put the total points possible on the assessment for communication purposes. We learned that writing +1 or -1 did not provide useful feedback to students unless they knew the total points possible. The design of the assessment impacted the team’s ability to learn from the student work.

Proficiency and Feedback

What does it mean for a student to be proficient with each standard? What is the evidence of learning required to show proficiency? What does it mean for a student to have exceeding, partial, or minimal understanding? How will feedback be given to students related to their learning of each learning target or standard? Will you use points, a rubric, or a proficiency scale? Consider how a team will clarify the meaning of a standard and what students must do to show proficiency.

Data Analysis Protocol

Once the assessment is given, how will your team analyze student learning? Will your team use numbers and determine the percentage of students proficient with each target before looking at trends in student learning? Will you sort papers into piles that match your ratings for proficiency, close to proficiency, and far from proficiency? How will you or colleagues on your team learn about student learning and instructional practices through analyzing student data?

In both cases, consider first determining what sets the work apart for students showing an advanced or proficient understanding. Once those trends are named, look at the work of students who are close to proficiency to determine what they have as a trend for partial understanding and what is missing. This will help determine a possible targeted intervention as a next step, whether in class or during an intervention time during the school day. Finally, look at the work of students with a minimal understanding and recognize what, if any, trends are in the student work. Determine a possible next step to move students to a partial understanding first on their journey to proficiency and beyond.

Plan for Interventions and Extensions

Once trends in student work have been revealed, how will you collectively respond to the data? Will you use stations for a class period and have each station be a targeted instructional response? Will you share students among your colleagues across a team and each person take one group of students needing a targeted intervention or extension? Will you commit to a bell-ringer for the first 15 minutes of class or re-engage students in learning using a new instructional practice for a given amount of time and give an exit ticket after two weeks to see if more students have learned? Will you design a quality intervention and share students during a Tier 2 intervention time at your school? Consider your re-engagement plan for continued student learning.

Student Reflection and Goal Setting

When students get their assessments back after you have graded them, how do they interact with the assessment and articulate which targets have been learned or not learned yet? What structured worksheet is given them with targets and a place for reflection? How does the student determine a plan for continued learning? Work to create a data document for students that allow them to make sense of their work and its evidence of their learning each target.

It takes time and a plan to learn from assessments. But the time is well spent when teachers and students alike can identify what has been learned and work to continue the learning in areas not learned yet. How can assessments be used as part of the learning cycle? The answer lies in the design and use of each assessment and the continued learning from feedback to clear criteria.

So, back to the original question. What do teachers and students do with assessments once they have been scored? Hopefully not simply record a grade and move on. It’s time to make the minutes spent assessing another learning opportunity for everyone involved.

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