Sunday, January 27, 2013

Assessment.... Agony or awesome?

Yes. I said the A word.  Last week, I spent the day assessing the first graders with AimsWeb. I actually make the schedule for the whole building, but stay in my nice little hallway on the actual day. In years past, we tried to do kindergarten the same day too, but we got an awesome interventionist for kinders who has it under control. Hurray! The biggest difference this year is the use of iPads during testing. Time-Say-Ver.

I readily admit that there was a time when I fought standardized, universal screenings. I'm over it. I've accepted them for what they are and their place in education. Many of us (myself included) didn't fully understand the purpose of many of the testing structures. In an effort to share some info that I wish I had at the start of my career, I'll share.....

There are many different kinds of assessment, with very different purposes.

Screening Tools:  AimsWeb, DIBELS, MBSP (math, etc.
  • Measures: essential skills that predict future academic success
  • Answers: Are students meeting benchmarks?  Are students at risk for developing academic difficulties?
  • Frequency: usually about 2 times per year (depends on district)
  • Time: quick measures, generally about a minute each
  • Format: group and/or individual
  • Benefits:
    • Screens large number of students in a short amount of time.
    • Identifies who may be at risk (or groups of students).
  • Limitations: Must be kept in context, as there is not enough information to diagnose.  This must be supplemented with additional testing for at-risk students.

Diagnostic Testing: PAT, DRA2, MLPP (in Michigan), TAPS, GORT, IQ tests, etc.
  • Measures: cognitive ability and skills
  • Answers: What is the skill deficit and how can we address it through instruction?
  • Frequency: One-two times per year (same test, DRA2 tests can be given many times as they are at higher levels each time)
  • Time: 15 minutes to an hour, based on level
  • Format: individual
  • Benefits:
    • Very specific, with a high reliability and validity.
    • Helps inform instruction.
    • When best practices and differentiation is being used, it can indicate specific difficulties (which require deeper testing).
  • Limitations: These are more subjective and can be unreliable, depending on the assessor.  Must be supplemented with additional data.
Progress Monitoring: Read Naturally- fluency, DIBELS, AimsWeb, Dolch Lists,  MBSP (math), etc.
  • Measures: the progress on essential skills that predict academic success.
  • Answers: Are students making progress with current instruction?  Is the student making progress toward the benchmark goal?
  • Frequency: can range from several times a week to once per week.
  • Time: quick, less than 5 minutes
  • Format: individual or group, uses an alternative to the actual screening (modified version)
  • Benefits:
    • Allows frequent measures of progress.
    • Changes can be made quickly if intervention is not working.
    • Demonstrates if an intervention is working (data collection).
  • Limitations: Must be supplemented with additional data and must be given regularly.
Outcome-based Assessments: unit tests, yearly state tests, etc.
  • Measures: mastery of benchmark skills and knowledge.
  • Answers: Is the student currently meeting grade level expectations?
  • Frequency: typically yearly or at the end of a unit of study
  • Time: generally un-timed
  • Format:group
  • Benefits: easy to compare to national, state, county, school standards.
  • Limitations:
    • Given infrequently, so it is difficult to use the results to guide instruction during the school year or monitor progress.
    • Can show that students are on track, but not their long-term understanding.
    • Must be supplemented with other data.
Informal Assessment: ongoing anecdotal notes or "noticings" done by a teacher that modify instruction immediately.
  • Measures: anything a teacher needs to track in order to adjust or guide instruction
  • Answers: Is the student understanding the curriculum as presented or making growth?
  • Frequency: any time, as often as needed.
  • Time: varies with need and teacher.
  • Format: usually in written form or by using a check-bric (prose)
  • Benefits:
    • Instruction can be immediately changed if needed.
    • There is no limitation to information being gathered.
    • Open-ended in format and content.
  • Limitations:
    • Subjective, based on the teacher's impression.
    • Danger of being to emotion-based, teacher should use clinical format when possible.
    • Additional data must be collected (such as behavior-related charting).
Well, this may not have been my most entertaining post, but I hope it helps wade through the mass of assessment and data-collection that teachers must conduct and use each day.  A special thanks to the Lake Orion RTi Team for training me on the true need for assessment!

*Information in this post was adapted from presentation notes taken and presentations provided by Lake Orion Community Schools.


  1. Wow! You are a testing frenzy like me! I use STAR reading and Math and today was the beginning of our 2 week testing window...YAY!!!
    I am so glad I found a fellow first grade teacher to link up with! Happy to be your newest follower!
    Ms. Marciniak's First Grade Critter Cafe

  2. You are right there there is both some agony and some awesome. It is neat to see how you broke it down into the points as you did - it's important for us as teachers to know the value {or lack of} of each assessment we give. Indeed "mass" of assessment is what many of us are wading through each day.