Districts Should Find New Ways to Assess Learning
By Tracy Weeks
At this point last year, we hoped we’d be on the other side of COVID-19. Instead, the combination of the Delta variant and back-to-school means educators and administrators are finding themselves in a state of flux. Cases in school districts are on the rise. Large numbers of students are quarantining. In some instances, there aren’t enough teachers in school buildings to conduct in-person learning.
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic, teachers are facing a whole new type of disruption to their ability to teach. Now more than ever, they need to be able to continually assess learning, to have a line of sight into what students know, and what students do not yet know.
Why is it so hard right now?
It was challenging enough for teachers to figure out how to quickly transition all their instruction to a remote environment, and to creatively assess how much students were learning and retaining. The reality with the new Delta variant is teachers are battling constant change, with classes or entire schools temporarily shuttering and then reopening. Pockets of students are coming in and out of the classroom due to quarantines, or sickness. Teachers or substitutes are often impacted in a similar fashion. The result is a perpetual disruption of instruction, impacting different students and educators at different moments continuously.
No surprise educators are overwhelmed
The past 18 months have been the hardest for our education community in over a century. Before the pandemic, researchers estimated that one out of six American teachers was likely to leave the profession. That has now jumped to one in four according to the nonprofit RAND Corporation.
Educators who stayed for the 2021/22 school year, are entering it playing catch up. In a recent survey by Instructure, half of educators and parents felt students have significantly fallen behind due to COVID-19. The impact of Delta means that teachers suddenly find themselves trying to determine the academic impacts of the last school year, while simultaneously figuring how to keep students on track amid uncertainty and disruption.
Teachers need the right tools and skills for assessment
The pandemic reignited the debate around shifting away from high stakes testing to a more balanced assessment approach that’s part of the regular instructional cycle. In that same Instructure survey, only 29 percent of parents and teachers felt high-stakes testing was an important measurement of their learning, whereas 76 percent of educators delivered formative assessments or assessments for learning, to check students’ understanding during remote learning.
We can’t begin to address learning needs without taking the time to assess and understand what students know in a way that will provide teachers with immediate, actionable data so they can improve student outcomes in real-time. With access to meaningful assessment data, teachers can drive personalized learning plans, determine which students need additional support and which standards need reteaching.
Don’t overwhelm teachers and students with assessment
While it’s critically important to understand the continuous academic impact of disruptions to teaching and learning, educators must approach assessment thoughtfully. We need to shift our mindset and embrace an actionable approach to formative assessment that’s a seamless part of the regular instructional cycle.
At the same time, let’s not make teachers learn how to be psychometricians. District leaders should seek effective assessments that teachers can quickly use and benefit from, offering vetted item banks and reliable assessments in easy-to-use formats. That includes proper training and development to build the basic skill set required, with specific tactics for how to use assessment data to support hybrid learning if necessary.
We also don’t want to overwhelm students as they adjust to being back in the classroom. We know students have entered the school year with increased anxiety, and assessment is an added stress-point. Experts have established a link between stress caused by high-stakes standardized testing and students’ performance on those tests, with economically disadvantaged students more negatively impacted.
We don’t know what the future will hold as the pandemic continues. However, one thing has become clear: our teachers need us to invest in a reliable way to continuously gauge student learning and progress, no matter where or how that instruction takes place.
About the author
Tracy Weeks is the Executive Director of Government Affairs at Instructure, a leading education technology company dedicated to helping everyone learn together. Today, Instructure supports more than 30 million educators and learners at more than 6,000 organizations around the world. Learn more at www.instructure.com.
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum.