Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Assessment Based on Instruction or the Benchmark Assessment Series?

Should students be assessed based only on instruction provided during the benchmark period or should all grade-level standards be assessed on each benchmark? This question is asked frequently by ATI clients.

ATI recommends that school districts assess students on standards targeted for instruction if:

· There is an established pacing guide. The school district has a relatively large number of students who will be taking each test. The school district has a pacing guide that includes instruction on all state-tested standards.

There are two particularly important benefits associated with the approach of aligning assessments with a pacing calendar: First, students are assessed only on material that they have been recently taught. Second, it is typically possible to include more items on each standard being assessed than would otherwise be the case. This increases the amount of information on student performance available for each standard that is assessed.

In contrast, when a school district has many different pacing guides, there are challenges associated with the attempt to align assessment with what is currently targeted for instruction. Disagreements about which standards should be assessed on which benchmarks tend to surface when teachers are not all on the same page. It is difficult to make decisions about which classrooms and pacing guides should take precedence over the others.

In addition, analyzing data and making predictions on how students will do on a high stakes tests is most effective when large numbers of students take an assessment. There is an adverse effect on the stability of item parameter estimates used in determining item difficulty, discrimination, and guessing. With many different pacing guides, the numbers of students taking each assessment decreases.

ATI offers an alternative for school districts that don’t have a widely used pacing guide in place or who would only have small number of students taking each assessment. The Benchmark Assessment Series assesses all grade level standards thereby providing Development Level information for students no matter what pacing guide their teachers are following, allows a greater number of students to take the same assessment, and will pinpoint areas where large groups of students have not mastered concepts which will be assessed on the state tests.

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