Monday, August 8, 2011

One Test, Many Uses

“Help! I’m stuck between my administrators who want to use the December benchmark as a predictive and my teachers who want to use the December benchmark as a summative semester final. What can I do?”

One single benchmark, if created appropriately, can serve both purposes.


As we all know, every state is required to have a list of standards students at each grade level need to master. It is the district’s responsibility to make sure that every child masters these standards by the end of the school year. In order to ensure this goal is achieved, most districts provide pacing guides to teachers in order to keep both teachers and students on pace to master all standards by the end of the year. These pacing guides identify which standards are supposed to be taught at what point during the year. The benchmark assessments are then created based on the district pacing guide.

The ideal benchmark assessment should be between 35-50 items long and have no more than five items on one specific standard. Using the standards taught during the first half of the year can provide both a reliable predictor of students’ progress towards mastery of the state standards and a valid summative assessment for what students were taught in the classroom. The question then becomes how do teachers take the results of these benchmark assessments and translate them into grades?

The answer to this question depends on the district’s philosophy for grading. The easiest and most straight forward is the use of a standards-based grading system. This method of grading provides information as to whether a student has mastered a standard or skill or where he or she is at in developing the skill. Information on this can be obtained using the Galileo Intervention Report.

It becomes slightly more complicated using a traditional method of grading. The one thing to keep in mind is that in order to provide accurate ability estimates for students at all ranges of ability, it is important that there is a range of difficulties on the items and that even the student at the highest academic levels is challenged. As a result, the raw scores themselves cannot be depended upon to represent the level of growth and success students have actually demonstrated. One example is an assessment where the average raw score percentage was 46 percent, yet students demonstrated an average growth of 20 points on their Developmental Level scores. Teachers and districts can easily keep these facts in mind and make the appropriate alterations in the grading scale when actually assigning traditional grades.

Karyn White, M.A.
Educational Management Services Director

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