Should students be assessed based on instruction provided during the benchmark period or should the majority of standards and/or skills assessed by the state-wide assessment be assessed on each benchmark? This question is asked frequently by ATI clients.
ATI recommends that school districts assess based on instruction if:
• all teachers in the school district agree to follow a pacing guide.
• the school district has a group of at least 350 students all able to follow the same pacing guide.
• the school district has a comprehensive pacing guide that includes the majority of standards and/or skills assessed by the state-wide assessment
Students seeing only material with which they are familiar and having the ability to include more items on each standard, thereby helping with differentiation of standard mastery levels, are benefits to assessing students based on instruction.
In contrast, when a school district has many different pacing guides, challenges with assessing based on instruction arise. Differing views about which standards should be assessed on which benchmarks tend to surface when teachers are not all on the same pacing guide. 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 test is most effective when 350 or more students take an assessment. Having fewer than 350 students taking an assessment may cause assessment data to be less stable
A further consideration when deciding between benchmark assessments based only on instruction and benchmarks based on all grade-level standards is the extent to which the district’s pacing guide covers the majority of state-tested standards/skills. If the district pacing guide does not cover the majority of standards/skills included in the state-wide assessment, the district may want to consider a broader assessment than one based solely on instruction. Two ways to accomplish this are given in the paragraph below. An example of the reason to consider an assessment broader than instruction-only items would be the situation in which a district does not include probability in sixth grade pacing guide. In this case, sixth grade students who do not already know probability are at an automatic disadvantage when taking the state-wide test if it includes probability items. Therefore the district may want to test mastery of probability even though it is not on the pacing guide.
ATI offers alternatives for school districts who struggle with one or more of these challenges. For example, a benchmark assessment that assesses all grade level standards provides relevant 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 groups of students have not mastered concepts which will be assessed on the state tests. It is also the case that when pacing guides do not cover the majority of the standards/skills measured on the state-wide assessment, customized instruction-based assessments can be built that include targeted standards/skills not part of the pacing guide but included in state-wide testing.
-Karyn White, M.A.
Educational Management Services Director