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Assessment creation can be uncomfortable, but creating assessments is also one of the most important steps in accelerating student learning.

How we reached student success with assessment proficiency


Teachers want nothing more than to find success for struggling students--to do this, they need a deep understanding of their state learning standards

Key points:

  • Assessment creation can be uncomfortable, but it is also one of the most important steps in accelerating student learning
  • Teachers are the only professionals who can most effectively build these assessments for their students
  • See related article: 4 engaging assessment ideas for middle and high school
  • For more news on assessment, visit eSN’s Innovative Teaching page

Teachers use a variety of methods to assess mastery of a topic. We use observations, quick formative assessments, longer summative assessments, and long-term benchmark assessments. The problem is that these assessments come in a variety of ways, depending on where you teach.

Many districts utilize pre-built assessments from curricular resource companies. Others build assessments based on curricular resources and change every 4-6 years with their new resource adoption cycles. Some will create assessments based on their state-approved learning standards and work to adapt the curricular resources to their true “curriculum” and assessments.

It’s no wonder teachers are more cautious and insecure than ever about their abilities to assess and close learning gaps effectively. That is clear in the most recent surveys on the state of assessment, including Instructure’s 2023 State of Assessment in K-12 Education.

Curricular companies vs. teacher-built assessments

Teachers are amazing individuals and assess students in a variety of ways all day long. However, pressure is often heightened when it comes to building an effective assessment that identifies skills directly related to state learning standards in a variety of skill levels. The need to collect effective data that can be used to drive instruction and intervention can increase levels of stress and uncertainty. 

This anxiety and lack of confidence in the educator’s ability to create an effective assessment is why district administrators often go with premade assessments from curriculum companies. It’s easy and it takes a task off of a teacher’s already overloaded schedule, so why not? Shouldn’t these companies have the most expertise in the content they are writing for the resource? The short answer is no.

Assessments, by design, should show a stair step of understanding toward mastery of state-approved learning standards. But assessments also need to provide a clear picture of student understanding within those skills so teachers can take that information and fill in the gaps.

Curricular companies do not know my individual students in De Soto, Missouri, but I do. While it creates an uncomfortable feeling for teachers to be thrown into the pond with assessment creation, it is also one of the most important steps we can take to help accelerate student learning.

Breaking down the assessment process

Teachers are the only professionals who can most effectively build these assessments for their students. With support and training on unwrapping standards, creating learning targets, designing proficiency scales, and analyzing data through collaborative professional learning communities to drive instructional decisions, teachers can better design assessments. And through that guidance and support, teachers will maintain the rigor of end-of-year state assessments, yet provide levels of mastery that are used to meet students where they are and provide the interventions they need to be successful.

Teachers want nothing more than to find success for struggling students. In order to do this, they want to have a deep understanding of their state learning standards. Teachers want to identify what the barriers are that are holding a student back from success, and they are excited when they can find this in assessment data. Most importantly, teachers are more successful when they can do this work in a collaborative environment such as a professional learning community.

In De Soto, we have found success using these same essential components over the last few years. Our state assessment scores have increased by double-digit percentage points in many areas year over year, with growth in almost every area across the board this previous year in grades 3-12.

Finding a viable solution in De Soto

The ingredients are simple, yet the work is difficult. Collaboration and data analysis are key, leading to a big payoff for students! We have spent the last few years reviewing our deep dive into unwrapping our state standards, creating effective learning targets, designing proficiency scales, and learning about effective assessment design. Though this is work we have done as a district many times in the past, it’s now even more important. We had a vision in mind for finding the most effective way to diagnose student learning gaps and provide the most effective interventions to support them.

However, an assessment is only as good as the data you receive. That is where Mastery Connect by Instructure came into play for De Soto. Mastery Connect is a program that gives teachers a platform to create assessments with individual questions aligned to specific standards. After facilitating the assessment, teachers get immediate graphical and data feedback showing student mastery for each standard assessed, and a breakdown of that data by question, class, teacher, and team. This gives teachers the tools to effectively analyze data and drive instructional decisions to best support students.

While we are asking teachers to jump into the deep end with assessment creation, we are providing some life preservers through programs like Mastery Connect that can show them immediate, effective feedback of that assessment work, and give them the information they need to see the big payoff in student growth.

Assessment work is always a work in progress. We will always refine, revise, and improve our assessments to provide better data, increase rigor, and more closely align to state standards. It is this work, however, that can have the greatest impact on student achievement. Teachers, more than anyone, have the expertise and ability to create and design effective assessments for their students. Partnered with effective collaboration and tools such as Mastery Connect, we can see those learning gaps continue to close and students continue to achieve.

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