Key Takeaways for Assessment in 2020-2021

Jul 30, 2020

Since mid-March, Center for Assessment associates and highly-respected guest authors have written multiple CenterLine posts and other papers addressing key aspects of assessment and accountability. We have been wrestling with this question since COVID-19 disrupted the 2019-2020 school year and forced the cancellation of spring 2020 state assessments: How can assessment best be used to support teachers and students during the 2020-2021 school year? Our ideas and advice over the past several months about assessment in 2020-2021 crystallized into the following key takeaways:

Summative Assessment Can Wait

Early in the spring, some advocated using the summative assessments that were not administered in spring 2020 in the fall of 2020. This was never a good idea, as explained persuasively by Erika Landl and Michelle Boyer. However, it is not enough just to say “no.” Brian Gong provided a framework to help district and state leaders identify the information they need and the type of assessment that can provide it. Guest bloggers, Patrick Meyer and Gage Kingsbury built on this framework and discussed how assessment must follow and support instruction.

Truth in Labeling

My colleagues, Marianne Perie and Brian Gong and I invented the term interim assessment about 12 years ago, in hopes it would bring clarity to the field. It didn’t. I have been alarmed by the calls for large-scale “diagnostic” assessments and pushed for much more clarity through clear and honest descriptions of intended use cases as I described here and in this more detailed CCSSO paper with colleagues Brian Gong, Will Lorié, and Rebecca Kockler. Carla Evans also pointed out that seeking out assessments to magically serve all necessary purposes was akin to searching for the Holy Grail.

Focus on What Matters Most

Even though we are the Center for Assessment, we continually stress that assessment must follow from and be closely connected to high-quality curriculum and instruction. This is especially true as we consider how to support students’ school reentry this fall. In her Holy Grail post, Carla Evans lays out a framework for classroom assessment to support student learning. Guest author, Mary Ann Snider, and I wrote that the current crises presented an opportunity to intentionally shift the focus to deeper learning and assessment. Susan Lyons, former Center Associate and active blogger, drew on a large body of research to make a case for formative assessment being our best hope to help students move to grade-level learning as quickly as possible.

Finally, Jeri Thompson and Carla Evans have helped put together many of these and other key ideas and concepts in an impressive and growing set of classroom assessment learning modules designed to help teachers and leaders increase their assessment knowledge and skills. These modules help fulfill the Center’s long-time commitment to increasing assessment literacy at many levels of the educational system.

School Year 2020-2021 Will Be Different, But…

There’s no question shuttering school buildings last spring and suspending large-scale data collection means educating students this coming year is more challenging than in typical years. Will Lorié and guest author, Kristen Huff, wrote complementary posts arguing that we have the knowledge, tools, and resources to help make up learning gaps. However, we have to employ those strategies with evidence of effectiveness, and on a scale we have not experienced previously.

Of course, we already need to be planning for the spring 2021 state summative assessment. Leslie Keng, Michelle Boyer, and I wrote in a forthcoming Educational Measurement: Issues and Practices article about the various issues state assessment leaders and assessment providers should consider regarding the spring 2021 assessments. Chris Domaleski recently added important nuance to this discussion by challenging what appears to be a set of false dichotomies to help policy and assessment leaders think about the range of options available next spring. We will certainly have more to offer about this issue in the coming weeks and months.

Watch and Listen

In a recent interview with Emily Frietag, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Instruction Partners, I expand on each of the takeaways listed above. You can watch the full interview here or review the transcript on the Instruction Partners site.

I am proud of the work we have been doing and we’ve learned a lot, as I describe in the interview. However, with all of the uncertainty about what school will look like next year, we know we have to keep thinking about plausible assessment options to best support student learning next year