How Assessment Should Drive Instruction

Andrew Passinger
Andrew Passinger
Middle-Senior High School Assistant Principal/Pandemic Coordinator; M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction, Gifted Certification
Student filling out answers to answer sheet with a purple pencil.

No matter the level they teach, educators are always concerned with the content their students are learning. Strategies and standards are essential in the learning process, but possibly the most significant is the implementation of assessment, which ultimately drives one’s instruction in the classroom. Purposeful, student learning is the ultimate goal, but how does an instructor ensure that they are teaching purposefully?

Achievement and Growth

Growth during the year using benchmarking and formative assessment will be a driving force in changing instruction. An assessment provides valuable information when a teacher designs instruction for lessons and units:

  • What is the expected learning outcome?
  • How can a teacher best achieve that outcome?
  • How is it measured and then how will that change instruction for reteaching and relearning?

This is where the growth component moves into the mix. The battle in traditional teaching is that once unit is completed, the teacher must move on with the curriculum, but this is where the ultimate loss of learning measurement occurs. Changes in pedagogy, differentiated instruction, and review of data points will help the teacher refocus on what the students didn’t learn and then how to approach it to reteach.

In essence, teachers need to take the time to ensure learning is occurring rather than simply moving forward because they need to teach the curriculum. How does this work, though, at the different levels?

Elementary Assessment

One of the best ways to assess learning at the elementary level is to involve the students directly in the assessment process. Research shows strong correlation between classroom learning and the assessment process.

Elementary students love sharing their ideas through direct speaking. This adds to the classroom observations for teachers, which supports the value of the formative assessment process. As well, since elementary students and educators are collaborating on identifying student ways of learning, implementing alternative assessment methods is just as integral.

Besides any traditional tools, like data reports, observations, etc., one excellent method for measurement is to include a portfolio. Allowing students to choose what to place as their examples can create a terrific assessment for teachers to identify the highlighted learning content and individual learning styles.

Referring to test scores alone will not provide enough insight for educators. Typically, they don’t yield why a student may have failed or did not perform well enough. Teachers must rely on multiple methods of assessment to gain clues toward how a failing grade may have taken place, which will then allow instruction to be re-evaluated for more robust learning.

Middle School Assessment

Knowing the changes occurring in students socially, hormonally, and identity-wise, teachers must remain structured and active in their assessment goals because middle kids can be different every day. Educators must understand their students and respond to these needs daily.

Assessment should be fluid during the instructional process for middle schoolers. To help supplement data points, numerous benchmarking programs exist and range from elementary to middle school. One national program is NWEA Map, which provides normative-based assessments for students’ progression and abilities. Throughout the assessment, it moves toward more or less challenging questions in order to gain a growth and proficiency measurement.

Another great tool, this one being free, is K-6 Acadience Learning, which is perfect for special education progress monitoring at all levels but will help pinpoint students’ reading progression difficulties. It extends up to eighth grade in some forms.

High School Assessment

With the onset of multiple requirements in high school and so many more in the works through state legislation, assessing students appropriately is a mindset all educators must accept. It’s also essential for educators to understand how to how to use student assessment data. Fortunately, student abilities to formulate more abstract thinking open the world for numerous strategies to employ in the classroom.

Certainly, pre-testing students before the start of units is an excellent assessment for gathering prior knowledge in a formative way. This can eliminate extra time in “reviewing” material when it may not be necessary.

Probing questions for all students, not just volunteers, must occur in conversation and on paper. This enhances teacher observation regarding what they know and can be drilled further, possibly creating stronger conversations about the material and allowing students to ask questions they may not through homework.

Writing assignments that incorporate depth of knowledge and are lined up to each state’s standards are one of the best pedagogical actions teachers can provide for assessment. And these do not have to take place as summative in every instance but are incorporated throughout the lessons. These writing assignments will provide direction in reteaching and changing instruction to highlight weaknesses in thinking, learning, and writing abilities.

But for this to work, these formative and even summative assessment pieces must be authentic and identified for academic progression, not simply as an assignment to earn students points. These need to be collecting the appropriate data and then used individually and collaboratively among departments. Educators must ensure that students understand the objectives and assessment criteria, hence specific rubrics, to truly understand their mistakes and then take the appropriate steps to learn how to perform better.

The ultimate purpose is to facilitate learning in a supportive environment. And this feedback must arrive in a timely and effective manner, not weeks later, which is time-consuming but essential for the learning process. Some research shows suspending grading during certain times of the year and focusing on one-on-one student-teacher conferences will enhance their learning tenfold.

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that when teachers help students activate ownership in their learning, it will create the love and desire for information throughout life.

Education is about guiding students through the curriculum using multiple methods of assessment, ranging from:

  • Benchmarking
  • Proving questions
  • Projects
  • Quizzes
  • Informal discussions
  • Formal writing assignments

This helps isolate what students know, which then allows the teacher to re-assess their teaching to drive the best and strongest instruction. Check out our available curriculum and instruction graduate programs and advance your career today!

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