When is the Best Time to Assess?

When and how often to assess students has long been a controversial topic in education. Some argue that students are tested too much and that too much time is spent “teaching to the test.” Others argue that students need to be assessed more often in order to provide teachers with the data they need to be effective. While opinions on the current state of assessments may vary, one thing is clear – assessments are a necessary part of education. What teachers, schools, and others involved in education must determine is when and how often students should be assessed.

Assessing Early vs. Assessing Late

Looking at school calendar and determining when to assess students can be a daunting task. Assessments should be scheduled when they are most effective, but determining when they will be most effective takes some careful thought and consideration.

When choosing when to assess students, teachers and administrators must keep in mind two things:

  • Time to teach the material
  • Time to get and review the results

You don’t want to assess students before they’ve had time to master the material, but you also don’t want to wait so long that the results of the assessment are not beneficial to anyone. At the classroom level, this may mean pushing back a summative assessment if students are struggling with the material and building in time for re-teaching after giving an assessment if the results show students need more help. At the district level, this may mean scheduling smaller benchmark assessments at the end of every unit or quarter, rather than giving a comprehensive assessment at the end of the year.

Frequency of Assessments

One of the biggest concerns of parents is how often students are assessed. Bloggers have gone viral for exclaiming that their children hate school after being exposed to assessment overload from day one. For teachers and school districts, it’s a catch-22. You must cater to the needs of the student, but in order to figure out what those needs are, you need to assess your students.

You want to assess students enough to get the information you need, but not frequently enough to make them feel like all they’re doing is taking assessments.

When planning how to assess students, take the following questions into account:

-          What do I want to gain from this assessment?

-          Are students ready to take the assessment?

-          Can I gain the same information without a formal assessment?

Before planning to assess students, you must also consider the other assessments students must take.

Consider this nightmare assessment scenario:

A teacher finishes a unit and gives students the standard end-of-unit assessment. The next day is the end of the 2nd quarter, so students must take the school’s subject-specific benchmark test. The end of the 2nd quarter also means it’s the halfway point in the school year, so students must take the district-selected adaptive achievement test to help track their progress throughout the school year. In the student’s mind, that’s three high-stakes tests in a week.

The teacher thought, “Oh, I’m not assessing that much. I’m just giving them an end-of-unit test.”

The school thought, “Oh, we’re not assessing students that much. We’re just giving them a benchmark test at the end of every quarter.”

The district thought, “Oh, we’re not assessing students that much. We’re just giving them an adaptive achievement test three times a year.”

None of them considered what the others were doing when planning assessments. All of the individuals and organizations who assess students (state departments, district officials, school administrators, and teachers) must come together to create a manageable assessment plan.

Ideal Times to Assess Students

There is no best time to assess students, but there are some ideal times to assess students. These are when the results of the assessments most benefit the students. They include:

-          Diagnostic and ability testing at the beginning of the school year or when a student shows signs of struggle

-          Summative and benchmark assessments to help students understand their current skills levels and set academic goals

-          Daily formative assessments to help teachers plan and adjust lessons and check for understanding

Teachers and others involved with assessing students should remember that the ultimate goal of any assessment is to benefit the students. Any assessment that does not provide useful information in a timely manner or that fails to help improve the education students receive should not have a place in the schedule.

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