Why Better Assessments Results in Better Teaching

In my second year of teaching, a mentor asked me a seemingly simple question: “How do you know what your students have learned?” I showed her my gradebook, which listed the assignments, quizzes and projects my students completed. “I see scores and grades,” she observed, “But how do you know which students have learned how to graph linear equations? Or factor polynomials?”

Over the next half hour, my mentor helped me understand that if I wanted to truly know my students, I needed a better way to track their progress and better assessments to measure what they had learned. I quickly learned that designing assessments is both an art and science, and I never learned “assessment literacy” basics during my preparation to become a teacher.

Today, it’s even more important that teachers have assessment literacy. All teachers need high-quality classroom assessments to know what their students are learning and whether they are on track for success in college and careers. Moreover, many states and districts evaluate teachers based, in part, on student growth, which may be measured using teacher-created assessments. Assessment literacy can also help teachers understand the purpose of large-scale summative assessments, and how to use data from those assessments in their classroom. Bottom line: The stakes are too high for teachers to be using low-quality assessments in the classroom.

Education First recently collaborated with leaders and educators from New Jersey, Maryland, Colorado, Georgia and other states under contract as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Reform Support Network (RSN) to create the Assessment Design Toolkit. This toolkit includes videos and materials to help teachers write and select well-designed assessments, all explained in teacher-friendly language. Teachers learn about the purposes of assessment, types of assessment items, elements of assessment design, and how to write high-quality assessments. This content is divided into 13 individual “modules” that teachers can access during their planning period or lunch break. States, districts and schools also can use the toolkit to plan assessment literacy professional development for their teachers. Ohio, Kansas and New York offer similar assessment literacy professional learning for their educators.

As a classroom teacher, I craved these types of resources—short, high-yield and relevant resources with strategies that I can incorporate into my next lesson plan. When teachers have the skills to create better assessments, they can adjust their instruction and answer that critical question my mentor asked me years ago: “How do you know what your students have learned?”

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Over three years, Education First has supported grantmaking and technical assistance to a network of grantee local and state advocacy organizations as they engaged in the critical tasks of educating state boards, legislators governors and the media; identifying and supporting teacher advocates; and engaging parents as new tests are adopted and administered and as score reports are released.

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