Student Analytics: Making the Most of Information From Summative Assessments

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The assessment of student achievement continues to be a fundamental and significant source of information in our society. While recognizing that achievement data are powerful, we must always guide toward appropriate use and interpretation. Test designers, developers, and researchers must balance the complexity of validating assessments while also recognizing that the information from assessments determines the contribution and value to our students, educators, and policymakers. It is the translation of test results into usable and accessible information that should drive all test design and development, and ultimately impact the appropriate and supported uses of a test. Users of assessment information should be able to use it to inform instruction for students.

Defining Your Goals

Assessments that inform teaching and learning start with clearly articulating goals for student learning and frequently include various approaches and strategies for assessing student achievement whether it reflects growth, status, or a more detailed diagnosis of strengths and weaknesses in a particular area. A majority of assessments that inform teaching and learning are designed, developed, and used by the classroom teacher to deliver instruction, determine emphasis on content, and identify additional resources needed.

However, in addition to the day-to-day classroom-based assessments, teaching and learning may also be informed through more formal assessments. These may be district-wide assessments designed to support learning improvement while providing additional information not typically available from classroom-based assessments. For example, this additional information may include a reference to:

  • How students performed on specific content and skills
  • How that performance compared with other contents and skills
  • How that performance compared with students in the district or state

Or, this additional information from more formal assessments may include statements about how the student grew from one grade to another, based on empirical evidence illustrating how other students grew from one grade to another.

Designing, Analyzing, and Optimizing the Assessment Data

Measurement aims to provide information that permits decisions to be as informative and fair as possible. Every aspect of test design and development contributes to information usefulness. From decisions made early in the design process with respect to purposes to be served by an assessment, the value and appropriateness of the information is a concern. Usefulness is an ongoing, iterative process that should be addressed at all stages of development and re-evaluated in a systematic way by the designers as well as the users of the information.

To maximize the usefulness of assessment information, educators can turn to student analytics to reveal new insights into student performance. The richness of student data generated by comprehensive assessments enables educators to go beyond the typical analysis. Student analytics focus on understanding how students respond and why, enabling accurate predictions about how they will likely perform in the future. They enable educators to make the right decisions around instruction for students at the right time.

In addition, tools for student analytics are becoming widely available through student information and assessment systems. These systems not only house the data but also make it readily accessible for educators. At the end of the assessment experience, if we have failed to utilize the information fully, then any advantage from non-classroom-based assessment has been forfeited.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


If you are attending the National Catholic Educational Association’s New Directions Assessment Conference in Philadelphia, June 18-20, you can attend an HMH program session titled Using Summative Assessments to Further Student Learning.” This session will demonstrate how summative assessment results can inform classroom instruction and affect student learning.

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