What Will Assessment Look Like This Fall in K-12 Education?

This is part of a series of blog posts based on HMH’s recent report titled The Connected Learning Era: Mitigating the COVID-19 Learning Loss.

With the new school year kicking off, we are seeing everything from totally in-person to totally remote instruction, and every hybrid approach in between. Regardless of whether remote instruction at your school is part of the current plan or just a backup plan, educators, students, and families need to be prepared for at least some remote instruction and, by association, assessment in this kind of setting.

The previous blog post in this series discussed the why of delivering remote assessments, but it’s equally important to understand how to make remote assessment feasible. No matter what the learning environment is come this fall—in-person, remote, or a combination—a comprehensive portfolio of assessments is essential for students to demonstrate their understanding and to provide teachers with valuable feedback.

Yet the dynamics of an assessment system will need to adapt when students are participating in a virtual classroom. More specifically:

  • Formative assessments that require in-person interaction need to be modified.
  • Expectations about standardized testing conditions—for instance, having a quiet environment and ensuring outside help isn’t provided—may need to be be relaxed to avoid placing a greater burden on families. In turn, those interpreting assessment results need to keep in mind that standardized conditions may not be completely achievable.
  • Strategies for providing feedback to students based on their assessment performance must be adapted to a remote and sometimes asynchronous setting.
  • Fairness for students with disabilities (such as those with IEPs and 504 plans) will need to be ensured.

In response to these challenges, we offer some suggestions for implementing the various forms of assessment to support a connected learning system. Whether assessment is happening online or with traditional paper and pencil, with or without proctoring, separate from teaching or during teaching, the following modifications can be made to meet educator and student needs.

Taking Formative Assessment Online

What good is assessing a student if there is nothing that can be done with the information? Assessments are most useful when they provide actionable data about a student’s knowledge or skills by clearly connecting with the curriculum. Because students are constantly learning and growing, formative assessments should be administered frequently to provide up-to-date information on student progress. With the cancellation of end-of-year summative assessments this past year and the ongoing physical separation this year, formative assessments will play a key role in helping teachers determine where students are this fall and what they need in terms of instruction.

Although not a replacement for face-to-face interaction, teachers can leverage technology through video chats and meetups to deliver real-time instruction and robust formative assessment. This interaction allows the teacher to quickly gauge students’ level of understanding during instruction.

The remote process follows the same fundamental principles of face-to-face formative assessment practices:

1
PLAN
  • Start with a clear set of learning objectives to teach and determine a set of probes you will use to gather relevant responses.
  • Use priority standards as a guide to focus on the most important goals.
2
ASSESS
  • Deliver the assessment probes throughout your online lesson and make sure most students have a chance to participate.
  • Use quiz tools or have students hold up signs to answer recall questions, in order to encourage retention and check for understanding.
3
DIAGNOSE
  • Evaluate student understanding through their responses to the probes.
  • Ask follow-up questions to determine the source of misconceptions.
4
RESPOND
  • During online lessons, address common misconceptions you see in student responses.
  • Provide immediate feedback to students who are confused.

For longer-term projects, students can plan and track work in a graphic organizer that they frequently update and share with you. You can also attend virtual group meetings to monitor progress, provide guidance, and observe the development of collaborative skills against a rubric. Plan an online sharing session to present finished work and share feedback. If a live session is not possible, celebrate success by sending students pictures or copies of their classmates’ work.

Assessing in Traditionally Proctored Environments

When administered in remote settings, scored assessments typically administered in proctored settings provide unique challenges when it comes to validity and reliability. Below are some things to consider when designing an assessment plan for remote learning:

Independent or Observational?

  • Use self-paced assessments with clearly articulated instructions for students who can work independently.
  • Otherwise, use video or phone conferencing to ensure students understand the task and stay focused and motivated.

Timed or Untimed?

  • When interpreting results from timed assessments, consider that remote administration may slow response time and determine whether timing is really necessary.
  • When measuring fluency is key, ensure students can react quickly online, or use observational assessment.

Online or Print?

  • For students without internet access, or who cannot work independently online, provide printed versions and ask families to text photos of the completed work, or provide options for dropping it off.

Red Flag or Testing Issue?

  • Compare results with previous classroom-based administrations as another check on students’ ability to demonstrate proficiency with the type of assessment assigned—a significant deviation from prior performance may indicate a testing issue, and a one-on-one follow-up validation is needed to verify the unexpected result.

Providing Feedback to Close the Loop

With any form of student work that is evaluated, informative feedback—not just right or wrong, but also why—addresses underlying misconceptions directly and helps students to course correct toward their goals. This is an effective model for self-regulated learning, too, showing students that they can reflect on the quality of their own understanding and seek out information to improve it. Here are some features of effective feedback delivered remotely:

What About Testing Accommodations?

Students with learning or intellectual disabilities, or speech-language, hearing, or visual impairments, have always been one of our most vulnerable testing populations. Remote testing will only add to existing challenges. The law has now mandated that states and test developers address accessibility and provide accommodations to ensure that assessments measure the knowledge and skills of all students. Teachers can take advantage of online assessment features, such as screen readers and text magnification for students who need visual or audio support. Additional accommodations, such as extended time and the use of breaks, can still be provided remotely, and individualized support from an aide can come through remote conferencing.

Specific suggestions to address these concerns include:

  • Recognizing the importance of not excluding students from testing solely based on them having a disability
  • Ensuring students are familiar with the assistive technologies they will use and that they are compatible with the online system
  • As with any testing event, ensuring the environment is free from distraction, even more so for students with attention issues
  • Being flexible—and if parental assistance is needed, supplying necessary guidance on how to provide this support (for example, a parent may wish to read aloud the instructions—but not test items that measure decoding—or provide guidance on best answers)

The Future Is Uncertain, But Staying Connected Remains Essential

Physical separation doesn’t change teachers’ need for formative information about their students’ knowledge and skills to plan responsive instruction, but it does change how teachers get that information. By making adjustments to assessment and finding new ways to communicate with students and their families about their performance, teachers can stay connected to their students’ needs.

Educators, teachers, parents, and students are all understandably concerned. Nobody purports to have all the answers, and the proper solution may vary from school to school or even from student to student. By adhering to a set of learning principles that we do know and value, and by leveraging the experiences of communities around us, we will undoubtedly meet this unprecedented challenge.

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K–12 leaders nationwide are grappling with tough decisions around remote, in-person, and BLENDED learning. That’s why we are proud to introduce a special offer, HMH Anywhere. It’s a digital subscription at one low price, designed to support both remote and in-person learning through ONE easy-to-use platform for all grades, all students, and all teachers.

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