Assessment Insights

Data-Driven Decisions: A Guide for Matching Assessment to Purpose

[fa icon="calendar"] October, 2017 / by Press Room

Press Room

“Why do assessment?” That’s the question we ask ourselves regularly, on behalf of our customers and clients. It helps us stay true to our mission—to improve teaching and learning—and to make sure we’re delivering valuable solutions to the students, teachers, and administrators who assess students every day.

It’s easily agreed that assessments drive decision making: they provide relevant data with which to make instructional choices and evaluate programs. And ultimately, when used at the right time and for the right purpose, assessments create a positive impact on student learning. But going beyond those broad assertions, different assessments are designed to address different purposes and to support distinct types of decisions.

So how do know you’re using each assessment for its intended purpose? Now there’s a new downloadable infographic, A Guide for Matching Assessment to Purpose, to help you sort it out.

A purpose-driven view of assessment

Assessments serve multiple purposes for educators and policy makers. The infographic addresses 6 specific purposes:

  • Checking understanding in real time
  • Monitoring instructional effectiveness
  • Predicting future performance
  • Measuring students’ learning and growth
  • Making decisions about programs
  • Fulfilling accountability requirements

For each purpose of assessment, the infographic shows connections to the related major components of a balanced assessment system (formative, benchmark, interim, and statewide assessments). These 6 purposes don’t cover all the reasons we assess students, of course, but they reflect broad categories of practice. What are your additional reasons? Let us know in the comments.

How assessments impact student learning

To be purposeful about assessment, it’s important to note that different types of assessment have different degrees of impact on student learning. It’s a spectrum. Formative assessment has the most direct and sustained impact on student learning, and is closest to the student in a student-centered approach. Formative activities and evidence-gathering give teachers insight that they can apply immediately to individual and group instruction.

On the other end of the spectrum is statewide assessment. While statewide tests do provide student results, their primary purpose isn’t to reflect back to individual student instruction, but to look at student performance from a larger context. The results of state assessments are used to compare and improve program effectiveness of schools and districts; to adjust long-term educational strategies, and to ensure equity across subgroups. These issues are part of meeting accountability requirements. Schools are required to show that students in all geographic areas, backgrounds, and economic conditions receive challenging and effective instruction.

As the educational community continues to seek innovative testing solutions that are time-sensitive and deliver effective results, it’s important to remember that all tests aren’t designed to accomplish the same goals. A test that doesn’t return the information you need may not be a poor test; it may be the wrong test. Each component of a balanced assessment system serves its specific role in shaping instruction and/or policy within the context of the whole.


Topics: Classroom Assessment, Assessment Literacy, Formative Assessment, Accountability, Interim Assessments, Connecting Teaching and Learning

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Written by Press Room

Our Press Room chooses topics of interest from activities around the company, to provide a closer look at ways to improve learning and instruction, and to help demystify assessment issues.