Making Assessment Meaningful

September 2016 Literacy Coaching

These days, schools are awash with data.  It seems as though every time we turn around, there are more assessments to be administered – weekly, monthly, and annually.  In addition, we are frequently reminded that decisions should always be data-driven.   But just collecting data doesn’t affect student achievement.  It’s only through clear-eyed analysis and interpretation that the results take on meaning.  Only then does assessment assume its proper place in the instructional cycle – assess, plan, implement, reassess.

So where can we begin?  As coaches, how can we make this assessment process more efficient, and ultimately more meaningful for teaching and learning? We suggest that when carefully done, school-wide system of assessment CAN make a difference, and the literacy coach can catalyze the process.

As a starting point, an important function for the literacy coach in any school is to support and train teachers in administering useful, informative assessments.  As Walpole and McKenna (2004) argue, “conducting school-wide assessments without training to ensure that all testers can administer the texts reliably is a waste of teaching and learning time” (p. 25).  The coach can play a critical role in training teachers to administer assessments correctly and then to interpret the results meaningfully to inform instruction.   In our experience, as with any effective form of professional development, training teachers to use an assessment is an ongoing process that should be embedded in the classroom as much as possible.  A true understanding of an assessment – including administration and interpretation – cannot be developed from a “one-shot” professional development session.  It will take time, collaboration, and analysis to use any new assessment well.

To begin the assessment process, the coach must develop a school-wide calendar that plots the assessment dates and clears these dates with teachers and administrators.  Once scheduled, the coach must plan backwards to assure that teachers receive adequate training, in advance, to prepare them for the actual assessments.

The coach can work with a small team, initially, comprised of teacher leaders and specialists (e.g., reading specialist, special educators) to model the assessment process with  individual students. Teachers are asked to observe some of the testing to become familiar with the procedures.  At first, the literacy coach will have to take primary responsibility, then gradually step back as teachers gain confidence and practice.  Once the process is underway, the coach assists and supports the teachers as they administer tests in their classrooms, with other members of the assessment team providing extra hands to complete the process.

Once data are collected, the coach and members of the assessment team must work with teachers to analyze and correctly interpret data from the assessments.  Again, interpretation is the heart of this process.  Teachers will need time with their teams and a coach to hone their skills, score with fidelity, and use the results to target student needs.  Walpole and McKenna suggest that the literacy coach can use a spreadsheet to calculate total number of students, average scores, and standard deviations so that students’ performance can be seen holistically.

The literacy coach can then organize classroom data to help teachers develop a class picture to understand where students are in their literacy learning. The coach can also help the teacher interpret this information and use it as a basis for identifying appropriate texts, gathering instructional resources, grouping, and instructional decision-making.

Most importantly, the coach can help the teacher gain perspective about the meaning of the data. As Guth and Pettengill (2005) remind us, assessments give us snapshots of what students know and can do at a particular moment in time – the information they yield should be viewed as a baseline or static moment-in-time from which students can grow.

In future posts this fall, we’ll continue to explore assessments and to consider how the data they yield can be used effectively to plan instruction and help us coach teachers.

So what do you think?  How might you support teachers in your school and help them find meaning in all the assessing that does on? How can you help teachers sort through all the data?  Join the conversation!

References used in this post:

Guth, N. & Pettengill, S. (2005). Leading a successful reading program. Newark, DE:
International Reading Association.

Walpole, S., & McKenna, M.C. (2004). The literacy coach’s handbook. New York:
Guilford Press.

One thought on “Making Assessment Meaningful

  1. Grace Volpe says:

    So true, assessment without analysis to inform instruction is useless. Agree that coaches need to be invested in the organization, administration, and analysis of data with teachers. It has worked well for me to discuss student assessment results in grade level meetings because all are able to help each other discuss concerns and strategies, and even how to move those top readers forward.


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