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Using Assessment to Determine Student Progress

Using Assessment to Determine Student Progress

Author: Jody Waltman

In this lesson, you will learn the role of assessment in evaluating the progress of your students.

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In this tutorial, we'll take an in-depth look at how various types of assessment can help us to measure and track student progress. We'll look at the use of both formative assessments and summative assessments. And then we'll discuss how software programs, as part of the implementation of competency-based education, can help us to administer and track result of these assessments. Let's get started.

First, let's talk about formative assessments. In competency-based education, when we use the phrase student progress, what we're really talking about is students progress towards the mastery of a specific competency or skill.

So in the context of CBE, teachers should be administering frequent formative assessments that help us to monitor students levels of mastery for the various competencies that they're working on. Recall that formative assessments are generally low-stakes assessments that are used just for the purpose of monitoring student understanding or monitoring students skill levels.

Formative assessment data is diagnostic. We should be administering these assessments and looking at the data on an ongoing basis which helps us determine where students are, what their needs are, and what decisions we might want to make for our future instruction.

First, the data that we get from formative assessments helps us to understand where our students are as a whole group, but it also helps us to pinpoint where each individual student is performing as well. It can help us to determine the specific pacing needs that are necessary for individual students as they progress along the line pace, and it can also help us determine what students should move on to next so we can make good decisions about the learning paths that we're developing for each individual student.

So ideally, each student's individual learning path, the learning experiences that they're going to participate in, and the pacing at which they move along this path, should all be shaped by the data from their formative assessments. But we do need to understand that really truly differentiating each student's experience, based entirely on their unique needs and preferences, can be a difficult, if not impossible undertaking.

And so, we need to use this formative assessment data to make the best possible choices for individual students and for our class of students as a whole in order to try to provide the best experience possible for every one.

So how does summative assessment come into play here? Well, the big difference between summative assessment and formative assessment, is that summative assessments are meant to evaluate student mastery at the end of a unit of instruction, instead of monitoring students progress towards mastery throughout the unit.

So for this reason summative assessments tends to be more comprehensive than formative assessments. A formative assessment might focus on just one small aspect of a given competency, whereas the summative assessment would tend to include all of the various aspects of the competency all at the same time.

Also remember, in the context of competency-based education, students need to be provided multiple opportunities to approach a summative assessment. So, if a student does not successfully demonstrate mastery on their first attempt at a summative assessment, they need to be provided with another chance to demonstrate mastery. And, depending on the particular approach to CBE that you're using, this might even entail using a completely different method of assessment that students can use again to demonstrate their mastery of that skill or competency.

So one method that you may use for implementing both formative and summative assessments is to use a software program in the context of competency-based education. There are quite a few different software options available that are designed for this purpose, and the overall purpose of all of these different types of software is to help you implement an assessment-driven, differentiated approach to competency-based education.

These programs assess students progress usually using a pre-test and then the software automatically, in many cases, generates the students' learning experiences based on their performance on the pre-assessment. So this type of software really allows each student to be working on their own competencies, at their own level, and at their own pacing.

This definitely is a benefit of this type of software program. As a student demonstrates mastery of the current competency or skill, the software moves them automatically along their learning path and, again, most of these software applications can actually generate the upcoming steps on each student's learning path based on their, either results of the pre-test, or based on their performance on previous skills or competencies.

But there definitely are some challenges to implementing these software programs as well. First, there are sometimes just limited options for demonstration of mastery. Due to the nature of the software and the computer interface, these assessments are often dominated by yes or no questions, or multiple choice questions, or questions where there's maybe a simple numerical input, but there's not necessarily a lot of variety allowed in how students are able to demonstrate their mastery of the concepts or skills.

Also these programs can be expensive. Not only in terms of the cost of the software, but also in terms of technology and infrastructure that are required to fully implement them. So there's the cost of the technology and infrastructure, and there's also just the issue of, can you support this logistically? Do you have a space in your school where students can all be sitting together, monitored by the same teacher, but, again, individually accessing the software on their own devices so that they can each work on their own individual competencies.

And also there's a really interesting issue here with a potential technology disparity outside of school. Think about it in this way. It's possible that some of your students have more access to technology, or more familiarity with technology, in their everyday lives outside of school. So is it possible that these students who are more familiar with technological applications in general might demonstrate stronger performance than their counterparts who don't have the same access to technology outside of school?

This is a real concern in implementing a software program like this. We need to be sure that we are really measuring students understanding and mastery of the competencies, not just their ability to successfully navigate a software application.

In this tutorial, we discussed the purpose of both formative assessment and summative assessment. And we discussed the potential use of software programs in order to really implement an assessment-driven, differentiated approach to competency-based education that uses both formative and summative assessments to track student progress. But we also talked about how there are some concerns with the use of these types of software programs.

So now it's your turn to stop and reflect. Has your use of formative and summative assessments so far in your classroom been aligned with the expectations for these types of assessments that we outlined here? As you reflect on how this new information can be applied, you may want to explore the additional resources section that accompanies this video presentation. This is where you'll find links to resources chosen to help you deepen your learning and explore ways to apply your newly acquired skill set. Thanks for joining me today. Have a great day.

Notes on "Using Assessment to Determine Student Progress"

(00:00 - 00:24) Introduction

(00:25 - 02:23) Formative Assessment

(02:24 - 03:31) Summative Assessment

(03:32 - 06:32) Software Programs & CBE

(06:33 - 06:59) Review

(07:00 - 07:33) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

Why Formative Assessments Matter

This Edutopia article explores the purpose and use of formative assessments. The article stresses the importance of using formative assessment results to drive instruction.

Examples of Formative Assessment 

This page from the West Virginia Department of Education provides a comprehensive list of formative assessment types and examples. In addition, there is a helpful explanation for using the assessments to drive instruction.