Q&A: Assessments in Blue Valley

Student working on school work


Assessments in Blue Valley take on multiple forms from a state-required test to a teacher simply spending 10 minutes each day quizzing students about a particular topic they have recently covered. All forms are important and help teachers, staff and the district gauge how well students are learning and how they stack up across the state. 


All Kansas schools are required by the Kansas State Department of Education to administer state assessments and all tests provide information on how well students are progressing in their learning. 


Adam Wade, Blue Valley’s Director of Academic Achievement and Accountability, answers questions about assessments, how and why they are administered, what families can do to support their students during assessments and common misconceptions about standardized testing. 


Q: What are assessments?


A: Assessments measure what students know and are able to do in relation to an academic standard. The goal of an assessment is to provide teachers, schools and the district with information about how well students are learning, and to provide insight into further action steps. 


Q: Which assessments do Blue Valley students take?


A: Blue Valley students, depending upon their grade level, take a lot of different assessments. Students in grades 3-8, 10 and 11 take state assessments. That's what the state mandates through the federal government. In Blue Valley, students in grades 2-8 participate in MAP testing.


MAP testing is three times a year and gives schools and teachers benchmark readings on student progress in both reading and math. Students in grades K-5 participate in Acadience testing three times a year. That's where their specific literacy skills are measured, such as how well students read the first sound of a word. High school juniors participate at no charge in a state-funded ACT.  Then there are other tests that some students will participate in. For example, some high school students will participate in AP exams where they can earn college credit.


The majority of our students participate in Panorama, which are surveys around social-emotional constructs. 


You can even think of assessments as somewhat more informal. We can view an assessment as a teacher asking the class a question and trying to elicit feedback on what students know about that particular topic. But generally, when we think about assessments, we're talking about more formal standardized testing. 


Q: What is the importance of the students taking assessments? 


A: The whole point of assessments is to make sure that teachers have the information they need to help teach.  Think of it this way — if you go to a doctor's appointment, you're going to get some information back to help you decide if you need to make changes.  It's a similar kind of relationship with a teacher getting information from an assessment. 


When you look at bigger picture assessments, like state assessments, those are more beneficial from a higher viewpoint. State assessments aren’t going to tell a teacher what they can do for their students tomorrow because they don’t get the results until the end of the school year. But they could give a teacher an idea of how well their students learned the grade-level standards overall. 


Q: Can you talk about how it helps paint the picture for teachers and how they use those results? 


A: It depends on the perspective. So from the teacher level, it's about helping individuals. From the district level, it's going to be more about programmatic approaches. For example, we give a test and it reveals that every grade level is progressing in math, with the exception of one. That would give us a reason to ask questions like, ‘Does our curriculum at that particular grade level address what it needs to? Is there something we’re missing here?’


Q: Do results typically yield change, big or small? If so, how often does that happen? 


A: I think it's more often going to be a small change. You'd have to have a lot of data points leading in the same direction to make some drastic changes. Generally what you're looking at is based on a piece of information and figuring out what we can tweak. What does it tell us about how we're instructing a particular topic or standard?


Q: When does Blue Valley administer tests?


A: State assessments are always in the spring. MAP and Acadience tests are three times a year in the fall, winter and spring. The formal and informal assessments teachers give in the classroom occur when appropriate, such as during or at the end of a unit.  


The district has posted an assessment calendar that details which grades take certain assessments and when they are administered. 


Q: Are there any assessments that are more important than others in terms of what results might show?


A: : What's probably ironic to people is that the tests that always get the most press are ACT and state assessments. Those are the two providing the biggest picture. There is no question that these tests are important and can be relatively high stakes. 


However, when we want to talk about what assessments most impact student learning, it’s the assessments that are given by the classroom teacher — both during and after instruction — that have the greatest impact. 


Q: What role can Blue Valley families play in assessments?


A: Regarding day-to-day assessments that a teacher does, I think our families can just encourage their kids to do their best. I think where we would kindly ask for families' help is with state assessments. We really do want to see what our students know and are able to do in relation to the state standards. It helps inform the big picture and it helps inform schools.  


We want accurate information because we need to know if what we’re doing is working. We know that students may have a hard time seeing the relevance of some assessments, which is why “It’s all about helping students learn” can never be said too often. 


Q: What are some misconceptions about assessments and standardized testing?


A: I think misconception number one is the idea of kids being over-tested. The second misconception is the notion that one test score means everything. It’s really easy in today’s world to latch onto a data point and let that try and paint the picture.  We have a ton of data points. 


For example, if a student scores well on a state assessment, but their grades aren’t particularly good, how much weight would you put in that state assessment score? It would seem to be the outlier in that instance. If you have a student who is progressing well but has a bad day during the state assessment, all of a sudden that data point’s not painting as favorably. The point is to consider everything in context.