How do assessments in Blue Valley lead to student academic success?
Being flexible and adjusting on the spot are important tools in Heather Hall’s classes. Hall, a science teacher at Blue Valley West, knows that if, during a mid-lesson check-in, a group of students says they aren’t grasping the content as expected, she needs to quickly pivot.
Those moments allow Hall to reevaluate if her students are ready to dig deeper into the lesson or take a step back. Evaluations like these are just one form of assessment offered in Blue Valley.
Blue Valley assessments are divided into two buckets: formative and summative.
Formative assessments described as assessments for learning, provide teachers with information on how they can help a student grow. MAP testing, iReady, and Acadience fall into this category.
Informal forms of formative assessment look like standard instructional strategies. One example is having students give a thumbs up or thumbs down to judge their understanding of a concept. A second example could involve having students complete an exit ticket, where they write a sentence about what they learned in class that day. Both of these instructional strategies provide the teacher with in-the-moment formative data that the teacher can use to determine the next instructional steps.
Summative assessments, characterized as assessments of learning, occur after instruction takes place. State assessments and ACT testing fall into this category.
“If the purpose is to evaluate student learning and provide a description, then that’s assessment of learning,” said Adam Wade, Blue Valley’s Director of Academic Achievement and Accountability. “Is the purpose to describe or prescribe? Anytime the purpose is to help student learning and provide next steps to diagnose learning, that’s going to fall in the assessments for learning bucket.”
The two buckets of assessments are used for various purposes. Summative assessment data is typically more beneficial to the school district, while formative assessment data is a great tool teachers can use to inform their teaching.
“Summative vantage points are more helpful at the district level because we are thinking about a more macroscopic view, as opposed to a microscopic view,” said Wade.
Teachers and principals might find different uses for assessment data. Principals might find a healthy blend of formative and summative data.
“You want to know at the end of the year how well the students did on the state assessment,” Wade said. “But you also want to know if your teachers are using the information they are collecting as part of formative assessment processes to help students learn and grow.”
Adrianne Zielke, a reading specialist at Oak Hill Elementary, uses assessment data to see where her students are and what they need to move forward.
“I think of it as a road map,” Zielke said. “I use it to determine a starting point of where my students may come in and where I want them to be by the end of the quarter or semester. Then I use diagnostic assessments to determine how I’m going to get there and the path they need to reach their goals for the end of the year.”
Zielke, in her role as a reading specialist, can progress monitor students weekly using quick evaluations to determine how they are advancing toward their goals.
“It provides an unbiased look at how students are progressing more than just I feel that they are doing well,” Zielke said. “It really helps to see data on paper. After multiple data points, I’m able to see how my instruction is meeting the needs of those students.”
Zielke said when she notices students aren’t making the growth she would have expected, that is an opportunity for her to reflect on what is and isn’t working for the student and to modify instruction.
Blue Valley teachers, like Hall and Zielke, see the benefit of both formative and summative. But when it comes to the day-to-day learning occurring in the classroom, formatives are the most influential and take place more frequently.
“Typically, summatives are at the end of the unit, and we make notes on failures, stuff that didn’t work and need to change for next year,” Hall said. “But we still know that no matter what we plan for next year, formatives are still going to drive the changes that we need to make daily.”
Hall said one of the best moves Blue Valley West’s science department made is switching from focusing on assessing students solely on content. The teachers have been working to assess students on skill-based work, too.
“Formative data is so helpful because a lot of the time when it’s content-driven work, most of that can be learned and memorized,” Hall said. “But skill-wise is where that’s not just a fact I can keep pushing in your brain over and over again. I have to figure out where is your skill level at and how do I bring that up.”
Taylor Stewart, a sixth grade math teacher at Aubry Bend Middle, said assessments drive instruction.
Formatives drive daily lessons, whereas summatives serve as a wrap-up.
The state assessments and MAP testing give schools a birds-eye view of where students are at on a national level.
“Summatives and the MAP tests are extremely important, for us as teachers and the school district, to know where we stand and how well of a job we are doing year in and year out,” Stewart said. “It’s great for kids to know where they stand at a national or state level, so they can take more ownership of those scores and set goals for themselves. If we didn’t have assessments, I don’t know how we would measure what we’re doing.”
Formatives are not only beneficial to figure out what content to teach at any given time but to figure out where individual students are at in their learning. Those formative assessments allow teachers to efficiently prepare kids for the final summative test.
At the end of the day, Hall said, assessments allow her to set goals for what she wants to accomplish as a teacher. They also give students ownership over their work and personal goals.
“I think assessments are the way, as teachers, we help to make sure we are doing our job,” Hall said. “I think we work really hard to design those assessments to be reflective of what I want to make sure kids know. My assessments aren’t going to be 50,000 vocab words because they can Google those. But we worked really hard to figure out what are the essential things we want every kid to walk out of here with.”