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May 2021: Student Assessment

Dear Knowledge Network members,  

Assessment is commonly recognized as an essential educational tool. Research upholds the conventional wisdom of the power of assessment to amplify learning and skill acquisition. Assessment accomplishes this in the following ways:

  1. As a diagnostic tool
  2. Providing feedback on progress against benchmarks
  3. As a motivating factor
  4. As an accountability tool for improving systems

Educators rely on two types of assessment. Formative assessment is a range of formal and informal procedures used during a lesson. This assessment practice has the most significant effect on an individual student’s performance, functioning as a problem-solving tool helping a teacher to pinpoint impediments to learning and offering clues for adapting teaching to reduce student failure. Summative assessment is evaluates learning and skill acquisition after an instructional period and employed to assess learning against standards. Summative assessments include high stakes tests, unit tests, midterm exams, or papers. Because they occur at the end of a period, they are of little value as a diagnostic tool.

Despite the overwhelming evidence for the value of student assessment, the topic remains controversial. Standardized assessment has been the center of debate for decades. Although opponents of standardized tests have dominated the public forum, policy-makers and practitioners continue to rely on standardized tests. This month’s newsletter examines student assessment highlighting the critical role of formative assessment for improving student performance and the value of mandated summative assessment as a viable instrument in school accountability and reform. 

Student Assessment (Summative and Formative assessment)

Wing Institute Original Work
This newsletter contains four Wing Institute original papers on assessment. We want to introduce you to a new member of the Wing Institute team of writers, Patty Polster. Patty's first overview for the Wing Institute is on the topic of Standardized Testing and the controversy surrounding this essential educational tool. Recently published research on the topic of student assessment
This issue contains summaries and access to the following resources: Congratulations to all as we near the end of the 2020-2021 school year. We want to acknowledge the Herculean efforts of the students, parents, teachers, administrators and supports staff who worked so diligently to manage and overcome the challenges faced during the covid-19 pandemic. 

Stay safe and thank you for your service,
The Wing Institute

Student Dashboard

The percent of students offered and enrolled in “In-person” schools
The Institute of Education Sciences now publishes a monthly school survey dashboard that provides insights into learning opportunities offered by schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.  It tracks the percent of 4th and 8th grade students that have been offered, and are enrolled in traditional “in-person” schools.  The survey is scheduled to collect data five times, once a month from February through June of 2021.  The following analysis examines critical aspects of the data for public school students between January and March 2021.

The data shows two trends in the access of “in-person” education for fourth and eighth grade students.  The first is that an increasing percentage of public school students are being offered this learning model, going from 42% in January to 50% in March.  It also shows an increasing percentage of students enrolled, from 33% to 38% over the same time period.  However, there is a significant percentage of students who, even though they are offered, do not participate in this option.  As, at this age, this is obviously a parental decision it is worth further research to identify the reasons for lack of participation.
Another aspect of the data shows a even greater disparity in participation when enrollment is analyzed by student ethnicity.

While the percentage of students enrolled in “in-person” schools is increasing across ethnicities, the total percent of participation is significantly influenced by individual student ethnicity:  51% of White students are enrolled versus 31% of Black students, 30% of Hispanic students, and 15% of Asian students.  Again, further research is needed to examine the causes of this enrollment difference but it suggests that many of the students most “at risk” are once again being disproportionally negatively impacted by the education system.
U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, Monthly School Survey.


Wing Institute Original Papers

Standardized Testing

Standardized Testing and the Controversy Surrounding It. The purpose of this paper is to provide a general understanding of standardized testing as well as the current controversy surrounding it, particularly in the context of performance-based accountability systems. The overview addresses the following questions related to standardized testing:

  • What do stakeholders need to understand about standardized testing?
  • What is the history of standardized tests and how have the tests been used?
  • What are the reasons for the current controversy over standardized testing? Read More

Citation: Polster, P., Detrich, R. & States, J. (2021). Standardized Tests Overview. Oakland, CA: The Wing Institute.

Summative Assessment

Summative assessment is an appraisal of learning at the end of an instructional unit or at a specific point in time. It compares student knowledge or skills against standards or benchmarks. Summative assessment evaluates the mastery of learning whereas its counterpart, formative assessment, measures progress and functions as a diagnostic tool to help specific students. Generally, summative assessment gauges how a particular population responds to an intervention rather than focusing on an individual. It often aggregates data across students to act as an independent yardstick that allows teachers, administrators, and parents to judge the effectiveness of the materials, curriculum, and instruction used to meet national, state, or local standards. Summative assessment includes midterm exams, final project, papers, teacher-designed tests, standardized tests, and high-stakes tests. Read More

Citation: States, J., Detrich, R. & Keyworth, R. (2018). Overview of Summative Assessment. Oakland, CA: The Wing Institute.

Formative Assessment

Effective ongoing assessment, referred to in the education literature as formative assessment or progress monitoring, is indispensable in promoting teacher and student success. Feedback through formative assessment is ranked at or near the top of practices known to significantly raise student achievement. For decades, formative assessment has been found to be effective in clinical settings and, more important, in typical classroom settings. Formative assessment produces substantial results at a cost significantly below that of other popular school reform initiatives such as smaller class size, charter schools, accountability, and school vouchers. It also serves as a practical diagnostic tool available to all teachers. Read More

Citation: States, J., Detrich, R. & Keyworth, R. (2017). Overview of Formative Assessment. Oakland, CA: The Wing Institute.


Research recognizes the power of assessment to amplify learning and skill acquisition. Assessment accomplishes this in the following ways; (1) as a diagnostic tool, (2) providing feedback on progress against benchmarks, (3) as a motivating factor, and (4) as an accountability tool for improving systems. Educators rely on two types of assessment. Formative assessment is a range of formal and informal procedures used during a lesson. This assessment practice has the greatest effect on an individual student’s performance, functioning as a problem-solving tool helping teacher to pinpoint impediments to learning and offering clues for adapting teaching to reduce student failure. Summative assessment is used to evaluate learning at the conclusion of an instructional period and employed to evaluate learning against standards. Summative assessments include high stakes tests, unit tests, midterm exam, or papers. Because they occur at the end of a period they are of little value as a diagnostic tool. Read More

Citation: States, J., Detrich, R. & Keyworth, R. (2017). Overview of Assessment. Oakland, CA: The Wing Institute.

Student Assessment

What does research say about testing?

For many teachers, the image of students sitting in silence filling out bubbles, computing mathematical equations, or writing timed essays causes an intensely negative reaction. Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2002 and its 2015 update, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), every third through eighth grader in U.S. public schools now takes tests calibrated to state standards, with the aggregate results made public. In a study of the nation’s largest urban school districts, students took an average of 112 standardized tests between pre-K and grade 12. The pushback on high-stakes testing has also accelerated a national conversation about how students truly learn and retain information. This paper acknowledges the validity of teachers concerns, but discusses the need for well-designed classroom tests and quizzes and standardized exams. Read more

How important is assessment during Covid-19?

NEPC Review: Student Assessment During COVID-19 (Center for American Progress, September 2020). School closings and the ever-increasing number of deaths provide the backdrop for a proposal by the Center for American Progress (CAP) to deny waivers of the federally mandated administration of standardized tests in spring 2021. Further, the federal government proposes to add to those assessments in ways that CAP argues would make the test results more useful. In its recent report, CAP sides with the Department of Education’s policy of denying such requests for waivers, and it calls for additional assessments that “capture multiple aspects of student well-being, including social-emotional needs, engagement, and conditions for learning” as well as supplementary gathering of student information. The reviewers find the CAP proposal to be ill-timed, unrealistic, and inappropriate for dealing with the exigencies arising from the pandemic. Read more

How can teachers effectively assess students skills when returning to school after Covid-19?

Back-to-school metrics: How to assess conditions for teaching and learning and to measure student progress during the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest is featuring a blog series addressing the many challenges that educators, caregivers, and students are facing. In this post, Susan Bowles Therriault, Ed.D., a managing researcher at the American Institutes for Research (AIR), describes school- and classroom-level metrics that administrators and teachers can use to assess teaching and learning conditions and measure student progress and engagement in a remote or hybrid learning setting. Read More

What teacher prerequisites need to be in place for using formative assessment in their classroom practice?

Formative assessment: A systematic review of critical teacher prerequisites for classroom practice. Formative assessment has the potential to support teaching and learning in the classroom. This study reviewed the literature on formative assessment to identify prerequisites for effective use of formative assessment by teachers. The results show that (1) knowledge and skills (e.g., data literacy), (2), psychological factors (e.g., social pressure), and (3) social factors (e.g., collaboration) influence the use of formative assessment. The prerequisites identified can inform professional development initiatives regarding formative assessment, as well as teacher education programs. Read More

What impact does formative assessment have on inquiry skills in science instruction?

Formative Assessment As A Tool To Enhance The Development Of Inquiry Skills In Science Education. Formative assessment (FA) is considered a powerful tool to enhance learning. However, there have been few studies addressing how the implementa- tion of FA influences the development of inquiry skills so far. This research intends to determine the efficacy of teaching using FA in the development of students’ inquiry skills. Read more

What do I need to know about formative and summative assessments?

Playing like you practice: Formative and Summative Techniques to Assess Student Learning. This chapter offers a practical review of formative and summative assessment techniques, the evidence for their effectiveness in the classroom, and provides concrete strategies and resources for a range of classroom contexts and formats. The formative assessment techniques can be incorporated into virtually any class, in-person or online. Each of these strategies are adaptable to many different course contexts and virtually any topic. The most common form of summative assessment is the multiple-choice exam. Beyond examinations, summative assessment can involve a wide range of projects and other written assignments. At the most complex and challenging end of the spectrum of summative assessment techniques, the portfolio involves a collection of artifacts of student learning organized around a particular learning outcome. Read More

How can I use formative assessment to plan instruction and help students drive their own learning?

Teachers' Essential Guide to Formative Assessment. This article offers information on how to implement formative assessments that will enhance student performance. The author defines formative assessment and highlights the benefits a teacher can expect when effectively implementing ongoing progress monitoring in the classroom. Formative assessment is defined, tips summarized to guide teachers in selecting the proper assessment tool for the task, and practical techniques for educators to consider are included for how to maximize the effectiveness of formative assessments. Read

Data Mining

Why is this question important? Fuch & Fuchs, 1986 identified Formative Assessment (progress monitoring, ongoing assessment, rapid assessment) as one the most powerful tools available to teachers for improving student performance. Additionally, Yeh, 2007 identified rapid assessment as a very cost effective intervention when compared to many of the currently popular structural school reform interventions (charter schools, increased spending, school vouchers, or high stakes testing). Knowing the formative assessment can result in improvement in student performance, it is essential teacher preparation programs teach this tool to prospective teachers. Read More  

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