Assessment in the Time of COVID

Assessment in the Time of COVID

Michele Regan

A pressing question for administrators as we head into the typical testing season is what data is really important to us now?  The pandemic has offered us the opportunity to re-look at the kinds of data we had been collecting, and prioritize what is needed to take immediate action to help move our students forward, this year and next.

collection illustrated coloured hands


Let’s start with attendance.  While, in the past, this may have been data that was pushed to the side, now it is crucial for us to understand who actually attended virtual school, who missed months of learning, and who was present inconsistently through this past year.  This will have different implications at different grade levels.  For example, if a high school student missed a large majority of a math course, it may be advisable that the student repeat that specific course.  It would not be beneficial for a student to go into pre-calculus if he/she hasn't yet learned geometry, for example. 

In the lower grades, there are similar concerns about students who have not mastered the necessary reading skills that are required for upper elementary students in order to engage in reading in the content areas.  This kind of data must be gathered not only from school attendance reporting, but from teachers who know if students actually engaged in the learning (cameras off and no responses are telling data points).

What Does Student Work Tell Us?

Once we figure out who was “in school,” we need to look at the use of formative assessment data that teachers collect on a daily basis.  Through PLC meetings and coaching models, we can look at data as a team and ensure that immediate instructional decisions are based on sound information.  Perhaps as a group, we review student performance for an on-demand writing prompt.  By looking at a few sample pieces, round-robin style, we can ensure that we are all scoring reliably and can identify patterns of strength and need.  This will help to narrow the focus for re-teaching and assist us as we identify areas where students need more support and scaffolding.  

With controversy surrounding typical standardized tests this year, the problem remains that we need data on our students in order to adequately understand where they stand and how to prepare them to move forward.  It’s critical that, if we don’t have standardized tests,  we ensure rigorous benchmarks (dare I say with “standardized test-like” questions) are administered in order to get a clear picture of our students’ strengths and needs.  

Illustration of teachers conducting assessment on a round table

It is less about the scores and more about what students need.  Only through asking students to apply what they have been taught in rigorous ways will we be able to identify misconceptions, gaps in learning and opportunities for reteaching and enrichment, perhaps this summer.

What Comes Next?

The success of what comes next is going to hinge on what happens now in terms of assessment.  Planning for remediating student learning loss needs to be based on what we learn about them in the coming months. If your district is considering a summer program to address unfinished learning, you will want to ensure that students are grouped by need.  While we are accustomed to variation in ability and readiness level within a classroom, it’s likely that these may be extreme this year.

This summer you may offer programming that targets specific skills or content areas.  For example, rather than just a 3rd grade summer class, maybe you offer a “Ready for 4th Grade Reading” that targets close reading and comprehension strategies for 3rd grade leveled texts.  In that same way, perhaps you offer a  “Preparing for 4th Grade Problem Solving” as a choice for those students who struggled with problem solving and critical thinking in 3rd grade math.  No matter the content area, one thing that is clear is that summer offerings should be engaging, fun and targeted to what kids need!         

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