State Assessment Data is a Tool to Help Educators Raise Student Achievement

I am a data nerd. I love to analyze all kinds of data, both at home in rural Wyoming, and at work in Lincoln County School District #2. As an educator, data helps me reflect on what I have done, how effective it was, and how I can be better. Assessment data is just one of many key tools in any educator’s toolbox that paints a snapshot of where a student is at a particular moment in time. It provides specific evidence that educators can use to help respond to student learning and address any difficulties in real time.

It seems in many fields that the word “assessment” still seems to make some people cringe. In my district, we are expanding the positive conversation around high-quality aligned assessments to help communicate how these assessments can help increase student achievement. According to the US Department of Education, “One essential part of educating students successfully is assessing their progress in learning to high standards. Done well and thoughtfully, assessments are tools for learning …”

On the Collaborative for Success’s new Assessment HQ website, Dale Chu states in his blog, Testing 1-2-3 that “We must remain vigilant to ensure that assessments are aligned to high standards, informative, comparable, meaningful, and actionable.”  Using our high quality aligned state assessments help educators guarantee that every student’s progress is being monitored that they are being supported in the areas they need it. This means we, as educators, can better promote high achievement and ensure our students are meeting the expectations we set for them.

Aligned to High Standards

In Wyoming, our state partnered with the vendor American Institutes of Research (AIR) to design our state test (the Wyoming Test of Proficiency and Progress, or WYTOPP.  Many studies have shown that test items are aligned to our state’s standards. Further, the Wyoming Content and Performance Standards are almost identical to the standards used by AIR.

Informative and Meaningful

In addition to the mandatory annual summative assessments for grades 3-8, our state test is also given in grades 9 and 10. We also have interim and modular assessments that can be used throughout the year to help teachers monitor student progress and adjust instruction to meet student needs. The interim and modular assessments not only provide achievement data for each student but also allow educators to review each question and which standard it is aligned to. The summative test report shows different areas of skills in each subject, so teachers can further identify where a student’s strengths and areas of improvement are. The summative assessment also shows performance broken down by standards, so it is easy to see where educators need to improve their instruction. Armed with this information, teachers are able to pinpoint the standards they need to re-teach and the skills remediation or enrichment needed for each student.

Actionable and Transparent:

Not only can teachers individually analyze the data to monitor student progress, but professional learning communities, schools, and the district can make curricular decisions and adjustments throughout the year to better meet the needs of students. This data is made available to parents, students, teachers, administrators, the school board, and the community so we can all hold each other accountable for student success.

Mr. Chu also wrote in his blog that “State-mandated tests remain one of the best tools we have to ensure educational excellence.” I couldn’t agree with him more. When a high-quality test is implemented with fidelity, and when teachers are supported with opportunities to dig into the data, state assessments can be one of the best tools we have to raise student achievement.

 Amanda McAdams, a former practicing attorney and 2011 Arizona Teacher of the Year is currently the Director of Elementary Education and K-12 Literacy for Lincoln County School District #2 in Star Valley, Wyoming. Amanda earned her bachelor’s degree from Claremont McKenna College, her Juris Doctorate degree from the J. Reuben Clark School of Law at Brigham Young University, her teaching certificate from Utah State University, her Doctor of Education (EDD) from Argosy University and has received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Northern Arizona University. Most importantly, Amanda and her husband Don are the proud parents of three children. Amanda enjoys family history research, and spending time outdoors with her family.