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3 Ways High School Teachers Can Improve Assessments

Major gaps persist in assessment literacy among teachers, a new report says. 


One expert says taking time to create a test with a purpose will create more meaningful results.

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Like it or not, assessments are an important part of the learning process.

Whether they are teacher-developed classroom tests or state-mandated, year-end accountability exams, assessments allow educators to evaluate a student’s growth and level of knowledge.

And while most teachers find value in assessments, major gaps persist in assessment literacy – how much teachers know about educational testing.

Between 29 percent and 61 percent of teachers were able to correctly define the purpose and use of each of seven different types of assessments in a recent survey on student and teacher perceptions of assessment by the Northwest Evaluation Association, an education nonprofit. The same survey found that high school students were less likely than younger students to think tests help them learn new things or that standardized and classroom tests reflect what they have learned.

Some states are making teaching educators about testing a priority. In Ohio, officials created an assessment literacy training program. Educators can attend one-day training sessions or work with regional assessment literacy specialists to receive customized support, says Liz Wolfe-Eberly, an assessment literacy specialist in the southwest region of Ohio.

[Get tips for transitioning to project-based learning.]

Eberly shared a few tips with U.S. News to help high school teachers create and use meaningful assessments to improve their instruction.

1. Test with a purpose: Don’t just give a test on Friday because it is Friday, Eberly says.

A challenge for high school teachers is that they usually see a larger number of students on a daily basis than elementary school teachers, which means that teachers can’t give an in-depth assessment as often, Eberly says.

She suggests that teachers make a blueprint of what they need to test before creating the exam. This will help teachers figure out the most important information they need to test that will help them make instructional decisions.

"So you're being very concise and purposeful about what you are putting on the assessment versus just sitting down in front of the computer and typing a bunch of questions or selecting them from a database or a test generator," she says. 

2. Take time to analyze results: Learning and instruction is a cycle, Eberly says.

Looking at test results will help teachers pinpoint what students have learned and where they need improvement. Then, teachers can adjust instruction as needed.

High school teachers do not want to wait till the end of the year when students have to take high-stakes tests, such as a graduation exam, to find out that students never understood the material, Eberly says. This can also save time in the long run by not teaching content that students have already mastered, she says.

"It’s just such an important process for teachers to reflect on the assessment and not to see it as the end of the learning process," she says.

3. Collaborate with colleagues: Fellow teachers can give honest feedback, Eberly says.

Students usually will not tell the teacher that they thought a question was confusing because they don’t want to question the teacher’s authority, she says. Consulting with another educator can help a teacher spot bias or confusion. It doesn't matter what subject the other educator teaches, Eberly says. That can often be a concern of high school teachers who may be the only teacher of a subject. 

"You may have asked a question and thought it made perfect sense and then someone else reads it and they are confused by it," she says.

[Learn more about teachers implementing professional development into instruction.]

Eberly says that teachers should remember that assessments should be used to measure student growth and not just to give another grade. ​The goal for the teacher should be to move every student forward from where they start in the class.

"That won’t always mean an A for every kid," she says.

Have something of interest to share? Send your news to us at highschoolnotes@usnews.com.