Figure 1: Elementary school students in Maine observe and document changes in their outdoor environment from week to week, creating artifacts that teachers will use to assess their understanding.
Educators use many different types of data and evidence daily in their work within schools and classrooms. This is particularly true of educators involved in the Rethinking Responsive Educational Ventures (RREV) project in Maine, where teachers are designing and testing innovations to solve persistent problems of practice. The RREV project has many data sharing demands, including federal reporting requirements to ensure funds are used well, state assessment reporting requirements to measure student outcomes, and the need to use data to evaluate and improve educators' local innovations.
While educational assessment is a valuable tool for documenting and using evidence to improve programs and student learning, it can sometimes be challenging to determine which educational assessment to use under different conditions and contexts. An essential step to help educators gather and use evidence effectively is to clarify the various types of assessments—including when they should be used and by whom. In our REL Northeast & Islands work in Maine, Maine Partnership to Support Innovative and Equitable Educational Opportunities members have shared that many educators need support in making sense of educational assessment. Nick Runco, a partnership member and RREV instructor and coach working with school districts in Maine says, "We needed a resource that would support our educators' efforts to use educational assessment and data effectively."
To meet this need, REL Northeast & Islands has created a new resource, Making Sense of Educational Assessment, for educators in Maine and beyond. This brief, easy-to-understand fact sheet explains what educational assessment is, describes different purposes for assessment, and provides examples of how assessment results may be used, and by whom. The fact sheet helps show educators that educational assessment is not just end-of-year state testing—it can take many forms and be used in a variety of ways to support students. Educational assessments can be used for setting and monitoring personal learning plans, informing teachers' instructional planning, and deepening administrators' understanding of programs and policies. They can include ongoing checks for understanding, student work artifacts, surveys, or frequent, formative assessments.
Educational assessment can play key roles in research, evaluation, and/or instruction. Researchers use assessments to produce generalizable findings that may inform policy or practice. Evaluators use assessment to determine the effectiveness of an initiative or program. And educators can use evidence to inform and improve their instruction. Teachers can use assessment for learning to identify individual student needs and recognize the needs of groups of students or the whole class, or they can use assessment of learning to certify students' level of mastery.
Figure 2: Artifact from third grade Deer Isle-Stoughton student.
Other members of the school community can also use assessment results. For example, students may use the results of ongoing checks for understanding to track their own needs, effort, and successes. They can use interest inventories or surveys to inform their choice of learning activities and projects or to influence their educational learning plans. A school or district administrator can use summative assessment results of groups of students to understand in what areas teachers need support. And a state department of education can use summative assessment results of groups of students assessed on mathematics state standards to understand how well students are mastering those standards.
For PK-12 teachers and administrators to continue using assessments as evidence to improve outcomes for students, it is important that educators have a shared understanding of how, when, and why to use educational assessment within their school community. Several Maine school districts involved in the RREV project have been working with REL Northeast & Islands to better understand this issue. "We have watched the information included in this resource help transform the relationship our schools have with assessment and data—and the impact it has on the lives of their students," says Runco. "I feel we are just scratching the surface of how this knowledge can be used and am excited for this resource to be a fundamental piece of our assessment literacy work moving forward."
REL Northeast & Islands