3 Ways Benchmark Assessment Data Can Support Teachers and Students in Pandemic-Era Education

The COVID-19 Pandemic has thrown a number of curve balls to educators over the course of the current school year that has required flexibility and adaptation in almost every area of teaching.

Student and faculty safety have shifted schedules in most schools resulting in hybrid or remote learning. New technologies have challenged some students and empowered others. At the same time, educators still need to keep students on track to reach grade-level mastery of standards and skills. The year-end state summative assessments are still, and always, on the radar and the stakes remain high.

With this in mind, interim or benchmark assessments are poised to play an integral role in supporting the continuity of teaching and learning during this ever-changing school year.

  1. Understanding where students are in their learning. With student-teacher interaction less frequent – or certainly inconsistent – there needs to be a fast and effective method for understanding where students are in their learning. An interim or benchmark assessment can provide teachers and administrators with the data necessary to measure student learning progress and adjust instruction accordingly.
  2. Discovering learning gaps. The variability in how students are receiving instruction this year may affect learning differently for certain student populations. Identifying these gaps in learning early in the school year with interim assessment can help teachers adjust their instruction before the gap becomes insurmountable.
  3. Validate teaching models. While grades may seem down in many schools employing a hybrid or virtual teaching model, assessment data can more accurately reflect how students are performing against state standards and benchmarks. Student grades are reflective of learning, but also homework assignments, participation levels, and other variables. Assessment data more accurately reflects student mastery of standards and can validate teaching models for some districts.

During remote or hybrid learning, it’s important to explain what the benchmark assessment is, how it works, and what it’s being used for. In many cases, assessment results are not meant to be a grade or a reflection of the teacher performance, but rather a tool to understand student progress and instruction effectiveness. The rigor of the assessment is important as well and explaining that the test is supposed to be challenging should be part of the process.

Interim and benchmark assessment data usage was discussed at length in a recent panel discussion we hosted featuring Jeff McCoy – Associate Superintendent for Academics at Greenville County Schools (SC) – and Christopher Williams, Ph.D., – Assistant Superintendent, Curriculum and Instruction for Ocean Springs School District (MS).

Here are a couple of excerpts from both Jeff and Chris on the importance of using assessment data during Pandemic learning:

Our benchmark assessment program is critical for us this year because we have hard, objective proof that while this learning environment isn’t perfect, our students are not lagging as far behind as many believe they are. [After administering the first benchmark] the data highlighted that our kids in poverty did not fare well in our hybrid model. Since we had that data, we were able to bring some of those kids back to school traditionally and put remediation programs in place. The fact that we were able to identify those kids and intervene after the first nine weeks of school meant we didn’t lose a whole year of instruction, which is a great outcome. – Jeff McCoy

We did not want to abandon the work that we are charged to do as educators, and that’s focusing on teaching and learning. COVID could have given us an outlet to abandon a lot of things – the educational process, the assessment process, but we didn’t use it as an excuse. We embraced it as an opportunity to be innovative and creative. – Chris Williams

You can watch the full panel discussion by accessing it online here. Find more information here on CASE Assessments, and how they can play an integral role in informing instruction in your state during this school year.