Opinion
Professional Development Opinion

Teachers Should Design Student Assessments. But First They Need to Learn How

By Brandon Lewis — July 18, 2019 3 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Having teachers create their own tests is one way to counter the backlash to “overtesting” and give teachers better data to improve instruction. Commercially prepared tests often fail to provide teachers with timely, useful, or actionable data to drive student improvement. In contrast, assessments designed by classroom teachers can better reflect what is taught in class and allow teachers the flexibility to choose the best format—such as presentation, essay, multiple choice, or oral examination—to assess students’ mastery. But as education leaders consider using teacher-designed tests to measure school quality and performance, states and districts have missed a critical step: actually making sure teachers are prepared to design and understand assessments.

In 2013, as a first-year classroom teacher in Texas, I was tasked with creating my own assessments, including a separate version of each assessment for gifted students and another version for students with special learning needs. Though the results weren’t connected to any formal state or federal accountability system, my students and I depended on them to measure student growth and progress throughout the year. I became increasingly frustrated with the lack of guidance or support I received while trying to design those assessments. During my Teach For America summer teacher-induction program and my first semester in the classroom, I had been trained on the fundamentals of how and what to teach, but I’d learned nothing about how to write good tests.

We cannot realize the potential of teacher-led assessments if a sizable portion of teachers aren't assessment literate.

When the day came to administer the first test I had designed—an end-of-unit assessment to determine how well my students had mastered the social studies standards—my heart sank. Deep inside, I knew I had no idea what I was doing and was afraid that I ultimately wouldn’t be able to get meaningful information about my students.

National teacher polling data suggest that I was not alone. A 2016 Gallup poll found that roughly 30 percent of teachers do not feel prepared to develop assessments. Less than 50 percent of teachers in low-income schools reported feeling “very prepared” to interpret assessment results, and less than 50 percent of teachers said they’d received training on how to talk with parents, fellow teachers, and students about assessment results. More alarming is that no state requires teachers to be certified in the basics of assessment development, so it’s likely that many teachers have never had any formal assessment training.

We cannot realize the potential of teacher-led assessments if a sizable portion of teachers aren’t assessment literate. According to the National Task Force on Assessment Education, assessment literacy in the classroom could include giving students meaningful commentary on assessments or developing a personalized learning plan for each student based on assessment results. I didn’t do this in my classroom because I didn’t know how.

As my Bellwether colleague Bonnie O’Keefe and I wrote in our new brief on assessments, a few states are recognizing the need for assessment literacy. Michigan leads the way with its one-of-a-kind Assessment Literacy project, a training program for educators to learn how to develop high-quality assessments. The training program is divided into three modules, upon the completion of which educators have the option to earn credentials as assessment specialists. In New Hampshire, where teacher developed performance-based assessments are now used in many districts for state and federal accountability purposes, the state first made significant investments in professional development over a three-year period to ensure that teachers were prepared with the tools and strategies to develop assessments.

My students, primarily low-income and first-generation Americans, deserved a teacher who could design classroom assessments and use the results to support the growth and success of every student. To support current teachers and students, districts should ensure that all schools have access to a data coach, and that all teachers have access to professional development on assessment design, interpretation, and communication. If states and districts want to make critical decisions about students, educators, and educational systems based on data collected from teacher-designed assessments, assessment literacy is essential and must be a priority.

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Professional Development Opinion Personal Finance Courses Are Booming. Do We Have the Teachers We Need?
Too few teachers currently have the training or the confidence for the job, writes an expert in personal finance education.
John Pelletier
5 min read
Illustration of teacher teaching about finances.
Aleksei Naumov / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Professional Development Opinion In Staff Professional Development, Less Is More
There’s a key ingredient missing from most PD sessions, PLCs, and education conferences.
Brooklyn Joseph
4 min read
Image of a grid with various segments dedicated to training and a large section dedicated to a clock.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva
Professional Development This Principal Knew PD Was Irrelevant. So He and His Teachers Changed It
A Vermont principal and teacher describe their school's new approach to PD.
5 min read
Emilee Fertick, left, a first-year teacher at Westview Middle, and Jenny Risinger, the director of professional development and induction, practice a phonemic exercise during induction.
Emilee Fertick, left, a first-year teacher at Westview Middle, and Jenny Risinger, the director of professional development and induction, practice a phonemic exercise during induction.
Lindsey Hodges/The Index-Journal via AP
Professional Development Q&A Teachers Dread PD. Here's How One School Leader Made It Engaging
Teachers need to collaborate in their own learning, said Courtney Walker, an assistant principal from Georgia.
5 min read
Photo of teachers working with instructor.
E+ / Getty