Assessments are classroom game changers in Mapleton

Win or lose, coaches and athletes know real game-changers are found in a thorough play-by-play review ­– the post-game analysis.


And, when changes can’t wait until after the game, coaches rely on in-game adjustments to improve their game plan.


Although they don’t always have whistles and they may not be wearing jerseys, teachers, like coaches on the court or on the field, use similar evaluations – assessments – to identify strengths, address weaknesses, and design a stronger game plan for student success.


In Mapleton, a balanced system of quality assessments can help teachers make sound education decisions in every classroom and for each student. Assessments help teachers answer important questions in real-time, including:

  • What do we want students to know and how do we know if they learned it?
  • Was the instruction effective and have students mastered a particular lesson, standard, or course?
  • Do we need to adjust, or should we take different instructional approaches?


“Assessments provide teachers the starting place for instruction,” said Karla Gruenwald, Director of Data Driven Learning and Early Literacy. “Assessments allow teachers to know what students already know and what are their next steps in the learning. Assessments are the bridge between teaching and learning. They provide an educator the evidence that students are learning and to what extent.”


Without assessments, Gruenwald said, teachers will never know if they are effective. A big focus for Mapleton teachers this year is the critical role each type of assessment plays in increasing student achievement: Formative, Interim/Benchmark, and Summative.


Formative assessments, like an in-game adjustment, are flexible, responsive and inform swift changes to instruction based on quick checks for understanding. Examples of formative assessments include quizzes, mid-unit exams and comprehensive checks or exit tickets. Most Mapleton teachers use several types of formative assessments during a lesson before instruction to find out where students are, and during instruction to find out how they are progressing.


Interim/Benchmark assessments, much like a post-game analysis, are designed to assess student learning on standards within the school year and diagnose gaps in learning to guide future instruction. Examples of Interim/Benchmark assessments include MAP, quarterly interims, Acadience, and AimswebPlus. Although Interim/Benchmark assessments help to inform important modifications to instruction, the impact is not nearly as swift as it is with formative assessments.


Summative assessments are known as final exams or state assessments and provide data on the overall effectiveness of the instruction that was delivered.


In Karen Blair’s third grade classroom at Trailside Academy, assessments are as common as pencils, pens, and paper.


“Assessments in my classroom are not always lengthy tests which occur at the end of a unit of study or even periodic, ‘high stakes’ standardized tests,” said Ms. Blair. “I use many different forms of assessments - quizzes, exit tickets, quick checks - in addition to end of unit and standardized tests to help drive my instruction so I can accurately and timely address student needs.”


Ms. Blair uses quizzes throughout a unit of study to measure her class’s understanding of a recently taught standard. Class quizzes help her to see what items may need reteaching to ensure students understand the standards of learning completely and confidently.  


“Assessments also help me to measure the growth of my students throughout the unit of study instead of only at the end,” said Ms. Blair. “Exit tickets are short one question assessments I give to my students daily to ensure that they master the standard (learning target) taught that day. While not graded as quizzes and end of unit tests, these types of short assessments are valuable to allow me to address student misconceptions in a timely manner and to allow my students time to correct their thinking sooner.”


Ms. Blair also uses a quick check assessment, which can be as simple as asking students to use a “thumb-o-meter” – thumbs up, thumb to the side, or thumbs down to show how comfortable they are with their current understanding of the learning target.


Ms. Blair said it may seem like a lot of assessing, but short, ungraded assessments help to ensure her students are more successful on the end of unit assessments as their misconceptions and misunderstandings are being caught early in the learning process and can then be corrected.


“Assessments allow us as educators to be more diagnostic in our learning trajectory,” said Gruenwald. “Every student is unique in their understanding, background, and experiences, so we must use assessments as a tool to inform and design instruction that is specific to the needs of each student.”


Gruenwald encouraged families to not think of assessments as grueling tasks that detract from classroom fun and learning, but to think of assessments as goal setting.


“When we help students set individualized goals connected to standards, then students can gain confidence, motivation and success by reaching their short-term outcomes,” said Gruenwald.


Parents interested in learning more about the assessments used in their child’s classroom should contact their child’s teacher. Parent/Teacher conferences are also a great time to talk with teachers about assessments and find out ways that assessment provide differentiation in the classroom. 


“It is imperative that as educators we see each child as an individual learner and consider our instructional practices and design accordingly,” Gruenwald said.