Student Voices: Making Assessment Matter

Students Taking Test

What’s been missing from the conversation about education assessment surveys? Until recently, students’ voices.

On Tuesday, May 6, 2014, the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) held an event to launch Make Assessment Matter. The new study, which provides a comprehensive overview of the initiative, was conducted in cooperation with Grunwald Associates LLC. The work builds on previous NWEA evaluations of assessment perceptions from 2012, and for the first time, includes a focus on student input and voice. Matt Chapman, President and CEO of NWEA, provided an introduction to and background on NWEA’s work, and highlighted the importance of including student input in the survey.

In addition to including student voices, the survey results also show that students, teachers, and district administrators place a high value on assessment, provided that the results are available promptly, are actionable, and are directly tied to student learning. Chapman explained that previously, assessment had been widely perceived as a professional performance evaluation tool, but the study’s data shows there has been a discernable shift to regard assessment as most useful when in direct support of student learning.

The study, which surveyed 1,042 students in grades 4-12, was unique in that it engaged students by asking about assessment policies. Kelly Goodrich, Director of Policy and Advocacy for NWEA, reported that students were frustrated by assessments that didn’t include their input, or by tests that they felt were irrelevant.

Christian Hodges, a student presenter from Arundel High School in Maryland, echoed this idea. Hodges felt that assessments are most valuable when they clearly parallel the learning process and quickly applying test results to improve classroom learning would encourage more student buy-in.

Some Key Study Findings:

  • Students want a say on assessments and their education (61 percent of students considered “understanding what I am learning” as “very important” in assessment).
  • When asked why they take tests, 59 percent of students responded, “to give me a grade or score,” 57 percent answered, “to find out if I am meeting grade-level expectations,” and 55 percent answered “to help my teachers understand what I’ve learned.”
  • When asked how they are using assessment to inform their teaching, 74 percent of teachers answered, “to adjust instructional strategies” while16 percent answered, “to inform professional learning and development.”
  • In 2011, teachers were asked how much time they spent in staff meetings discussing testing with regard to state accountability. The percentage dropped from 29 percent in 2011 to 15 percent in 2013.

Shifting Perceptions

Antoinette Smith, a teacher at Excel Academy Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., reported that assessment data should tell teachers exactly what they’re doing well and that it’s important to have a good dialogue with students. “Sometimes the assessment data isn’t straightforward and it falls on teachers to translate it to students, “ said Smith. She added, “Assessment is best used to drive instruction.”

Laura Hansen, Director for Information Management and Decision Support for Metro Nashville Public Schools, discussed how the survey results showed that perceptions of the value of testing are changing. “I learned about the value of data which can be used to drive student achievement,” said Hansen. Previously, many educators were anxious about the concept of assessments. Many teachers “were wrapped up in how testing can be used ‘against me’, rather than as a developmental tool”.

Moving Forward

Hansen stated that it will be important to keep students informed about the assessment processes because that informed perspective will help determine where testing is going and what adjustments need to be made. Teachers and students need to become more comfortable with assessment testing as a learning tool and not just as a performance measurement. Students will more likely benefit from testing if “more people and students understand the ‘why’”.

For the first time, students are being included in the conversation about testing and assessment. This coincides with a change in perception about testing, which shows a marked shift away from the idea of using survey results purely as a teacher evaluation tool and towards a role as a tool to directly support classroom learning.

George Knowles is the web communications associate with the American Youth Policy Forum.


Photo credit: Flickr

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