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Advantages of Adaptive Assessment

By: Ashleigh Crabtree 06/14/2024
Better understand the key benefits of adaptive assessment in education and how it can help teachers inform instruction and accelerate learning.
A young boy, wearing headphones, is using a laptop with his finger on the trackpad.

There are many advantages to adaptive assessment, or tailoring questions to each test-taker's responses in real time based on their answers, but two key benefits rise to the top.

  • (1) Knowing precisely where students are in their learning 
  • (2) Being able to efficiently assess student understanding  

These benefits help teachers inform instruction and accelerate learning to maximize impact in the classroom.

Power of Precision

Unlike traditional fixed-form assessments, which present the same questions to every student, adaptive assessments administer questions that adjust to a student’s responses throughout the test. As a result, students are more accurately assessed, which can significantly change your approach to instruction and, ultimately, the educational experience.

What does it take to get a precise estimate of student proficiency for each student? Well, a few things, but one key thing—lots of items in the item bank!

Adaptive assessment is like that game of “hot, cold” played with young children, where you hide an object and then send the child off to find it. Each time the child moves in one direction, the adult shouts out “getting hotter” as they begin to narrow in on the object or “getting colder” as they get farther away. The child uses the information provided by the adult to find the precise spot of the hidden object.

Similarly, the adaptive algorithm uses information provided by the student to narrow in on their proficiency level. Each right and wrong response provides important information that helps the assessment adapt, or “find the right place.” This means students must try items that are both too easy and too hard. The algorithm will continue to adjust until it finds just the right balance.

Does this mean students will see content they have not yet encountered? Probably! Does this mean students may see items that are too difficult for them? Certainly! By getting these items wrong, the adaptive algorithm can adjust to find items that better align with the student’s true proficiency level. When you know precisely where students are in their learning, instruction is even more individualized and effective.

Equally Important Efficiency

Efficiency goes hand in hand with the precision of an assessment. By quickly narrowing in on a student’s proficiency, we eliminate an entire part of the item bank that is not appropriate for the student. We don’t waste student time with items that won’t provide any useful information. This means we can often get to an accurate and precise estimate of proficiency without requiring students to answer an incredibly long set of items.

Content Coverage Is Critical

There is often a misconception that we can achieve a result on an adaptive assessment with “just a few” items. But the specific reading and mathematics content on an assessment remains important, even if that assessment is adaptive. For example, if we want to make inferences from a math test about what students know in algebra, geometry, and data, then we need enough responses to provide insight into a student’s performance in these three content areas.

To make an accurate estimate of what students know, we need to be sure they see an adequate number of items from the domain. An adaptive assessment is more efficient than a fixed-form assessment, but it remains vital to ensure students see important test questions covering relevant content. Accurately assessing students’ understanding is about using the right items and aligning those items to student proficiency—that’s what makes adaptive assessment efficient. And when assessment is efficient, you can get back to teaching, which is the goal!

In the race for which assessment characteristics are most critical, the benefits of precision and efficiency are neck and neck. Both benefits help you use the data from assessment to create instructional plans that meet the unique needs of each student.

For more information, visit Understanding the Difficulty and Duration of i-Ready Diagnostic.