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Why Experts Say Assessment Closely Tied to Instruction Is What Students Need

By: Ashleigh Crabtree 02/23/2023
Read about why education experts urge schools to ensure their assessments and curriculum are truly integrated.
Teacher and student working together.

In a recent podcast, Class Disrupted: Shake-Up in the Assessment Market, education experts Diane Tavenner and Michael Horn discuss types of student assessments and why it’s critical that assessments are tightly linked to curriculum to positively impact student learning. Given that so many of you are doing everything you can to make up for lost time in the classroom, assessment-driven instruction has never been more relevant.  

The AssessmentCurriculum Connection 

Assessment and curriculum may feel like independent entities, but experts tell us they actually depend upon one another.  

As an educator in the classroom, you are both assessing students and teaching a selected curriculum. These two essential components should not exist in isolation. “The two sides really need to be designed interactively,” Horn explains. “Assessment should be embedded in the curriculum and drive learning. When you have the state of curriculum and assessment at arm’s length, separated from each other, they’re basically underperforming what schools need—especially [in] Title I schools.”  

For many of you, the pressure to interpret student data and address areas of need falls squarely on your shoulders. That burden increases when assessment and curriculum aren’t connected. Ideally, assessment should be in service to instruction, and when instructional changes are made, they should be reflected in the assessment.  

Criterion-Based Assessments versus Norm-Based Assessments 

Assessments are often lumped into the same bucket, but not all assessments are the same. A norm-referenced assessment measures students relative to their peers, while a criterion-referenced assessment measures students relative to a predetermined criterion, or a curriculum. Horn reminds us that for a criterion measure to be our yardstick, “it has to be curricular aligned.” 

For example, when a parent hears that their fifth grade student just aced a norm-based assessment, it means their student outperformed other students, but it doesn’t necessarily mean their student knows the material they need to know to succeed in the sixth grade. However, criterion-based assessments give you a clearer understanding of how your students measure up to a set of criteria, or a standards-aligned curriculum, and what they need to know to be proficient in a subject. 

Both norm and criterion measures are important. But norm-referenced data alone only provides half the student story. Horn cautions listeners about “false illusions” of growth from norm-based assessments. 

Using Assessment in Instruction 

Once you have student assessment data, what do you do with it? You must continue to teach grade-level content to keep your students on track, but you also need a plan to help your students who are not yet proficient.  

“It’s not always obvious what an assessment says,” Horn says. Criterion- and norm-referenced data can only provide instructional guidance, but you also need direct instruction linked to the assessment to address those missing skills. Some assessments pinpoint exactly where your students have learning gaps. The more specific the data, the more you can focus your instruction.  

It’s essential that assessments provide actionable results tied to instruction. This is precisely what can prevent what Tavenner describes as “results that were totally disconnected and unpredictable based on what we were seeing in classrooms and our knowledge of students . . .” You can feel more confident in the results when using assessment to inform instruction.  

For example, helping your students become more proficient readers comes back to assessing what foundational skills they each need to master. Then, providing targeted instruction and a curated curriculum based on the assessment helps your students master those skills. With instructional resources that work hand in hand with the assessments, your students can get the personalized support they need.  

Moving Students toward Proficiency 

You have a lot of pressure on you right now to work miracles in the classroom. Tavenner and Horn urge educators to rely on programs that tightly link assessment data directly to instruction. "We have the capability to do that today," Tavenner says. Tightly integrating assessment and curriculum is crucial to helping students improve their reading and mathematics skills, which will make a real difference in their lives. 

Our students deserve it.  

To learn more, listen to Class Disrupted S4 E9: Shake-Up in the Assessment Market. Want more from Ashleigh? Listen to her interview on the Extraordinary Educators Podcast, for a deeper dive into the assessment-instruction connection.