When you think of assessment length, think of the three bears.
In the classic story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, one bear’s porridge was too hot; one bear’s porridge was too cold; and one bear’s porridge was just right. In many ways, assessment length is no different. When considering, for example, what data is available from an assessment, some assessments will be too short to yield sufficient information, and some will be too long to make the administration of the assessment worth the time—and some assessments will be just right.
So, what does “just right” look like when it comes to assessment length? The simple answer is: as long as necessary to provide the right data that is of sufficient quality to meet the wide variety of needs of teachers and administrators.
Ideally, your “just right” assessment also reduces overall testing time by replacing multiple single-purpose assessments. Rather than administer several tests whose data is used for a singular purpose, many districts have created a system of assessments that focuses on fewer tests but whose data can be used to:
- Screen students for poor learning outcomes
- Diagnose strengths and areas for improvement
- Measure growth within and across years
- Provide formative information to guide whole class and small group instruction
- Benchmark progress toward end-of-year proficiency, and identify risk factors for dyslexia or other reading difficulties
Once a system like this is put in place, teachers and building leaders should see a significant recovery of instructional time. Districts like Seminole County, FL, have stated they’ve gained back 10 hours of instructional time through the adoption of i-Ready’s valid and reliable assessment suite.
But what about the length of the test itself? Why do some assessments seem too long? Why can’t they simply be made shorter? The short answer is they could be by decreasing the number of items, but most educators would not be satisfied with the breadth of the skills measured or the reliability of the test.
For example, i-Ready assessments are designed to fully measure the range of skills associated with new college and career readiness standards. In Mathematics, students are assessed in domains such as Number and Operations, Algebra and Algebraic Thinking, Geometry, and Measurement and Data. In Reading, students are presented with questions across the main components of reading—Phonological Awareness, Phonics, High-Frequency Words, Vocabulary, and Comprehension. This year, Curriculum Associates has added Fluency companion tasks (i.e.,Rapid Automatized Naming, Letter Fluency, Passage Fluency) to i-Ready Diagnostic to support additional uses of the program for key functions like dyslexia screening.
Another way to make a test faster is to use easier questions, and one way to do that would be to ask students to only recall facts or define procedures (e.g., Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) Level 1). This would not reflect what they will encounter on their end-of-year state summative assessment, whose questions cover DOK Levels 1, 2, and 3. i-Ready covers all DOK Levels as called for in the new college and career readiness standards.
At Curriculum Associates, we recognize that more time spent on testing and assessment results in less time available for other activities. While shorter testing time may be appealing, making the test shorter may lead to undesired outcomes. So rather than change the test, here are a few proven practices to try that will ensure you are making the most of testing time and that you are getting the best data possible.
- Help students understand the purpose of the assessment. If students know why they are taking the test, they will give it their best effort and complete the assessment in a timely manner.
- Explain to students that i-Ready Diagnostic is adaptive. Some questions will be easy and some will be more challenging, so they should always try their best. The assessment will keep adjusting the difficulty level in order to determine the student’s current performance level.
- Encourage students to make an educated selection with questions for which they do not know the answers. If students see a question they do not know the answer to, they should carefully read all the answer choices, eliminate the ones they know are wrong, and select the answer they believe is correct.
Rather than spending too much time on one question, students should review all the choices and select one they feel is correct.
Finally, we recommend that educators themselves regularly review the assessments they use to ensure they aren’t too short, aren’t too long, but are in fact just right for the goals of the assessment.
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