By itself, data cannot solve America’s education problems: However, the collection of data at the standardized, formal and informal assessment levels gives teachers a way to understand student needs, group students based on strengths and weaknesses, and design and adjust lesson plans to ensure that students continuously improve.
— Monica Fuglei, 2021
It is well known that data mined from myriad assessments is used to guide and improve teaching and learning in American schools. As an education community, we are constantly mining and interpreting data to determine learning capacities of our students. From formative and summative data to screeners, diagnostic assessments, progress monitoring tools, benchmarks, interim assessments, and end-of year assessments, the landscape is vast. Teachers navigate both in the classroom and collaboratively in teams to solve problems, all the while collecting, analyzing, interpreting, and planning to “adapt the assessment information to get a deeper look at student learning growth” (Zimmerman, 2021). Clearly, data drives the instruction today. Are we, however, overusing assessments?
Consider this solution taken by one state in response to teachers’ objections. A decade ago, testing was so time consuming in Maryland that the legislature passed a mandate in all schools indicating that not more than 3% of the time could be spent on assessment.
States, districts, and administrators get a specific global view of their students from data. Teachers often look at data to identify content, knowledge, and skills gaps. In this way, they determine precisely what needs extra time in teaching and content exposure and can begin to sort their class in ways that encourage more differentiation in levels of understanding or cognitive growth.
Regardless of how individual assessments are viewed, they do expose real, underlying issues. Mary Ellen Flannery (2021) asks us to think about this perspective: “If you were coaching a new basketball team, would you ever have a single 45-minute practice on a Monday and then expect your rookies to win a game the following Friday? They will shoot and miss for sure.”
Our students now arrive on the school doorstep with problems in memory, retrieval of information, combining words, mapping disconnections, and how to bridge real-life situations to content. Especially after learning at home during the pandemic, their comprehension is weak. It is a fact that our students’ brains have changed.
Assessments, from one week to the next, cannot be the sole indicator of cognitive abilities. There are factors such as attention and working memory, home and family issues, depression and anxiety, trauma, food scarcity, and online learning. The list grows. While teachers and administrators need to look at new strategies for learning and how today’s brain learns, assessment holds real and true value, and can often provide insight into issues other than pedagogy that has a profound influence on a student’s ability to learn.