Inform Your Teaching with Benchmark Assessments

To help your students grow and thrive, you start every school year by getting to know them. At Harris Education Solutions, we recognize that understanding where your students stand academically is more crucial this year than ever. The typical span of academic progress widened last year because of the different ways everyone adapted to the educational challenges of COVID-19. Many students learned far less in 2020-21 than they would have in a typical year. A few students benefitted from the different learning environments and learned more. Detailed information about where students are beginning will help you plan appropriate instruction and differentiation.

The Importance of Adequate Beginning of the Year (BOY) Benchmark Assessments

Benchmark assessments, sometimes called “interim assessments,” are one of the best ways to evaluate students’ current level of competency. Data from BOY benchmark tests help you catch knowledge gaps and identify mastery of advanced topics. This information allows you to map out your first months of targeted instruction and differentiate instruction. As learning progresses through the year, additional assessments will help you monitor progress and modify plans.

Your school district likely provides and requires specific benchmark assessments, such as the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) and, in K-3, the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELs). These mandated assessments will give you an idea about where your students’ skills in some core subjects. However, many teachers who teach subjects other than math and language discover that these assessments do not provide enough information to guide instruction.

Teachers wanting more in-depth evidence about students’ skills often give additional benchmark assessments. These BOY benchmark assessments should not be confused with pretests. While both assessment types provide valuable data about student knowledge, benchmark assessments focus more on foundational knowledge. In contrast, pretests show teachers the background knowledge students related to a specific upcoming unit. Last year’s broad spectrum of growth might make pretests inadequate, even if they were sufficient in the past.

Let’s use physics and world languages as an example.  Most physics teachers expect students to start with a solid algebraic foundation. However, some students who took algebra last year may not have learned as much as students in previous years. You know those knowledge gaps would impact their success in physics, so you want to help them learn the requisite algebra skills. Your benchmark assessments will tell which students, if any, need significant educational supports. World language teachers may find that their second-year students lacked enough practice to master basic tenses and need to adapt their plans accordingly. These types of scenarios would likely play out in all grades and subjects.

Creating and Adapting BOY Benchmark Assessments

Hopefully, you or a teammate already have a BOY benchmark assessment. Some secondary schools may have placement assessments for English language arts and math that you can adapt for your classroom use.  If you already have a BOY benchmark test or placement test, consider uploading it onto a cloud platform such as eDoctrina, to take advantage of using the software features. Due to the wide range of educational experiences last year, you might decide to add a broader range of skills to existing BOY benchmark assessments.

Creating an assessment from scratch is a bigger endeavor than adapting an existing one; however, collaboration and question banks make the task less daunting. The sharing features on the Harris Education Solutions platforms enable you to share questions and even entire tests with your colleagues.

eDoctrina and Castle Learning offer a search selection by standard, skill, and level. The software platform will provide test questions that match your selected criteria. You can then choose the questions that will assess the specific skills you decide are most important to success. Secondary teachers love using the questions banks from the New York Regents exams to build benchmark assessments. (Hint: These resources are also great for creating formative assessments!) Of course, you are not limited to questions in the bank. Feel free to make questions to fit your precise needs.

Computer-Based Assessments Streamline Testing, Grading, and Data Collection

Administering benchmark assessments from the cloud makes everyone’s life easier. Students can test remotely or in class.  The Harris Education Solutions platforms even include the capability to adjust how you administer the tests. You might give students with learning differences the ability to hear the question and more time to take the test. Likewise, you may allow English Language Learners to use the translate feature. The software automatically grades most types of questions, such as multiple choice and true/false, for you.

Finally, you will love the powerful data capabilities of Castle Learning, eDoctrina, and edInsight. You can generate reports that dig down into details of student knowledge at the individual, group, and class levels. These reports are instrumental in data-driven instruction.

Formative Assessments Throughout the Year

While BOY benchmark assessments will help you plan and implement the best educational support for starting on the right path, they are not a “one and done” solution. As with any year, frequent formative assessments will help you monitor progress. The same Harris Education Solutions software platforms that help make benchmark assessments are great for formative assessments too.

Success Planning

While most students and schools are back to being in the classroom full-time, there’s no denying that the last year and a half continue to have an impact. As you plan to help all students thrive, please visit the Harris Education Solutions Tool to see how we can become your partner in improving student achievement.

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