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Learning as We Go: Principles for Effective Assessment During the COVID-19 Pandemic

This paper summarizes the findings from a panel of assessment experts on diagnostic assessments and their role in helping educators and parents support student learning. The panel is part of the Evidence Project, an effort to close the gap between research and policy in K-12 responses to COVID-19.

Teachers, schools, and school systems will face unprecedented challenges when schools eventually reopen after pandemic-related closures. One of the central challenges will be figuring out how to meet the individual needs of students who had dramatically different experiences while schools were shuttered, and who will need dramatically different academic and nonacademic interventions and supports as schooling resumes this fall.

Many stakeholders have recognized the likely value of diagnostic assessments in providing this information, yet others question the quality of the information existing assessments yield for diagnosing individual student needs and have expressed concern about the potential loss of instructional time and the over-remediation of students.

This paper outlines steps districts and schools can take as they approach testing this fall:

  • Decide what information you need to guide instructional decisions and resource allocations this fall, including supports for individual students.
  • Audit your existing assessments to determine if they fit those needs; reduce any duplicative or redundant assessments, or assessments for which there is not a clear purpose.
  • Provide educators and families with a clear explanation of how you’ll be assessing students as schools reopen and what you plan to do with that information. Ensure they have access to the results.
  • Gather information beyond test scores. This includes whether students have access to high-quality curricula, technology devices, and reliable internet; whether they regularly attended and engaged in remote learning; and whether they are experiencing trauma, or food or housing insecurity.
  • Require schools to track and report on how many students require intensive support or tutoring in order to participate in core grade-level math and literacy curricula at the beginning of the year. Design organization-wide strategies to address those needs and report at the end of year on how many will require further intervention.
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