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The Ultimate Assessment Strategy






No matter what your take on standardized testing, there's no denying the value of purposeful formative assessment. Here's how you can use test banks for more than just data collection.




Editor’s note: Our use of the terms “formative assessment” and “interim assessment” is generally aligned with the definitions presented in A Framework for Considering Interim Assessments (Perie, et al., 2007). For the purpose of this article, interim assessments will mostly be discussed for their value at the district and school level, while formative assessments will be discussed in reference to their ability to inform instruction at the individual classroom level.


Assessments are more tightly woven into the fabric of our education system than ever before. While much of the discussion remains focused on high-stakes, summative assessments, it is important to note that formative and interim assessments play an even larger role in day-to-day district operations. The burden of designing enough tests to meet the growing demand can be hard for educators to reconcile with other critical responsibilities, which is one of the reasons why test banks have become so popular.

Unfortunately, as is the case with many reactionary, “early bird gets the worm” products in the education sector, the design and implementation of these test banks has often left much to be desired. In speaking with district leaders throughout the country, we have identified the trends and forward- thinking practices that can transform your district’s test bank from “just another resource” into a valuable strategic tool for teachers and administrators alike.
 

Test bank questions are most effective when they are both mapped to standards and grounded in instructional research. They must provide clear feedback to teachers...


1) Verify the Quality of Test Bank Content

One of the biggest knocks on test banks (and testing firms) is that their content is frequently miscategorized (Popham, 2006) for marketing purposes. Over the course of the last decade, districts have invested millions of dollars on test banks that claim to be “formative in nature” and “promote higher-order thinking.” Too often, administrators find out after the fact that these were nothing more than labels slapped on to existing content that was not actually created with either objective in mind.
 
So, if you can’t trust vendors to provide accurate information about their products, how can you determine whether or not a given test bank will help your teachers to generate truly formative assessments? IN 2005, Lorrie Shepard, one of the most heavily cited authorities on testing, conducted a thorough analysis of formative assessment culture in schools. That research, when applied to test bank evaluation, accentuates the need for specific, guided feedback and qualitative analysis to help students overcome an “obsession with grades” in favor of “interest and effort toward learning.” The latter goal involves systematic overhauls that are far outside the scope of test banks, but the tool should at least reflect the objectives.
 
Test bank questions are most effective when they are both mapped to standards and grounded in instructional research. They must provide clear feedback to teachers for the "formative" aspect to have any value. Multiple choice questions should never be the only option – the best test banks on the market also include open-ended questions with grading rubrics, which give your staff the ability to design a more well-rounded formative assessment.

Ask your test bank vendor how their questions were developed, what the review process is, and how often the banks are updated to ensure that your questions are based on research and frequently adapted to meet the evolving landscape. 
 
District leaders and technology partners should, at a minimum, foster a transparent culture with professional development resources to help clarify the objectives of any assessment initiative.


2) Identify the Purpose of Each Test

There are a number of different purposes for testing from both a student and teacher perspective (Roediger, et al., 2011), the benefits of which become even more apparent as you move upward in scope to the school, district, and state levels. District leaders and technology partners should, at a minimum, foster a transparent culture with professional development resources to help clarify the objectives of any assessment initiative.
 
Teachers using the test bank for formative assessment purposes will be looking for questions that cover material from a small cross section of their course. The questions should encompass material and concepts that have already been covered and should be chosen so as to provide the teacher with a snapshot of group and individual understanding so their lesson plans and individual support can be adjusted accordingly.
 
Administrators, on the other hand, will be looking for a broader scope of information from their interim assessments, such as “how are students in this grade level progressing in relation to standards at my school or district?” or “how do the students in this high school who are learning by these methods compare developmentally to their peers?”
 
The test results should provide information that can be disaggregated to identify trends among various subgroups, instructors, and entities. These are widely varying goals that require both a differentiated approach to assessment building and purpose-based supporting documentation for the questions themselves.
 
It is not always enough to simply purchase a test bank and provide your staff with accounts; lead with the “why” before walking your stakeholders through the “how.”


3) Synthesize the Test Bank with Existing Technology

It is vitally important to build staff knowledge through district-wide initiatives such as training, review, and follow-up. Support your test bank with other technologies that you may already have in place and include cross-system training in any professional development plan.
 
It is not always enough to simply purchase a test bank and provide your staff with accounts. Lead with the “why” before walking your stakeholders through the “how.” When you get down to the details, put extra emphasis on your educators’ ability to obtain and interpret results in a timely manner.
 
The first point of integration to look for is with your district’s electronic gradebook and/or learning management system. Test banks integrate with many different platforms, so it is important to ensure that those who are creating tests can do so in an intuitive interface without the need for detailed technical knowledge. 
 
You'll want to be able to review detailed assessment results once the test is complete. Your test bank management solution should have the ability to provide real-time updates and role-specific dashboards for various assessment purposes. As previously mentioned, the need for aggregation and disaggregation of data based on district-specific elements is paramount, along with easy-to-understand trend analysis and alert thresholds to identify those students who require individual attention.
 

Test banks are a useful resource for your district, but they can lead to a harmful disconnect if not implemented correctly. Your students shouldn't have to fear the next test date. With the right combination of education technology and a holistic data strategy, you can turn your testing culture into something positive. It's up to you to lead the charge.

 

Follow-Up Resource: Test Bank Management Solution

Skyward's Test Bank Management Solution was designed to serve as the centerpiece of an effective, district-wide formative assessment strategy. Contact us to learn more about how you can use your test bank to improve student outcomes. 

 


 
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