The best teachers know that good lesson planning is paramount. Furthermore, they understand that finding out what a student knows should be the basis of all planning. Unfortunately, in most schools, planning time is increasingly limited.
Savvy teachers realize that using frequent quality assessments can help them quickly and concretely determine what a student knows. The data gathered from these assessments can reduce the planning time needed to design lessons that meet the needs of diverse students.
An assessment can be defined as any tool that helps a teacher determine what a student knows, understands, and/or can do. The best assessments are often low-stakes, local, and quick, meaning they are not reported at the state or federal level. This includes teacher-made tests, simple formative assessments, computer-adaptive nationally normed reading and math tests, student work samples and performances, and ongoing anecdotal observations of students by classroom teachers. Our district uses Renaissance Star Assessments to track students’ paths to mastery of grade-level standards.
The data we’re gathering from these assessments has been a boon for lesson planning. Teachers are using them to:
- Pinpoint student needs and develop flexible groups. It is increasingly easy for teachers to differentiate instruction based on need, whether they are sorting student work into piles by proficiency level or printing reports from online assessment tools.
- Quickly decide on strategies that will increase learning and close gaps. Not every instructional approach works with every student. Looking at assessment results can help teachers focus on identified needs and guide them to strategies and lessons to help a student or group of students move forward.
- Help students set academic goals. Once students understand how to analyze their own data, they can self-monitor their learning and hold themselves accountable using the same assessments that teachers use. This type of ownership of learning and self-efficacy frees up invaluable time for teachers as students become primary drivers of their own learning.
Effective teachers use three questions to guide their daily practice: What do my students know? What do they need to know? How can I get them there? Assessment data helps teachers answer all three questions, allowing quick, focused planning that helps all students achieve academic success.
Rita Platt (@ritaplatt) is a Nationally Board Certified teacher. Her experience includes teaching learners of all levels, from kindergarten to graduate school. She currently serves as a library media specialist for the St. Croix Falls School District in Wisconsin, teaches graduate courses for the Professional Development Institute, and consults with local school districts.
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