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Assessing student assessments: 7 things to look for

An assessment for your school should align with current research, encourage high expectations and offer teacher support tools.

5 min read


Concept of choice and selection. Blue tick marks on wooden blocks. for article on student assessments

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Insights is a SmartBrief Education Originals column that features perspectives from noted experts and leaders in education on the hot-button issues affecting schools and districts. All contributors are selected by the SmartBrief Education editorial team.

headshot of Kristen Huff for article on student assessments
Huff (Nathaniel Johnston, NJohnston photography)

Teachers are inundated with data. Student demographic data, parent feedback data, classroom observation data…the list goes on (and on and on). So, when it comes to student assessment data, which is arguably the most important data for driving learning outcomes, it is essential teachers have access to the best data possible. 

On paper, different student assessments may appear interchangeable — many are computerized, adaptive and provide some sort of growth metric, among other characteristics. However, all student assessments are not the same, and they are not equal. This is true for both how they are designed and how they are intended to be used. 

Many assessments are designed to provide a rank order, which is typically used for selection purposes. Think of an IQ test or a college admission test, for example. On the other hand, some assessments are designed to drive instruction based on how students learn and progress on different subject areas. This includes providing data that give teachers valuable insights on students’ skills and areas in need of improvement, rather than just how students compare to their peers.

When thinking about adopting and implementing a new student assessment for your school or district, it is important to first understand what you hope to achieve with the assessment and then identify one that meets the needs of your teachers and students alike. 

Seven considerations can help guide this process and identify a high-quality assessment. 

Delivers assessment-driven instruction 

If you are looking to support teachers with their instruction, it is important to make sure the assessment provides comprehensive data that teachers can use to personalize their teaching based on students’ unique needs. Having a coherent assessment that connects assessment with instruction — and supports instructional interpretations — will go a long way in supporting teachers with their practice. 

Aligns to current research and standards

In addition to being valid, does the assessment measure students’ skills and knowledge in alignment with grade-level academic standards? Interim assessments that compare students’ progress to their peers rather than show specifically where the students are and are not meeting grade-level expectations rarely serve the purpose of what’s needed in today’s classrooms. Assessments that are designed to measure what students know and can do aligned to current academic standards are essential in driving classroom instruction and are more impactful in most scenarios.

Provides clear data

Is the assessment data easy for teachers, students and parents alike to use? Are the reports produced by the assessment easy to understand? Without clear and digestible data, assessments lose their value. And, as such, it is important to make sure that the given assessment is producing actionable, purposeful data.

Encourages high expectations

For students to reach grade-level proficiency, especially now as many students are not performing at pre-pandemic levels, according to a Curriculum Associates study, it is essential that assessment data are timely, precise and actionable. Assessment results should empower teachers to set learning goals that get below-grade-level students to proficiency, as well as that encourage grade-level students to continue to advance. By really narrowing down into specific domain-level data, teachers can help set these goals and tailor their instruction accordingly from the onset. 

Gives teachers tools for success

Teachers know their students best — what motivates them, what helps them excel, what they like and don’t like. Assessments, therefore, should provide teachers with a wide variety of accompanying support and instructional resources to meet their students’ individual needs. By providing these resources, teachers have the freedom to choose what each student needs next as they plan their whole class, small group and individualized instruction based on the assessment data.

Prioritizes inclusive experiences

Regardless of their diverse abilities or backgrounds, all students should be able to access, complete and benefit from a high-quality assessment. Therefore, reviewing a provider’s assessment for accessibility, support accommodations and usability is important to ensure students have an equal opportunity to demonstrate what they can do.   

Ensures educator experiences are always improving

Like any educational program, it is essential that student assessments are continuously improving — through technology-enabled enhancements and/or updates based on the latest research — to ensure teachers can support every student. The challenge of today’s classrooms requires heightened transparency, precision and candor about whether students are doing grade-level work — and what it will take to get there — so assessments need to continuously adapt to support both teaching and learning.  

In addition to these seven considerations, it is always a good idea to reference the reviews and ratings of student assessments by third-party organizations. These reviews offer unbiased and transparent feedback from outside experts, which is always helpful.  

Just like with any other type of adoption or implementation, choosing the right assessment is a big decision. But, by doing due diligence and selecting a high-quality assessment that makes data relevant and meaningful for educators, the impact of this decision on student success cannot be overstated.


Kristen Huff, Ed.D., is vice president of assessment and research at Curriculum Associates. Huff has 30 years of experience in K-12 large-scale assessment and is a nationally recognized expert in educational assessment design. She is the primary author of the chapter on educational assessment design in the forthcoming fifth edition of “Educational Measurement.” Read Curriculum Associates’ 2023 The State of the Student Learning report.

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 



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