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Developing a Student Achievement System? Here’s How.

Written by
June 22nd, 2017

Many educators talk often about wanting to incorporate an assessment system into their instruction, but aren’t quite sure where to start. When it comes to building a student achievement system, the task could seem daunting: How often to conduct data analysis? How to approach developing standards schedules? How to build quality assessments? These are just some of the many questions that I receive.

I believe there’s a commonly defined process that can help districts to develop a comprehensive student achievement system, regardless of where you work or what kind of resources you have. Below I have provided a basic outline of what it could look like:

  • Step 1: Standards Schedule Development
  • Step 2: District Interim Assessment Development
  • Step 3: Site Common Formative Assessment Development & Implementation (ongoing)
  • Step 4: Ongoing Classroom Assessment & Measurement (ongoing)
  • Step 5: Common Data Analysis & Sharing Best Practices (ongoing)

These steps are applicable at all levels, whether it’s the district, site leader or classroom. We’ll dive into each one of these steps in greater detail.

Assessments for a Variety of Purposes

But first, we should understand the three primary assessment types that will be addressed in the post: district interim assessments, site common formative assessments, and ongoing classroom feedback.

The purpose for district interim assessments allows district-wide focus on standards-based instruction. In many cases, we’ll use the term “curriculum-agnostic.” Our goal is for students to learn and apply the skills for the standards in an equitable situation. Generally mandated at the district, they also provide a foundation for instructional planning and site leadership.

Site common formative assessments, though similar in scope to district interim assessments, are designed by grade-level or subject-matter teams. They should be a mix of various item types and similar in design and format to district/state assessments. Teachers usually administer to all students several times throughout the school year.

Ongoing classroom feedback is a channel for instructors to assess student progress, gather feedback, and use the collected data to inform or modify their instruction. It provides teachers and students with ongoing standards instruction, explanations, and academic language.

Standards Schedule Development

We start with what we call a “Base Standards Schedule” that’s based on a four-assessment system. (It can vary depending on the district’s needs.) Usually, we can employ an interim assessment schedule that’s based on a matching of colors and timeframes. For 2016-17, our schedule looked like this:

In this example, the dates are specific, but they generally refer to the fall, Christmas and Valentine’s Day seasons. They’re completely customizable depending on a district’s calendar.

Interim assessments are defined as covering specific standards or parts of standards addressed in that calendar year. The summative blueprint assessment is designed to match, as best as possible, your state’s assessment specifications (given either about a month before or after state testing). If given before, it’s to prepare students for the actual state test. If given after, it’s more for program evaluation (i.e., where are the gaps in curriculum that can be filled?)

Here’s a sample snapshot of what that standards schedule may look like for Orange Interim Assessment:

District Interim Assessments Development

First, it’s important to make sure that you keep this process efficient and concise. Don’t get bogged down in the minute details. Involve representatives of classroom teachers from each grade-level/subject and school site.

From there, provide a starting point that the teacher teams can edit and make their own. Edit the draft model, keep the process simple. You should plan on completing the standards schedules in no more than a day.

Once the standards schedules are in place, develop draft assessments. Teacher teams should review and refine the draft assessments. This process should also be completed in no more than a day.

Note: don’t neglect to communicate that there will be an annual review and refinement of the standards schedules and assessments. You want the teachers and site leaders to know that this is not a one-shot deal. You want to come back next spring with materials for the following school year. Try to avoid continual mid-year changes to the standards schedules and assessments. (Remember, the standards schedules and measurements are static and should not change.)

Site Common Formative Assessment Development & Implementation

Once you have Steps 1 and 2 in place, you can then move towards site common formative assessment development and implementation. You want to do this to provide teachers the right data and reporting to allow quick, ongoing collaboration (i.e., data-driven collaboration at the site level). You will also equip teachers and students with academic vocabulary, formats, and data analysis to work that into their day-to-day instruction.

These could be regular mini-assessment checks to adjust instruction within a larger interim period. They’re typically 4-7 questions that can be administered with paper/pencil or online. For example, teachers can get together and make a short 5-question quiz that they’ll all administer in order to receive common data. This would equip them with a common data point to talk about with the districts (e.g., “from this assessment, we know that students are struggling with borrowing…”)

Ongoing Classroom Assessment & Measurement

The term “assessment” might be somewhat of a misnomer in this realm, as this refers more to assignments. These are regular micro-assessments or assignments/tasks, typically 2 or 3 items that can be done in a class (and in groups) with instruction and explanation.

These are designed to help drive daily instruction, and the data is not typically entered into or disaggregated within a data platform. The ongoing assessments help organize standards instruction at the classroom level—within the overall district standards schedule—for the individual classroom.

Common Data Analysis & Sharing Best Practices

This might be the last point, but it’s probably the most crucial and important component. In fact, it’s a step that really spans all steps—common data analysis should be done throughout your assessment cycle and implementation. Teachers from around the districts should convene with their PLCs or data and grade-level teams at defined dates, and look at the data and analyze where there are gaps in the curriculum. Share tips and best practices around how to better teach the standards identified, and what steps they can implement to get students back on the right track. It’s a process that should be ongoing and iterative to fit the model of continuous improvement.

Would you like to learn more about building a comprehensive student achievement system? We recently hosted a webinar that you can replay here.


Illuminate Education is a provider of educational technology and services offering innovative data, assessment and student information solutions. Serving K-12 schools, our cloud-based software and services currently assist more than 1,600 school districts in promoting student achievement and success.

Ready to discover your one-stop shop for your district’s educational needs? Let’s talk.

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