Skip to content

A Plan for Balanced Assessment: Setting a Precedent in an Unprecedented Time

Written by
May 19th, 2020

For most educators, this time of year is typically filled with excitement and a deserved sense of accomplishment.  It’s also a time reserved for thoughtful reflection on the school year and intense planning for the next. 

While these times are anything but typical and we are left simply mourning the loss of those joyous end-of-year moments, the need for planning has in fact never been greater. 

Between lost instructional time, forgone state testing (and the data it yields), uncertain outlooks for the fall, and imprecise budget implications, districts are in truly uncharted waters. As a result, new guidance is emerging from leaders in education research and policy emphasizing the importance of cohesive plans for both short-term reentry and long-term change. 

Not surprisingly, the list of factors district and school leaders are urged to consider is as extensive as it is complex, from bus schedules and sanitization protocols, to student privacy protections and retention policies.

But there is one area that stands out among them all as a top priority: assessment. 

A new call to action

Key stakeholders and groups have underscored the need for balanced assessment systems that can accurately identify student needs and enable learning.

  • In a new report from Chiefs for Change and the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy, the authors urge educators to use this time to hone instructional materials and assessments, setting into motion an intentional cycle of instruction, formative assessment, and data-based intervention and acceleration. 
  • The American Enterprise Institute’s recent report A Blueprint for Back-to-School affirms that “Districts and schools need to consider the variety of diagnostic assessments that can be used for understanding where each student is academically and each child’s socio-emotional learning needs.”  
  • The Southern Regional Education Board’s K-12 Education Recovery Task Force has highlighted the implementation of equitable, comprehensive assessment protocols to identify learning gaps among its top areas of importance.

This focus on assessment extends beyond just advocacy and emerging frameworks for best practice. The US Department of Education encourages state education agencies to require local applicants to detail their plans for assessing and addressing student learning needs before awarding emergency funding from the CARES Act. While federal dollars are often tied to specific obligations, this signals the prioritization of sound assessment practices at the highest levels.

Building a better assessment plan

Given that the greater part of an academic quarter was disrupted and there will be no state summative test data to analyze, it’s easy to understand the focus on assessment in the upcoming school year. But it’s important to recognize that it’s not just a matter of giving a test, because not all tests are the same. And without a greater framework for making meaning of the data, assessments are really not worth much at all.  

A true comprehensive assessment plan refers to a balanced system in which the right assessment is administered at the right time, to provide the right insights, for the right action. 

Here are three things to keep in mind:

  1. True balance involves assessment types and timing. Typically, this means the thoughtful scheduling and administration of multiple assessment types, including screeners, diagnostics, progress monitors, interims, and summatives, as well as integrated classroom formative assessment practices. It’s critical to understand the purpose of each assessment and the type of data generated, as well as best practices for scheduling throughout the year.  Start by auditing your assessment modalities and calendarizing them to identify gaps and establish a plan.
  2. Quality assessment content and seamless administration are essential. Districts must identify the assessment tools and content that can streamline assessment practices, like FastBridge, which is the only platform to bring together computer adaptive testing with curriculum-based measures for screening and progress monitoring (both academic and social-emotional behavioral). Combined with a high quality standards-aligned item bank for interim and classroom formative or summative assessments, and a powerful administration and reporting tool like DnA or SchoolCity, districts can implement a comprehensive, balanced assessment plan through a single integrated system.
  3. Solutions must accommodate for the unknown. As reports continue to warn of COVID-19’s ongoing threat to health and a possible resurgence later in the year, it’s uncertain when and how schools will reopen. Districts must seek to implement assessment tools that can be easily and effectively utilized in both classrooms and remote learning environments. That also means systems must be easy to access by parents and include embedded communication tools.

While educators face great challenges navigating the pandemic and its impact on teaching and learning, there is also great opportunity when it comes to assessment. Leaders are calling for the type of comprehensive plans that research has long supported to accurately identify learning gaps and get students back on track. 

Now, perhaps more than ever, is the time to get it right. 


Discover a straightforward approach to creating a flexible, data-driven plan for supporting students’ academic and social-emotional behavior (SEB) needs throughout the rest of the spring and into fall 2020—whether in a remote or onsite environment.


Complete these reflection questions about the article to retain in your records as evidence of learning.


Illuminate Education partners with K-12 educators to equip them with data to serve the whole child and reach new levels of student performance. Our solution brings together holistic data and collaborative tools and puts them in the hands of educators. Illuminate supports over 17 million students and 5200 districts/schools.

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

Share This Story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *