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Understanding Different Types of Assessment

Written by
September 10th, 2020

How Do You Define Assessment? 

Assessment refers to varied methods and/or tools that are used to evaluate/certify, measure, monitor, observe, and document learning progress, academic readiness, skill acquisition, or educational needs of students. Assessment plays a key role in our data-driven decision making and is an important part of the whole child data picture. Different types of assessment enable us to answer key questions around student learning, such as:

  • What do students know? What do they not yet know?
  • Where are students struggling? Why?
  • What should I teach next? What should I adjust in future lessons?
  • Which students need an intervention? Which intervention matches the need?
  • Does retained learning meet district and state expectations?
  • Does our curriculum have gaps between learning expectations and assessment?

But what are the common types of assessment? What do they each help us understand about student learning and needs? In this post, we’ll take a look at each of the assessment types that create a comprehensive assessment system.


Types of Assessment

A graphic showing how a comprehensive assessment system supports MTSS

Just-In-Time / Short-Cycle Assessments

Formative assessment is a process used by teachers and students during instruction. It creates feedback and reveals needed adjustments for ongoing teaching and learning in order to increase students’ achievement of intended instructional outcomes.

Just-in-time/short cycle assessments are assessments used as tools to inform and fuel the formative assessment process. Any assessment can be a part of the formative process as long as it’s designed to confirm that specific learning has taken place and provide data to inform the instruction that follows. Examples include classroom assessments, quick quizzes, discussion, observations, comprehension checks, and entrance/exit tickets.

When used formatively, assessments can overcome some traditional, commonly-conceived limitations of “tests.” With the right tools in place, such as Illuminate DnA’s Live Proctoring tool, short-cycle assessments can be spun up quickly and adapt to meet immediate student needs during the learning process. Using these just-in-time assessments can yield rich information to feed instructional processes and deepen student metacognitive processes. 


Universal Screening Assessments

Universal screening is the process of gathering academic and social-emotional behavior (SEB) data about all the students in a class, grade, school, or district in order to identify which students need additional assistance to meet learning goals.

Universal screening assessments are administered as tools to inform and fuel that process. They’re most often administered to all students in the areas of reading, math, and SEB. Screening happens early in the year and can also occur at other points throughout the year.

They should be valid, reliable, and have a high degree of predictive validity with high-stakes tests. Universal screening assessments are critical to an effective multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) implementation, as they identify students who may be at-risk and in need of additional support. FastBridge is an example.


Diagnostic Assessments

Diagnostic assessment is the process of using multiple measures and reports to identify what a student does or does not know in relation to specific learning goals in order to guide academic curricular and instructional decisions.

Diagnostic assessments can be administered as a tool to inform and fuel that process. They’re often administered to students, grade levels, and/or groups flagged by universal screening to pinpoint specific learning needs (e.g., calculation vs math). High-quality universal screeners, such as FastBridge, may provide diagnostic reporting as part of the universal screening results. Diagnostic assessment is critical to MTSS implementations, as it helps ensure interventions are appropriately aligned to students’ specific needs.

In any case, these data should be used in conjunction with other data—as part of an evaluation of a student’s academic and SEB learning needs—before reaching diagnostic conclusions about student performance.


Progress Monitoring Assessments

Progress monitoring is a standardized process of evaluating progress toward a performance target, based on rates of improvement from frequent (usually weekly) assessment of a specific skill.

Progress monitoring assessments are administered as a tool to inform and fuel that process. They’re typically administered to all students receiving Tier 2 or Tier 3 interventions.

Progress monitoring assessments are very sensitive to growth and are aligned to the skill or need that is targeted by an intervention. They help measure whether an intervention is working and if it’s working fast enough.

Examples include FastBridge/SAEBRS, running records, mastery measurement, Curriculum-based measurement, and Direct Behavior Reports.


Interim Assessments

Interim assessments are intended to measure students’ standards proficiency. They’re typically administered periodically or seasonally (e.g., fall, winter, spring).

These assessments are aligned to a pacing calendar and the district’s scope and sequence (or the progressive order in which students encounter the content that they’re expected to master by the end of a course, study, or curriculum).

Interim assessments are often used to predict the students’ end-of-year proficiency. They are usually created either by a professional assessment vendor or by using a valid and reliable item bank in order to ensure quality. Illuminate’s Inspect assessments are an example.


Summative Assessments

Summative assessment is the process of evaluating or certifying learning at the end of a specific period of instruction. 

Summative assessments are often used for grading students and can be used to measure growth or change in student learning. They’re typically administered at the end of the year, end of course, or end of term. Examples include high-stakes state standards assessments, SAT, and ACT.

Just as formative assessment is a process, so is summative assessment. Any assessment is part of the summative assessment process if it’s used to evaluate or certify learning after instruction has occurred. Many teachers employ unit exams and Friday spelling tests, for example, as summative assessments, of which Inspect assessments are an example.

Summative assessments can provide a lot of useful data regarding student achievement, while also guiding decision-making around changes in curriculum, instructional strategies, staffing ratios, course offerings, and professional development needs.


The Importance of Understanding the Types of Assessments

Assessments help us answer key questions about student learning. But in order for assessment data to help drive decisions, it’s imperative that we use an assessment tool that is appropriate to the task at hand. Understanding the types of assessments is the first step to using assessment data to effectively support students.

For instance, progress monitoring assessments are extremely sensitive to growth and designed to measure small increases in progress. Other types of assessments aren’t structurally designed to measure those small increases in growth; using an interim assessment weekly or bi-weekly will not help us accurately track student progress and might lead to confusing or misleading results. 

Without a sound understanding of our assessment types and purposes, it’s easy to use an assessment for a mismatched task. For that reason, it’s important that all educators have a foundational understanding of assessment types—and what each assessment type can and cannot tell us about student learning.

To learn more about assessment types and how to build a comprehensive assessment system that meets your unique needs, downloaded our Complete Guide to Comprehensive Assessment Systems eBook.

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Illuminate Education equips educators to take a data-driven approach to serving the whole child. Our solution combines comprehensive assessment, MTSS management and collaboration, and real-time dashboard tools, and puts them in the hands of educators. As a result, educators can monitor learning and growth, identify academic and social-emotional behavioral needs, and align targeted supports in order to accelerate learning for each student. 

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

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