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Assessing and Equitably Accelerating: The Power of a Comprehensive and Balanced Assessment System

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January 8th, 2021

Research by Illuminate Education reveals substantial math losses in grades 5-8 and modest reading losses across grades K-8 as a result of COVID-19 disruptions.

This research indicates that even if learning losses were to have frozen at the beginning of the school year, student needs would be significant. However, as the school year continues to unfold for schools and districts across the nation, we see indications that learning gaps are likely still expanding for many students.

Unfortunately, many of the factors that contributed to learning loss in spring 2020 persist, and conditions for teaching and learning continue to be far from ideal in many districts.

Table of Contents

  • How Assessment Systems in Education Guide the Right Supports
  • What Is a Comprehensive and Balanced Assessment System?
  • 3 Ways a Comprehensive and Balanced Assessment System Provides Clarity for Educators and Equity for Students
  • Illuminate Education: Your One-Stop Shop for Your District’s Needs

Students take an assessment as part of the district's comprehensive and balanced assessment system

How Assessment Guides the Right Supports

As Blueprint for Testing explained, educators must be able to locate students in their learning in order to guide instruction and intervention—and that requires assessment.

The Evidence Project concurs, stating:

“Assessments matter. We need to know both what kids know and how kids feel (safe, healthy, frightened) to inform instruction, now more than ever.”

It is through the effective application of assessment tools that we are able to understand, monitor, and promote student growth, both in terms of academics and social-emotional behavior (SEB), as well as respond with equitable supports.

Therefore, educators need a holistic, comprehensive and balanced assessment program that enables the use of the right assessment at the right time for the right reason, and a strong culture of using data to take appropriate action. In order to help all students get back on track and grow throughout the year, districts and schools must have a comprehensive and balanced assessment system.


What is a Comprehensive and Balanced Assessment System?

A comprehensive and balanced assessment system is a cohesive set of high-quality assessment practices and tools that promotes an informed, intentional selection of assessments for the right purpose and supplies all stakeholders with the right information to inform next steps.

A system is comprehensive when it integrates a complete set of assessment types to appropriately and effectively support teaching and learning. A system is balanced when those tools are ensconced in high-quality practices that support knowledgeable use of each assessment for the right purpose at the right time, both in isolation and as a holistic system.

In other words, comprehensive is the what, and balanced is the how.

A comprehensive and balanced assessment system equips educators in every role across a district with the high-quality assessment tools, practices, and resources needed to support all learners. And by leveraging such a system, educators will be able to recover and accelerate learning for all students.

By using the right assessment tools and practices at the right time for the right reasons, educators are equipped to:

  • Monitor learning
  • Identify needs with specificity, and;
  • Align just-in-time supports

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3 Ways a Comprehensive and Balanced Assessment System Provides Clarity for Educators and Equity for Students

It is only with a comprehensive and balanced assessment system that educators have:

  1. A better understanding of the whole child
  2. An enhanced ability to monitor for equity and make cross-comparison analysis
  3. A system-wide focus on data-driven best practices

#1: A Better Understanding of the Whole Child

High-quality decisions cannot be made on assessments alone, nor can they be made without them. Assessment yields a critical part of the whole child data picture.

There are a number of data sources that are important to integrate and make sense of, such as engagement and SEB. A comprehensive and balanced assessment system establishes a foundation for other data points to come together for a clear picture of the whole child.

#2: An Enhanced Ability to Monitor for Equity and Make Cross-Comparison Analysis

In a year when learning and progress has been so deeply disrupted, educators must focus on the growth of each and every student. And at a time of racial injustice, civil unrest, and disrupted routines and support networks, our most vulnerable students are more at risk than ever.

Educators pursuing equity need tools to not only deeply understand each learner, but also monitor high-level trends. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and state plan mandates have reinforced the importance of careful and accurate subgroup tracking to monitor supports and their impact.

This simply cannot be done accurately or efficiently without a comprehensive and balanced assessment system.

#3: A System-Wide Focus on Data-Driven Best Practices

A hallmark of a functional assessment system is that it increases the capabilities and impact of other data-based structures throughout a district.

Professional learning communities (PLCs), for instance, require assessment data for productive collaboration. A comprehensive and balanced assessment system is a pillar of a high-quality data culture, in which assessment is valued and organically woven into all decisions throughout the district.

It also enables educators to answer the question, “Is what we’re doing working?” through a variety of lenses and at multiple levels.

As the Learning Policy Institute stated, we are starting to see a necessary shift “from a measurement culture to a learning culture” that is better suited to accommodate all learners. And in doing so, we have the opportunity to recalibrate our assessment systems to “transform learning and close opportunity and achievement gaps.”

In other words, we must create the assessment systems that our educators and students have always deserved.

Thanks for reading an excerpt of our recent “Accelerating and Assessing: Using a Comprehensive, Balanced Assessment System to Equitably Close Learning Gaps Caused by COVID” whitepaper.  Download the free whitepaper here to read it in full.

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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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