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Backward Mapping in Assessment Design

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April 14th, 2022

Assessment and instruction are intrinsically linked together. If we construct high-quality assessments and we’re strategic in when we deliver them, educators have the right data at the right time to help make better decisions about instruction.

The key to creating high-quality assessments is to begin with the end goal in mind and work backwards to create an assessment that will help you achieve that goal—a process known as backward mapping.

Here are the four steps involved in a backward mapping process that yields high-quality assessments suitable for decision making.

1. Determine the desired outcome(s).

If teams intend to use data to make better instructional decisions, they must ensure they’re choosing the right type of assessment to yield the data they need to achieve the goal of the assessment. This requires having a solid understanding of different assessment types, their purposes, and what they actually measure.

What are you looking to learn from the assessment? This could be what students already know about a topic before you begin the instruction, for instance—or it might be what knowledge and skills they can demonstrate by the end of the unit.

Understanding the desired outcomes will help you choose the assessment method that’s best suited to measuring these outcomes. Here’s a useful chart that can help you match the assessment type to your desired goals:

backward mapping

2. Determine standards and learning targets.

Knowing the goal or purpose of the assessment is the first step in backward mapping. The next step is to determine the standards and learning targets you’re assessing for.

Learning targets describe the specific evidence that you’re trying to measure. Standards can be written as fairly broad. We have to unpack the standards so that we can meaningfully assess them. What knowledge, skills, or abilities do students need to demonstrate?

When you identify learning targets, you might want to do this with your students. Look at your priority and supporting standards along with students, and rewrite them in language that your students will understand. Then, these targets become more accessible.

3. Evaluate the rigor of standards and learning targets.

The next step is to identify the level of rigor for the learning targets you’re looking to assess. Work as a team to unpack the  the complexity and difficulty of the learning target.

There are different models to describe cognitive rigor, such as Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. You can use these models to help you determine the rigor of the learning targets.

4. Match the assessment to the desired outcomes, learning targets, and level of rigor.

The final step in the process is to choose the assessment method that best matches your desired outcomes, and choose or create assessment item types and questions that match the learning targets and level of rigor you’re aiming to measure.

By following these four steps, you can create high-quality assessments that help you gain the insights needed to inform instruction, delivering just the right information at the right time to improve teaching and learning.




Illuminate Education equips educators to take a data-driven approach to serving the whole child. By combining comprehensive assessment and MTSS management and collaboration tools, the Illuminate Solution enables educators to accurately assess learning, identify needs, align whole child supports, drive system-level improvements, and equitably accelerate growth for every learner.

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