Almost everyone in education, especially teachers and school leaders, understands the importance of high-quality interim assessments to guide effective instruction. The problem is: How do you know which ones are best?
There are so many factors to consider—alignment to the standards, text quality, myriad technical issues of assessment design and reporting…. Who has the time and expertise to review all the options out there? If only there were a sort of Consumer Reports for assessments!
Exciting news! Now there is a source for independent ratings of assessments!
To empower districts to make informed choices, the Louisiana Department of Education has been conducting a rigorous review of instructional materials, including assessments. They recently reviewed our ELA interim assessments and classified them as Tier 1—“Exemplifies quality: Meets all non-negotiable criteria and scored the best possible on all indicators of superior quality.”
LDOE has received national praise for its rigorous review process, which uses a highly detailed rubric to judge each assessment’s usefulness to teachers. It’s a tough system: some of the most widely used assessments rank in the bottom tier. Only one other organization has Tier 1 ELA assessments. More than half of those reviewed were placed in Tier 3.
This means a lot to us as a nonprofit because, unlike assessment vendors, we don’t create assessments to make money. We do it to help teachers and leaders boost student learning, to further our mission of increasing opportunity for all students. The Tier 1 rating validates that our assessments “exemplify quality,” so our partners can feel confident using them to guide their instructional decisions.
And, it’s also worth mentioning, we’re intensely proud of our assessment team. Everyone at ANet sees how hard they work, the high standards they hold themselves to, and their constant efforts to learn and improve. We knew they were great, and so did our partner schools. Now the whole world does, too.
Full marks for content, item quality, and alignment to the standards
The LDOE rubric covers a range of design criteria that most of us never think about; and ANet assessments earned the highest possible rating. The ANet ELA assessment team has invested incredible time, energy, and research to meet two key goals:
- Selecting high-quality, authentic, grade-level texts that faithfully reflect the expectations of the standards and represent a diversity of engaging topics and genres
- Writing coherent item sets that are grounded in the central ideas of the texts and that align closely to the grade-level standards
“These two objectives may appear simple; however, they’re actually quite difficult to achieve,” says Jenny Hanson, our managing director of ELA assessment. “We had to to scrap and redo a lot of the work that we had developed during the early transition to college- and career-ready standards. While other, larger, name-brand assessment providers stayed the course and perhaps retrofitted or rubber stamped old content, we felt okay saying, ‘let’s blow this up and make sure we do it right.’”
“The rating from LDOE confirms that our decision to commit to quality and reflect the standards with fidelity was the right one,” Jenny reflects. “What I respect about, and what keeps me committed to, ANet is that everyone is focused on making moves that are right for teachers and students, not that are focused on a bottom line.”
Also full marks for technical considerations
High-quality assessment design also includes a number of technical factors that contribute to validity, reliability, and practical usefulness. One example is clear communication of actionable information to guide teaching. The LDOE review found that ANet’s “assessment reports are available online and can be used to determine strengths and weaknesses per student. Using the rubrics and answer key distractor guide, teachers can identify trends and develop an action plan for further instruction.”
“LDOE confirming that these reports are actually useful is especially important if you’ve ever worked closely with some of the other assessments available,” explains Tony Plunkett, our managing director of assessment strategy. “That’s a really big deal to me. Over the years, I spent a lot of time as a teacher trying to decipher data and reports from assessments. The entire focus of our assessment development work has been to create something that is useful.”
“You have to be very thoughtful and very student- and teacher-focused to create an assessment system that actually leads to instructional change that boosts student learning. The result is not just really well-aligned assessments; it’s really well-aligned assessments coupled with powerful, instructionally actionable data and reporting.”
Why has ANet been able to hit LDOE’s high bar for quality when so many others haven’t?
“The excellence of our assessment content comes largely from our assessment team setting a high bar for its own work and building its own expertise,” Tony continues. “However, the entire package of assessments, data, and reporting is a product of cross-team collaboration. The assessment team leverages expertise from other teams across the organization for technical aspects, including how our assessments look, what reports are available, and how instructionally useful they are.”
Our relationship with schools gives us special insight
Perhaps most important, Tony says, is the unique advantage ANet enjoys as a close partner to hundreds of schools. “Our materials evolved the way they have thanks to a constant feedback loop with partner schools that use our assessments. Our coaches regularly work in schools and look at data with teachers and leaders. They return with feedback about what educators are really looking for and what information they need.”
For more information, visit LDOE’s website and read about why ANet’s assessments were rated as Tier 1.