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Test-Time-Assessment-Guide-for-Education-Leaders

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Tests and Time:
An Assessment Guide
for Education Leaders
Table of Contents
From the length and frequency of testing to the ability of assessments to track student
learning over time, this research-driven guide explores the different interactions of tests
and time—and what they mean for today’s educators.
6
Section 1
Finding your best assessment,
part one: Length, reliability,
and validity
6
14
Section 2
Finding your best assessment,
part two: Learning progressions
21
Section 3
Using your best assessment:
Questions that help
guide assessment
28
14
21
28
33
Section 4
Testing timeline: A brief
history of American
assessment innovations
33
Section 5
Action steps: Checklist for
evaluating assessments
35
Section 6
Recommended reading:
Books, articles, and more
35
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
2
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders
Finding your
best assessment:
Length, reliability,
and validity
Bigger is better . . . isn’t it?
When it comes to
assessment, this seems to
be a common misconception:
Some educators mistakenly
believe that longer tests are
always better measures of
student learning.
However, that’s just not true. Thanks to the
many innovations that have occurred over
the last 170 years of American assessment,
today it’s absolutely possible to have very
short assessments that provide educators
with highly reliable, valid, and meaningful data
about their students.
In part one of Finding your best assessment,
we’ll explore the test designs, technology,
and approaches that make shorter tests
possible—and help you figure out if a
shorter test is a better option for you and
your students.
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
Takeaways for Education Leaders
Longer tests are not always better measures of student
learning. When evaluating an assessment, consider:
•
•
•
Item format: The item format used, as well as the
design of individual items, affects test length. Two
tests could assess the same content and have
similar reliability and validity, but one could take
much longer.
Item quantity: There is a direct relationship between
the number of items on a test and its length, but a
“diminishing returns” curve for the number of items
and the reliability of an assessment. Adding a large
number of items may have only minimal impact
on reliability—and that small increase in reliability
may be meaningless depending on how you use the
results.
Computer-adaptive testing: A well-designed CAT
may require half the number of items to be as
reliable as a traditional test. In addition, CAT also
tends to be more reliable for low- and high-achieving
students because it adapts to their precise level.
Ask if a shorter test could achieve your reliability and
validity goals, while saving precious instructional time.
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: Length, reliability, and validity
Section 1
Sample assessment item formats
How does item format affect testing
time, reliability, and validity?
An assessment can feature one or more item formats,
such as constructed-response items (e.g., essay
questions), performance tasks (e.g., asking a student to
draw a graph or conduct an experiment), and selectedresponse items (e.g., true/false and multiple-choice
questions).
It’s important to note that there is no universal “best”
item format. A well-designed assessment may use any
of these formats, or a mix of formats, and be reliable and
valid. Which format to use depends on what you’re trying
to assess. If you want to understand a student’s opinions
or thinking process, constructed-response items and
performance tasks may be good options. For measuring
a wide range of content—such as mastery of state
standards—in a single session, selected-response items
are often a better choice.
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
There is no universal “best”
item format. A well-designed
assessment may use any of these
formats, or a mix of formats, and
be reliable and valid.
That said, there are some key differences between item
formats when it comes to the time needed to administer
and score an assessment. Constructed-response
items and performance tasks usually take more time to
complete than selected-response questions. Because
these first two formats often must be graded by hand,
they also tend to take longer to score than selectedresponse items, which can often be instantaneously
and accurately scored by computer. This is important
because the faster teachers can get results from
assessments, the faster they can act on that data and
get students the help they need.
4
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: Length, reliability, and validity
Section 1
Location of answer blanks in
multiple-choice questions
Even within an item format, there is still a lot of variability. Take fill-in-the-blank or cloze items, for example. If you place
the answer blank near the beginning of the sentence (or “stem”), students may need to reread the question multiple
times to understand what it’s asking. The more students have to reread, the longer the test will take. Placing the blank
near the end of the sentence can help minimize the amount of rereading required and thus speed up the test. This
means two multiple-choice questions could have the same number of items, assess almost identical content, and have
very similar reliability and validity, but one could take longer to complete!
Clearly, longer tests are not inherently better.
When writing your own test or purchasing one from an assessment provider, be sure to ask these questions about
item format:
•
•
•
•
What is the best item format for the content of this assessment?
Does this item format match any time limitations I may have for test administration?
How will this item format be scored and how long will it take to get results?
Are the items written in a way that minimizes rereading and overall testing time?
How does item quantity affect testing time, reliability, and validity?
Another important element to consider is the number of items included in the assessment. The quantity of items will
have a notable impact on length, reliability, and validity.
In general, the more items an assessment has, the longer the assessment will take. It’s pretty clear that a test with ten
multiple-choice questions will usually take longer than one with only two multiple-choice questions. However, this rule
isn’t universal—as discussed above, different item formats have different time requirements, so two essay questions
may take much longer than ten multiple-choice questions.
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
5
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: Length, reliability, and validity
Section 1
Increasing the number of items on an
assessment lengthens the administration time
Assuming all questions on an assessment have the same format, there
is a fairly linear relationship between quantity and length. Doubling the
number of questions on a test will also double the test’s length (or could
lengthen the test further if student fatigue or boredom slow response
times). Plotted on a graph, the relationship will generally be a straight
line.
Longer assessments also tend to be more reliable—but the relationship
between item quantity and length is very different than the relationship
between item quantity and reliability.
If you have a short test, adding one or two additional items could
markedly increase the reliability. However, if you have a long test,
adding a few questions may have only a tiny effect on reliability. It’s a
classic case of diminishing returns and, at a certain point, it’s just not
worth it to keep adding items. In fact, for a very long test, adding many
more items may barely improve reliability—and might even decrease
reliability if students get tired or bored and start to guess answers.
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
If you have a short
test, adding one or
two additional items
could markedly
increase the reliability.
However, if you have
a long test, adding a
few questions may
have only a tiny effect
on reliability.
6
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: Length, reliability, and validity
Section 1
Increasing the number of items has
diminishing returns on reliability
On a graph, the relationship between quantity and
reliability is usually a curve that starts out steep and
then flattens as more and more items are added. (The
exact shape of this curve will vary depending on the
assessment.) Since reliability is a key component of
validity—assessments must be reliable in order to be
valid—validity often follows a similar curve in relation to
test length.
Try this thought exercise. Say you have two tests that
use the same score scale from 0 to 100. One is 15
minutes long with an SEM of 4, meaning a child who
scores 75 is likely to have a “true score” as low as 71
or as high as 79. The other test is 60 minutes long and
has an SEM of 2. In this case, a child who scores 75 is
likely to have a “true score” as low as 73 or as high as 77.
Which test is better?
Do tests with more items take more time—are longer
tests longer? Definitely, yes. Are longer tests more
reliable? Generally, yes. Are they better? That’s a different
question entirely.
Well, that depends on what you’re going to do with the
assessment data. If this is a summative assessment that
is administered only once and determines if a student
advances to the next grade, you may decide the longer
test with the smaller SEM is the best option. Accuracy
would be paramount and you’d lose relatively little
instructional time.
Let’s first look at something called standard error of
measurement (SEM), which is closely related to reliability:
As reliability increases, SEM decreases. In simple terms,
SEM describes the size of the range in which a student’s
“true score” is likely to fall. Since no test can get a
“perfect” measure of a student’s ability (their “true score”),
all tests have an SEM.
If the SEM is 1 and a student’s score is 5, their “true
score” is likely to be 4 (5 minus SEM), 5, or 6 (5 plus
SEM). It’s important to consider a test’s score range
when contemplating SEM: If the score range is only 30
points, you should worry if the SEM is 10 points—but if
the range is 300, an SEM of 10 could be very good! For
this reason, you cannot compare SEMs between two
different tests (an SEM of 10 may be worse than an SEM
of 100 depending on the ranges).
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
On the other hand, if you’re using the assessment to
inform instructional decisions and testing students every
month, you may choose the shorter assessment with
the larger SEM. Perhaps you’re grouping all students
with scores between 60 and 80 in the same instructional
group. In this case, a score of 71, 75, or 79 won’t
change the instruction a child receives and you’ll get 45
more minutes of instructional time every month. Here,
efficiency takes priority and shorter is far better.
7
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: Length, reliability, and validity
Section 1
CAT tailors item difficulty to
match a student’s skill level
So which is better? Only you can answer. When evaluating
length and reliability, you should:
•
•
•
•
Ensure all assessments meet your reliability
standards—an unreliable test is no good, no matter
how short or long it is.
Get the greatest reliability per minute—if two tests
have similar reliability and validity, the shorter one is
often the better choice.
Take a holistic look at your return on investment—if
you’re sacrificing a lot of extra time for a little extra
reliability, think about how you’ll use the results
and whether the small increase in reliability is
meaningful for your purposes.
Watch out for tests that are longer than your
students’ attention spans—fatigue, boredom, and
stress can all result in artificially low scores that
don’t reflect students’ real skill levels.
How does computer-adaptive testing
(CAT) affect testing time, reliability,
and validity?
Remember how we said that longer tests are generally
more reliable? There’s one big exception to that rule:
computer-adaptive testing, also known as computerized
adaptive testing or CAT.
With CAT, each student’s testing experience is unique.
When a student answers a question correctly, the
assessment automatically selects a more difficult item to
be the next question. When a student answers a question
incorrectly, the opposite occurs and the next item is less
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
difficult than the current one. Since a well-designed CAT
assessment has thousands of questions in its item bank,
even if students have similar skill levels, they’ll likely see
different questions—and the same student could even
test and re-test without items being repeated.
Tailoring item difficulty according to student ability has
several notable benefits. Since students do not see overly
challenging items, they are less likely to be stressed,
anxious, or intimidated. Similarly, since they do not see
overly easy items, they are less likely to become bored or
careless. When these negative emotions and distractions
are reduced, scores tend to be more reliable and valid.
Perhaps more important, CAT requires fewer items to
gauge a student’s skill level since it essentially “skips”
the too-easy and too-hard questions that would need
to be included on a traditional test. Think of it this way:
If you have no idea what a student’s math level is, a
traditional or fixed-form test (where all students see the
same questions) needs to include everything from basic
addition all the way up to advanced algebra or even
calculus. That’s a very long test—and if it only has a few
questions for each skill, it may not be very precise!
“The basic notion of an adaptive
test is to mimic automatically
what a wise examiner would do.”
— Howard Wainer
8
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: Length, reliability, and validity
Section 1
Meanwhile with CAT, if a student
answers two or three algebra questions
correctly—something like finding x if
(22x – 57) • (144 + 289) = -5,629—then
the test will not ask basic addition,
subtraction, and multiplication
questions. Instead, it will present more
and more difficult questions until the
student has an incorrect answer. This
means a computer-adaptive test needs
fewer items overall to pinpoint the
student’s ability level.
In addition, CAT can provide more
precise measures for low-achieving
and high-achieving students than
traditional tests. Consider the lowachieving student who cannot answer
any questions on a 50-item fixed-form
algebra test; we know his math skill
level is below algebra, but how far
below? The traditional test provides
little insight. In contrast, after a student
provides an incorrect answer on a
computer-adaptive test, the test will
continue to adapt down until it finds
the student’s actual level, even if it’s
far below the initial starting point.
CAT essentially mimics what an
expert teacher would do if she could
personally question each student
and thus can provide a more precise
measure of student skill.
As a result of all these factors, a welldesigned CAT can be two or more times
as efficient as traditional tests. In other
words, if a traditional test has 50 items,
a CAT assessment may need only 25
items to reach the same reliability; or,
if both tests have the same number of
items, the CAT one is likely to be more
reliable. Along with improved reliability,
CAT assessments also tend to have
improved validity over traditional
assessments. Shorter tests can be
more reliable and more valid!
In fact, hundreds of studies have shown
that even very short CAT assessments
(including ones that take some students
as little as 11 minutes to finish) can
predict performance on much longer
fixed-form assessments, such as yearend summative state tests.
The benefits of CAT are so great that some high-stakes assessments are
moving from fixed-form to computer-adaptive. Is CAT right for you and
your students? You should definitely consider CAT if:
•
•
•
Your students represent a wide range of ability levels and you
need to know exactly how high or how low their skill levels are—
CAT means you can use one test for an accurate measure of all
students’ skill levels.
You have limited time to administer tests or need to assess
students multiple times throughout the year—shorter CAT
assessments could help you protect your instructional time without
sacrificing reliability or validity.
You want a reliable measure of student progress over the school
year or from year to year—CAT assessments will adapt up as
students’ skill levels improve, allowing you to use the same test in
multiple grades for directly comparable scores.
On-Demand Webinar
Can CAT assessments provide the insights you need to improve
students’ high-stakes test performance? Watch Predicting
Performance on High-Stakes Tests to hear one researcher
discuss why one popular CAT assessment is a good predictor of
performance on year-end summative state tests.
Available at www.renaissance.com/resources/webinars/
predicting-performance-on-high-stakes-tests-recorded-webinar/
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
9
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: Length, reliability, and validity
Section 1
Are you assessing in the past—or in the future?
The United States’ first mandated written assessment took one hour. That was back in 1845, when multiple-choice
questions had yet to be invented, formal adaptive testing didn’t exist, and digital computers were almost 100 years
away. Today, things have changed a lot, but many assessments still seem stuck in the past. How many “modern”
assessments still take an hour or more? How many need to take that long?
Could a shorter test give you the reliability, validity, and insights you need to support student success?
Before you decide on your best assessment, there’s one more factor you need to consider—the critical element
that bridges assessment and instruction. In part two of Finding your best assessment, we’ll examine why learning
progressions are so essential for good assessments.
This section is part of Tests and Time: An Assessment Guide for Education Leaders, a six-part guide that examines the factors that affect test
length, reliability, and validity; the role of learning progressions in making assessment data actionable; critical questions educators should ask
before scheduling assessments; and a brief history of assessment innovations in the United States. Download the complete guide at
www.renaissance.com/tests-and-time
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
10
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: Length, reliability, and validity
Section 1
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Project LISTEN.
Bell, R., & Lumsden, J. (1980). Test length and validity. Applied Psychological Measurement, 4(2), 165-170.
Brame, C. J. (2013). Writing good multiple choice test questions. Vanderbilt Center for Teaching. Retrieved from
https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/writing-good-multiple-choice-test-questions
Clay, B. (2001). Is this a trick question? A short guide to writing effective test questions. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Curriculum Center.
Croft, M., Guffy, G., & Vitale, D. (2015). Reviewing your options: The case for using multiple-choice test items. Iowa City, IA: ACT.
Fetzer, M., Dainis, A., Lambert, S., & Meade, A. (2011). Computer adaptive testing (CAT) in an employment context. Surrey, UK: SHL.
Galli, J. A. (2001). Measuring validity and reliability of computer adaptive online skills assessments. Washington, DC: Brainbench. Retrieved from
https://www.brainbench.com/xml/bb/mybrainbench/community/whitepaper.xml?contentId=938
Leung, C. K., Chang, H. H., & Hau, K. T. (2003). Computerized adaptive testing: A comparison of three content balancing methods. The Journal of Technology,
Learning, and Assessment, 2(5), 1-15.
Livingston, S. A. (2009). Constructed-response test questions: Why we use them; how we score them. ETS R&D Connections, 11, 1-8.
Mattimore, P. (2009, February 5). Why our children need national multiple choice tests. Retrieved from
http://www.opednews.com/articles/Why-Our-Children-Need-Nati-by-Patrick-Mattimore-090205-402.html
Monaghan, W. (2006). The facts about subscores. ETS R&D Connections, 4, 1-6. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Services. Retrieved from
http://www.ets.org/Media/Research/pdf/RD_Connections4.pdf
Nicol, D. (2007). E-assessment by design: Using multiple-choice tests to good effect. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 31(1), 53–64.
Phipps, S. D., & Brackbill, M. L. (2009). Relationship between assessment item format and item performance characteristics. American Journal of Pharmaceutical
Education, 73(8), 1-6.
Popham, W. J. (2008). Classroom assessment: What teachers need to know (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Popham, W. J. (2009). All about assessment / unraveling reliability. Educational Leadership, 66(5), 77-78.
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Renaissance Learning. (2015). Star Reading technical manual. Wisconsin Rapids, WI: Author.
Shapiro, E. S., & Gebhardt, S. N. (2012). Comparing computer-adaptive and curriculum-based measurement methods of assessment. School Psychology Review,
41(3), 295-305.
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Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.
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Wainer, H. (2000). CATs: Whither and whence. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Services. Retrieved from
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proficiency assessments. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service (ETS).
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
11
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders
Finding your
best assessment:
Learning progressions
All educational assessments, from
lengthy high-stakes summative
exams to quick skill checks, share
one thing in common: They provide
a measure of student learning—
knowledge, skill, attitude, and/or
ability—at a specific moment in time.
When you string together the results of multiple test
administrations, you can sometimes zoom out and
get a slightly bigger picture: You can see where the
student is now, understand where they have been
in the past, and perhaps even get a sneak peek of
where they may go in the future.
But how do you get the full picture? Not just where
students are predicted to go, but what their ultimate
destination looks like and how they can get there?
Furthermore, how do you make that assessment
data actionable so you can use it to help students
move forward?
The answer is a learning progression.
A learning progression is the critical bridge that
connects assessment, instruction, practice, and
academic standards. However, while the right
learning progression can help educators and
students find a clear path to success, the wrong
learning progression may lead them astray and make
it that much harder for them to achieve their goals.
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
Takeaways for
Education Leaders
Learning progressions are roadmaps for the
learning journey, showing how students develop
greater understanding over time. They arrange
skills in a teachable order that educators can
use to inform instruction. When an assessment
is linked with a learning progression, a student’s
assessment score can place them into the
learning progression—revealing which skills they
are likely ready to learn next.
Some learning progressions also come with a
wealth of resources, such as detailed descriptions
or examples of each skill, approaches to teaching
the skill for students with different learning needs
(such as English Language Learners), and even
instructional materials to help teach the skill as
well as activities that give students practice with
the skill.
When evaluating assessments, look for tests that
are linked to a high-quality learning progression:
One that is based on research, built and reviewed
by experts, empirically validated using real-world
data, and continually updated. It’s also important
to select a learning progression that is aligned with
your state’s specific academic standards, or else
the learning progression may place skill instruction
in the wrong grade.
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: Learning progressions
Section 2
Learning progressions show the
way forward
In this section, we’ll examine what a learning progression
is, how it can be used, and why it’s so important to find a
learning progression that truly fits your specific needs.
What are learning progressions?
Learning progressions are essentially roadmaps for
the learning journey. If academic standards represent
waypoints or landmarks along a student’s learning
journey (what is learned), with college and career
readiness being the ultimate destination, then learning
progressions describe possible paths the student might
take to get from one location to another (how learning
progresses).
Dr. Karin Hess, an internationally recognized educational
researcher, described learning progressions as “research‐
based, descriptive continuums of how students develop
and demonstrate deeper, broader, and more sophisticated
understanding over time. A learning progression can
visually and verbally articulate a hypothesis about
how learning will typically move toward increased
understanding for most students.”
In simplified terms, learning progressions provide a
teachable order of skills. They differ from scopes and
sequences in that learning progressions are networks of
ideas and practices that reflect the interconnected nature
of learning. Learning progressions incorporate both
the vertical alignment of skills within a domain and the
horizontal alignment of skills across multiple domains.
For example, learning progressions recognize that the
prerequisites for a specific skill may be in a different
domain entirely. A learning progression may also show
that skills that at first appear unrelated are often learned
concurrently.
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Learning progressions can come in all shapes and sizes;
they could describe only the steps from one standard to
another, or they could encompass the entirety of a child’s
pre-K–12 education.
It is critically important to note that there is no one
“universal” or “best” learning progression. Think of it
this way: With mapping software, there are often multiple
routes between two points. The same is true with
learning; even the best learning progression will represent
only one of many possible routes a student could take.
Good learning progressions will describe a “commonly
traveled” path that generally works for most students.
Great learning progressions will put the educator in the
driver’s seat and allow her to make informed course
adjustments as needed.
“A learning progression can
visually and verbally articulate a
hypothesis about how learning
will typically move toward
increased understanding for
most students.”
— Dr. Karin Hess
13
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: Learning progressions
Section 2
Learning progressions identify which skills act as
prerequisite “building blocks” for future learning
How do I use a learning progression?
To get the most out of a learning progression, an
educator must understand how learning progressions
relate to assessment and instruction.
Returning to our roadmap metaphor, academic standards
describe the places students must go. Learning
progressions identify possible paths students are likely
to travel. Instruction is the fuel that moves students
along those paths. And assessment is the GPS locator—it
tells educators exactly where students are at a specific
moment in time.
(Great assessments will also show how fast those
students are progressing, if they’re moving at comparable
speeds to their peers, and whether they’re accelerating or
decelerating—and may even predict where they’ll be at a
future time and if they’re on track to reach their learning
goals.)
When an assessment is linked with a learning
progression, a student’s score places them within the
learning progression. While the assessment can identify
which skills a student has learned or even mastered, the
learning progression can provide the educator insights
into which skills a student is likely ready to learn. It
answers the question, “What’s next?”
In this way, learning progressions provide a way for
assessments to do more than just report on learning
that has occurred so far. As Margaret Heritage and
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
Frederic Mosher have stated, “if assessments are seen
as standing outside regular instruction, no matter how
substantively informative and educative they are …
they are very unlikely to be incorporated into and have
a beneficial effect on teaching.” Learning progressions
are how assessments get “inside” instruction. The
combination of the two allows assessments to
meaningfully inform instruction.
Educators can use learning progressions to plan or
modify instruction to make sure that students are getting
the right instruction and content at the right time. If an
educator knows she needs to teach a specific skill, she
can use the learning progression to look backward and
see what prerequisites are needed for that skill. She may
also seek out other skills that can be taught alongside
her selected skill for more efficient and interconnected
teaching, avoiding the repetitious learning than can occur
when individual skills are taught in isolation.
For a student who is lagging far behind peers and needs
to catch up quickly, a learning progression can identify
which skills are the “building blocks” that students need
not just for success in their current grade but to succeed
in future grades as well (for example, a student will
struggle to progress in math if they cannot multiply by
5, but not knowing how to count in a base-5 or quinary
numeral system is likely to be less of a roadblock). As a
result, the teacher can better concentrate her time and
instruction on these focus skills to help the student reach
grade level more quickly.
14
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: Learning progressions
Section 2
Well-designed learning progressions are often paired
with useful resources, such as detailed descriptions
or examples of each skill, approaches to teaching the
skill for students with different learning needs (such as
English Language Learners), information about how
the skill relates to domain-level expectations and state
standards, and even instructional materials to help teach
the skill as well as activities that give students practice
with the skill.
Having assessments and resources linked directly to
skills within the larger context of the learning progression
is ideal for personalized learning, as it allows educators to
quickly see where students are in relation to one another
and to the larger learning goals, determine the next best
steps to move each student’s learning forward, and find
tailored resources that match a student’s specific skill
level and learning needs—and ensure that all students are
consistently moving toward the same set of grade-level
goals, even if they are on different paths.
However, not all learning progressions are well designed—
and even an exceptionally well-designed learning
progression may lead you and your students astray if it’s
not designed to meet your specific needs and goals.
How do I find the right learning
progression?
The key is finding a learning progression that’s not just
well designed—it should also be designed in a way that
matches how you will implement and use it with students.
So what should you look for in a learning progression?
First, it’s very unlikely that you will be selecting a learning
progression as a stand-alone resource. Moreover, your
learning progression should be tightly linked to your
assessment—otherwise you will have no reliable way
to place your students in the learning progression. This
means that evaluating learning progressions should be a
nonnegotiable part of your overall assessment selection
process.
(What about assessments without a learning
progression? Remember that learning progressions are
how assessment data gets “inside” instruction; without
a learning progression, it is difficult for assessment to
meaningfully inform instruction. Outside of summative
assessments—designed to report on past learning rather
than guide future instruction—we cannot recommend
investing in assessments that are not linked to highquality learning progressions.)
With that in mind, look for a high-quality learning
progression that is:
•
•
•
•
Based on research about how students learn
and what they need to learn to be ready for the
challenges of college, career, and citizenship
Built and reviewed by educational researchers
and subject matter experts, with guidance and
advice from independent consultants and content
specialists
Empirically validated using real-world student
data to make sure the learning progression
reflects students’ actual (observed) order of skill
development and that assessment scores are
appropriately mapped to the learning progression
Continually updated based on new research,
changes in academic standards, ongoing data
collection and validation efforts, and observations
from experts in the field
The foundation of a high-quality
learning progression
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
15
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: Learning progressions
Section 2
If you would not use a map of California
to navigate your way around Virginia...
Why would you use a Common Core
learning progression if your state
doesn’t use Common Core?
However, even the highest-quality learning progression in
the world may be a poor choice if it’s not actually a good
fit for your specific needs. In the United States, one of the
biggest and most important factors impacting fit is state
standards.
Just as there is frequently more than one route to a single
destination, there are many skills that can be taught
and learned in different, equally logical orders. Different
states often choose different orders for the same skills,
some add skills that others remove, and many call the
same skill by different names. Each learning progression
presents one possible order or “roadmap” of learning—
but that doesn’t mean it’s the only order out there or that
it necessarily matches the order found in your state’s
standards.
Using a learning progression that is built for another state
can be a bit like trying to navigate your way around one
state using a map of a completely different state. You
may find it quite difficult to reach your destination in time!
Imagine if a teacher in Virginia, whose students must
meet the Virginia Standards of Learning, tries to rely on
a learning progression aligned with California Common
Core State Standards. Even if the Common Core learning
progression is of exceptionally high quality, it will be a
poor fit for her needs. For example, Virginia students are
expected to be able to describe what a median is and to
calculate it for any given number set by the end of fifth
grade. In Common Core states, that skill is part of the
sixth-grade standards.
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
If our Virginia teacher follows the Common Core learning
progression, she will fail to teach her kids a key aspect
of her state’s standards and leave them unprepared
for their high-stakes math test at the end of the school
year. Alternately, she could compare the Common Core
learning progression to the Virginia standards and try to
keep track of all the ways the two differ—but that’s a lot of
extra work for a teacher who already has to squeeze so
much into each school day.
If she had a learning progression that already matched
the order of the Virginia Standards of Learning, our
Virginia teacher could use the learning progression to
help all her students meet all the state’s standards, in the
right order and in the right grade for Virginia.
Your learning progression should be a helpful tool that
suggests a logical, easy-to-follow route to success with
your state standards. It should not be an obstacle course
that forces you to constantly zigzag between another
state’s requirements and your own state’s standards.
Taking things one step further, your learning progression
should support a flexible approach to learning. After
all, you know your students better than any learning
progression ever will. The learning progression doesn’t
teach students. It won’t monitor their work to see if they
understood the concept taught yesterday. It can’t decide
what is a realistic goal for a student. Only you can do that.
But your learning progression should make doing all of
that easier.
16
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: Learning progressions
Section 2
Look for learning progressions that you can interact with—you should be able to look forward and backward within
the learning progression to understand how skills can develop. You will want to be able to search for specific skills or
standards across the entire learning progression and then find related resources. Your learning progression should also
allow you to bundle skills together for instructional purposes, or ungroup any skills to teach discretely if need be. After
all, the learning progression is only the roadmap—you’re the one actually driving the car.
How do I find my best assessment?
There are a lot of factors that go into assessment selection—and those factors may differ depending on your school’s or
district’s specific needs, goals, and initiatives. However, there are a few universal elements to consider.
As we explored in part one of Finding your best assessment, you should consider the format of the assessment and
the items within it. Are they the best option for the content you’re trying to measure? How quickly will you get results?
Think about the reliability, validity, and return on investment. Does the assessment meet your reliability goals? Are you
sacrificing a lot of instructional time for a little bit of extra reliability? Consider whether the assessment is appropriate
for all your students. Will it work as well for your low-achieving and high-performing students as it does for your on-level
students? Can you use it to measure progress over time, including over multiple school years?
Examine the learning progression as well. Does the assessment map to a learning progression? Is it a well-designed
learning progression? Is the learning progression aligned to your specific state standards? Does it include additional
resources to support instruction and practice? Can you easily interact with and navigate through the learning
progression?
Once you’ve selected your best assessment and are ready to use it, you may encounter a different set of questions:
When do I assess my students? How often? Why? In the next section, this guide will look at recommendations about
assessment timing and frequency from the experts.
“There is no single, universally
accepted and absolutely correct
learning progression.”
— W. James Popham
This section is part of Tests and Time: An Assessment Guide for Education Leaders, a six-part guide that examines the factors that affect test
length, reliability, and validity; the role of learning progressions in making assessment data actionable; critical questions educators should ask
before scheduling assessments; and a brief history of assessment innovations in the United States. Download the complete guide at
www.renaissance.com/tests-and-time
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
17
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: Learning progressions
Section 2
Sources
Blythe, D. (2015). Your state, your standards, your learning progression. Renaissance Blog. Wisconsin Rapids, WI: Renaissance Learning. Retrieved from
https://www.renaissance.com/2015/06/11/your-state-your-standards-your-learning-progression/
California Department of Education. (2014). California Common Core State Standards: Mathematics. Sacramento, CA: Author.
Hess, K. K. (2012). Learning progressions in K‐8 classrooms: How progress maps can influence classroom practice and perceptions and help teachers make
more informed instructional decisions in support of struggling learners (Synthesis Report 87). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota. Retrieved
from http://www.cehd.umn.edu/NCEO/OnlinePubs/Synthesis87/SynthesisReport87.pdf
Kerns, G. (2014). Learning progressions: Deeper and more enduring than any set of standards. Renaissance Blog. Wisconsin Rapids, WI: Renaissance
Learning. Retrieved from https://www.renaissance.com/2014/10/02/learning-progressions-deeper-and-more-enduring-than-any-set-of-standards/
Mosher, F., & Heritage, M. (2017). A hitchhiker’s guide to thinking about literacy, learning progressions, and instruction (CPRE Research Report #RR 2017–2).
Philadelphia, PA: Consortium for Policy Research in Education.
National Research Council (NRC). (2007). Taking science to school: Learning and teaching science in grades K–8. Washington, DC: The National Academies
Press. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.17226/11625.
Popham, W. J. (2007). All about accountability / The lowdown on learning progressions. Educational Leadership, 64(7), 83-84. Retrieved from
http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/apr07/vol64/num07/The-Lowdown-on-Learning-Progressions.aspx
Renaissance Learning. (2013). Core Progress for math: Empirically validated learning progressions. Wisconsin Rapids, WI: Author.
Renaissance Learning. (2013). Core Progress for reading: Empirically validated learning progressions. Wisconsin Rapids, WI: Author.
Renaissance Learning. (2013). The research foundation for Star Assessments: The science of star. Wisconsin Rapids, WI: Author.
Virginia Department of Education. (2016). Mathematics Standards of Learning for Virginia public schools. Richmond, VA: Author.
Wilson, M. (2018). Classroom assessment: Continuing the discussion. Educational Measurement, 37(1), 49-51.
Wilson, M. (2018). Making measurement important for education: The crucial role of classroom assessment. Educational Measurement, 37(1), 5-20.
Yettick, H. (2015, November 9). Learning progressions: Maps to personalized teaching. Education Week. Retrieved from
https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/11/11/learning-progressions-maps-to-personalized-teaching.html
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
18
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders
Using your best
assessment: Questions that
help guide assessment
Once you’ve found a timely,
trustworthy assessment
with a well-designed
learning progression, it’s
time to start assessing
your students!
. . . or is it?
Over-testing is a real concern in today’s
schools. A typical student may take more
than 100 district and state exams between
kindergarten and high school—and that’s
before you count the tests included in
many curriculum programs and educatorcreated tests.
How can you balance the assessments
that help inform instruction with
ensuring enough time is reserved for that
instruction? When should you assess your
students? Which students should you
assess? How frequently? What factors
should drive your assessment schedule?
Takeaways for Education Leaders
The assessment process isn’t just about gathering data;
more critical is using that data to answer questions and make
decisions. The questions you’re trying to answer can help
you determine if you should assess students, which students
to assess, what type of assessment to use, and when and
how often to use it. Educators may find it helpful to organize
questions—and associated assessments—into three broad
categories:
•
•
•
Discover questions to guide interim assessments,
universal screeners, diagnostic tools, and similar tests.
These questions help you discover your students’ specific
strengths and unique needs prior to a new phase of
learning.
Monitor questions to guide progress monitoring and
formative assessment. These questions help you monitor
student progress during the current phase of learning.
Verify questions to guide summative assessments. The
questions help you decide if students should advance and
if your core instructional and supplemental programs are
working.
If you do not have a specific question in mind that an
assessment will answer, consider not assessing students
and instead devoting the time to instruction, practice, or other
learning activities.
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
19
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: Questions that help guide assessment
Section 3
These questions often challenge educators, in part
because there are no universal answers save “It depends.”
It depends on the specific needs and goals of your school
or district. It depends on your students, the challenges
they face, and the strengths they can build on. It depends
on how your team approaches teaching and learning. It
depends on so much.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any answers at all. We
looked at research, consulted with experts, and found
a few insights we think will help you discover the right
rhythm for your assessment schedule.
Let your assessment questions
guide you
The assessment process isn’t just about gathering data—
more critical is using that data to answer questions and
make decisions. Educational professors John Salvia, James
E. Ysseldyke, and Sara Witmer define assessment as “the
process of collecting information (data) for the purpose of
making decisions for or about individuals.” It follows that
if there are no decisions to be made, there is no reason to
gather the data. Eric Stickney, an educational researcher at
Renaissance®, summarized this simply as “Never give an
assessment without a specific question in mind.”
The questions you have will help
determine the type, timing, and
frequency of assessment
“Never give an assessment
without a specific question
in mind.”
— Eric Stickney
Assessing to discover your students
Sometimes you have questions about what your students
have learned—but sometimes you have questions
about the students themselves. These latter questions
arise most frequently before learning or a new phase of
learning (e.g., new school year, new semester, or new
unit) has begun. Because they’re generally broad, openedended questions that educators ask to learn more about
their students or uncover issues that may otherwise
have gone unnoticed, we can think of them as “discover”
questions. Discover questions—and the assessment
data that answers them—can help educators identify the
unique traits of an individual student or understand the
composition of a group of students.
At the individual level, discover questions include:
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Where is the student on my state-specific learning
progression?
Is this student ready for grade-level instruction?
Is he on track to meet state standards?
What are his strengths or weaknesses?
What learning goals should I set for this student?
Is additional, more targeted, testing needed?
Is the student a candidate for intervention?
Which skills is he ready to learn?
How does he compare to his peers?
Is he achieving typical growth?
Did he experience summer learning loss?
At the group level, discover questions include:
•
•
The questions you’re trying to answer will help determine
if you should assess students, which students to assess,
what type of assessment to use, and when and how
often to use it. For the purposes of this guide, we’re
grouping assessment-related questions into three broad
(and sometimes overlapping) categories: the “discover”
questions that most frequently arise before learning
begins, the “monitor” questions that occur during learning,
and the “verify” questions that happen after a stage of
learning has ended.
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
•
•
•
•
•
•
What percentage of students are on track to meet
grade-level goals?
How many will likely need additional support to meet
learning goals?
What percentage qualify for intervention?
How many should be further evaluated for special
education service needs?
How should we allocate current resources?
Are additional resources needed?
How do specific subgroups, such as English
Language Learners, compare to the overall student
population?
Are there achievement gaps between different
student groups?
20
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: Questions that help guide assessment
Section 3
Assessing before learning helps educators
discover students’ unique needs
There are several types of assessment that can
be used to answer discover questions, including
interim assessments, benchmark assessments or
benchmarking assessments, universal screeners
or universal screening assessments, diagnostic
assessments, and periodic assessments. (Note “periodic
assessments” aren’t actually an assessment type per se,
but rather a description of how an assessment is used:
periodically.)
One thing to remember is that most of these terms
describe how an assessment and its results are used
rather than its content or format—one test can often
serve multiple purposes! While this may make things
confusing when trying to distinguish between the types,
there is also a huge benefit to both educators and
students: When one assessment can serve multiple
functions, students can take fewer tests overall and more
time can be devoted to instruction.
How often you use these assessments depends on how
often you find yourself asking discover questions and
how often you think the answers may change. If you’re
not asking questions or if not enough time has passed
for the answers from the last assessment administration
to have changed, then it’s probably not ideal to assess
students again.
In addition, if you’re not prepared to act on the
assessment data or if you’re unable to make changes
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
based on assessment data, then we would caution
against assessing your students. Assessment for
assessment’s sake is not a practice we can recommend;
the ultimate goal of assessment should be to inform
educators and benefit student learning.
Although only you can know the assessment timing and
frequency that’s right for your students, many schools
and districts opt to assess all students two to five times
a year for “discover” purposes. Among these, most will
assess near the beginning of the school year (which
is especially helpful if you have new students without
detailed historical records or students who may have
experienced summer learning loss) and then again
around the middle of the year (to check for changes
and ensure students are progressing as expected).
Some add another assessment after the first quarter or
trimester (to make sure the year is off to a good start or
to get better projections of future achievement), after
the second trimester or third quarter (to ensure students
are progressing as expected), and/or near the end of the
school year (to provide a complete picture of learning
over the year and a comparison point for the following
school year).
Some will also assess a specific subset of students more
frequently. However, many times these assessments
move from answering “discover” questions to answering
“monitor” questions.
21
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: Questions that help guide assessment
Section 3
One assessment can often
serve multiple purposes
Assessing to monitor ongoing learning
As the school year progresses, you may have questions
about what and how your students are learning. This
brings us to our second category of questions, the
“monitor” questions, where you’re primarily looking
to understand how students are progressing, if the
instruction provided is working for them, or if changes
need to be made. Whereas discover questions are more
focused on the student before a new phase of learning
beings, monitor questions are more focused on the
student’s learning during the current phase of learning.
Monitor questions include:
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
How is the student responding to core instruction?
Is it working?
How is the student responding to supplemental
intervention? Is it working?
Is she progressing as expected?
Is she on track to meet her learning goals?
How do I help her reach those goals?
Is she experiencing typical, accelerated, or slowed
growth?
How does she compare to her peers?
Is she learning the new skills being taught?
Is she retaining previously taught skills?
Which skills is she ready to learn next?
Does she need additional instruction or practice?
Does she need special support, scaffolding, or
enrichment?
Should she stay in her current instructional group or
move to a different one?
that progress monitoring and formative assessment are
not assessment types in and of themselves. Instead,
they describe processes that use assessment as part of
an overall approach to monitoring student learning and
shaping instruction.
As with discover questions, how often you need answers
to monitor questions will help decide how often to assess
students. Once again, if you’re not asking questions or if
you’re not able to act on the answers, reconsider whether
your limited time is best spent assessing students. Don’t
arbitrarily assess students just because a certain amount
of time has passed. Depending on the rhythm of your
instruction and how quickly students seem to grasp new
skills, your formal assessment schedule may not be a
regular one—perhaps you’ll assess one week, not assess
for six, then assess every other week for a month.
Assessing during learning helps
educators monitor student progress
and adjust instruction to keep students
moving forward
There are several approaches that can be used to address
monitor questions. Perhaps the two most common are
progress monitoring and formative assessment. Note
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
22
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: Questions that help guide assessment
Section 3
Assessing after learning helps educators verify
student achievement at each stage of education
Similarly, if you only have questions about specific
students (perhaps those identified as “at risk” or “on
watch” by your universal screener or those currently
in intervention), you may choose to only assess those
students instead of the whole group. Alternately, you
could assess all students on a semi-regular basis and
then choose to assess identified students on a more
frequent basis. In all cases, the information gleaned from
formative assessment may be very helpful in deciding
which students should take formal assessments and how
often they should take them.
For formal assessments that are not part of instruction,
time is also a critical factor to consider both when
choosing an assessment tool and when deciding how
frequently to use that tool. Consider an intervention
model where students have 2.5 hours of intervention
time per week. If your formal assessment takes one hour,
using it biweekly means losing 20% of your intervention’s
instructional time! Although you may want fresh insights
every few weeks, you might decide the time sacrifice is
too great and assess only once per month. Alternately, if
your assessment tool takes only 20 minutes, you could
assess every two or three weeks and lose very little
instructional time. In short, consider assessment length
when making timing and frequency decisions.
(See the first section of this guide for more about the factors
that affect assessment length, reliability, and validity.)
Although discover and monitor frequently overlap—the
assessment you use to answer your discover questions
may be the same one you use to answer your monitor
questions—they tend to diverge quite a bit from our last
category.
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
Assessing to verify completed learning
When you hear “summative assessment,” your first
thought may be the large, end-of-year or end-of-course
state tests that are required in many grades. However,
these are not the only summative assessments in
education. Final projects, term papers, end-of-unit tests,
and even weekly spelling tests can be examples of
summative tests!
Summative assessments provide the answers to our
last category of questions, the “verify” questions. When
a phase of learning has ended—such as a school year,
course, or unit—educators often find it helpful to confirm
what students have and haven’t learned. In some cases,
this can help educators judge the effectiveness of their
curriculum and decide if they need to make changes.
In other cases, whether or not a student advances to
the next phase of learning (such as the next course in
a series or next grade) may be decided by a summative
exam. At the state or even national level, summative
assessments like the SAT can be helpful for seeing larger
trends in education and evaluating the overall health of
the education system.
•
•
•
•
•
•
Which skills and standards has this student
mastered?
Did he understand the materials and content taught
over the last learning period?
Did he gain the skills and knowledge needed to meet
state standards?
What are his strengths, relative to the standards?
What are his weaknesses, relative to the standards?
How much did the student grow over this phase of
learning?
23
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: Questions that help guide assessment
Section 3
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Is the student ready to progress to the next stage of
learning?
Did he reach his learning goals?
How does he compare to his peers?
How does my group of students, as a whole,
compare to state or national norms?
Did enough students master required standards?
How effective are our core instructional and
supplemental intervention services?
Are there patterns of weakness among students
that indicate a change in curriculum or supplemental
program may be needed?
Of all the assessments types, deciding when to schedule
summative assessments may be the easiest. In many
cases, your state or district has already determined
the frequency and timing for you. For the summative
assessments that you schedule, ask yourself two
questions. First, “Is this phase of learning complete?” If
it is, then ask, “Do I need an overall measure of learning
for this phase of learning?” If both answers are yes, then
you may want to administer a summative assessment.
If the first answer is no, you may want to delay your
summative assessment until the phase of learning is
done. If the second answer is no, you may choose to
skip a summative assessment entirely—not all phases of
learning need to be verified by a summative assessment.
Finding the balance between assessing
and learning
The key is finding the right balance between them. To
help find that balance, keep these key questions in your
mind whenever you think about assessing students:
•
•
•
•
•
•
Do I have a specific question in mind that this
assessment will help answer?
Will those answers help me improve teaching and
learning—is there a high-quality learning progression
that helps the assessment connect with my
instruction and curriculum?
Do I have time to meet with the team and make
plans based on the assessment data?
Will I be able to make changes to instruction or
content based on the assessment?
Is assessment the best use of this time—or would it
be better to dedicate it to instruction or practice?
Could a shorter assessment answer my questions in
less time—and thus preserve more time for teaching
and learning?
The truth is that no one knows your students like you
do. Only you can determine which assessment is best
for your needs. Only you can decide the right timing and
frequency for that assessment. Only you can find the right
balance.
In the next section, you’ll find a checklist to help you
find your best assessment and learning progression as
well as decide when and how often to best use those
resources.
Every time you set aside time for assessment, the time
available for instruction shrinks. However, the insights
provided by assessments can be critical for improving
teaching and learning. Instruction without assessment
can sometimes be like driving with a blindfold on—you
might not know you’ve gone off course until it’s too late.
This section is part of Tests and Time: An Assessment Guide for Education Leaders, a six-part guide that examines the factors that affect test
length, reliability, and validity; the role of learning progressions in making assessment data actionable; critical questions educators should ask
before scheduling assessments; and a brief history of assessment innovations in the United States. Download the complete guide at
www.renaissance.com/tests-and-time
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
24
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: Questions that help guide assessment
Section 3
Sources
Black, P., Wilson, M., & Yao, S. (2011). Road maps for learning: A guide to the navigation of learning progressions. Measurement: Interdisciplinary Research and
Perspectives, 9, 71-123.
Center on Response to Intervention (n.d.) Progress monitoring. Retrieved from: https://www.rti4success.org/essential-components-rti/progress-monitoring
Center on Response to Intervention. (n.d.) Universal screening. Retrieved from: https://rti4success.org/essential-components-rti/universal-screening
Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). (2012). Distinguishing formative assessment from other educational assessment labels. Washington, DC: Author.
Retrieved from: https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/CCSSO_Assessment__Labels_Paper_ada_601108_7.pdf
Fuchs, L.S. (n.d.) Progress monitoring within a multi-level prevention system. RTI Action Network.
Retrieved from: http://www.rtinetwork.org/essential/assessment/progress/mutlilevelprevention
Great Schools Partnership. (n.d.) The glossary of education reform. Retrieved from: https://www.edglossary.org/
Herman, J. L., Osmundson, E., & Dietel, R. (2010). Benchmark assessment for improved learning: An AACC policy brief. Los Angeles, CA: University of California.
Lahey, J. (2014, January 21). Students should be tested more, not less. The Atlantic.
Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/01/students-should-be-tested-more-not-less/283195/
Lazarin, M. (2014). Testing overload in America’s schools. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress.
Paul, A. M. (2015, August 1). Researchers find that frequent tests can boost learning. Scientific American.
Retrieved from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/researchers-find-that-frequent-tests-can-boost-learning/
Renaissance Learning. (2013). The research foundation for Star Assessments: The science of star. Wisconsin Rapids, WI: Author.
Salvia, J., Ysseldyke, J. E., & Witmer, S. (2016). Assessment in special and inclusive education. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Stecker, P. M., Lembke, E. S., & Foegen, A. (2008). Using progress-monitoring data to improve instructional decision making. Preventing School Failure,
52(2), 48-58.
The Center on Standards & Assessment Implementation. (n.d.) Overview of major assessment types in standards-based instruction.
Retrieved from: http://www.csai-online.org/sites/default/files/resources/6257/CSAI_AssessmentTypes.pdf
Wilson, M. (2018). Making measurement important for education: The crucial role of classroom assessment. Educational Measurement: Issues and
Practice, 37(1), 5-20.
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
25
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders
Testing timeline:
A brief history of American
assessment innovations
Today is test day.
In a quiet classroom, children
stare at the preprinted sheets in
front of them. Some students
squirm; they’re nervous. The
assessment is timed and they
only have 60 minutes to answer
all of the questions before them.
It’s a lot of pressure for kids who
are, for the most part, only 12 or
13 years old. Over the next several
weeks, children all over the city will
experience similar levels of anxiety
as they take identical tests.
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
Their teacher is nervous too. This test will be used to
judge not only students’ abilities but also the quality of
their schooling. The results will be public. Parents will
discuss them—and so will administrators, legislators, and
other school authorities. In short, there’s a lot riding on
this test.
When the reports finally roll in that summer, the scores
are dismal. On average, students answer only 30% of the
questions correctly. Citizens are in shock. Newspapers
are packed with articles and letters to the editor,
some attacking and some praising the results. People
passionately debate the value of the assessment.
26
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: A brief history of American assessment
Section 4
Pop quiz: What year is it?
You might think it was 2015. That year, thousands of
eighth-grade students across the country took the
National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)
reading assessment, a paper-and-pencil assessment that
took up to 60 minutes for students to complete.
In 2015, only 34% of eighth graders scored proficient
on NAEP, triggering an onslaught of media coverage
debating the quality of American education—as well as
the quality of the tests themselves.
In reality, it’s 1845, and these children are taking
America’s first mandated written assessment. It’s the
first time external authorities have required that students
take standardized written exams in order to measure their
ability and achievement levels, but it won’t be the last.
Over the next 170 years, standardized testing will become
a widespread and, well, standard part of American
education.
While educators have always adapted to meet the
needs of their students (consider the Socratic method
of tailoring questions according to a student’s specific
assertions, which has been around for more than two
thousand years), the first formal adaptive test does not
appear until 1905. Called the Binet-Simon intelligence
test—and commonly known today as an intelligence
quotient, or IQ, test—it features a variable starting level.
The examiner then selects item sets based on the
examinee’s performance on the previous set, providing a
fully adaptive assessment.
Just two years earlier, in 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright
made history with the first flight of their airplane in Kitty
Hawk, North Carolina. By 1905, the brothers are already
soaring around in the Wright Flyer III, sometimes called
the first “practical” fixed-wing aircraft.
Let’s briefly explore how assessment has evolved—and,
in many ways, stayed the same—between 1845 and
today. As a comparison, we’ll note major innovations in
transportation along the way.
In 1845, the first reported mandated written
assessment in the United States takes place in Boston,
Massachusetts. While only 530 students take this first
assessment, thousands follow in their footsteps as
standardized written assessments spread across the
country in the decades following.
The same year, Robert William Thomson patents the
first vulcanized rubber pneumatic tire—the type of tire
now used on cars, bicycles, motorcycles, buses, trucks,
heavy equipment, and aircraft. At this point, however, only
the bicycle has been invented—and it still uses wooden
wheels banded with iron.
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
Exactly seven decades after the first mandated written
assessment in Massachusetts, the first multiple-choice
tests are administered in Kansas in 1915. These three
tests—one for grades 3–5, one for grades 6–8, and one for
high school—are collectively known as the “Kansas Silent
Reading Tests.” Devised the year prior by Dr. Frederick
J. Kelly, each test consists of 16 short paragraphs and
corresponding questions. Students have five minutes to
read and answer as many questions as possible.
Standardization and speed seem to be hot topics in this
decade. Only a few years earlier, in 1913, Henry Ford
installed the first moving assembly line for the mass
production of cars.
27
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: A brief history of American assessment
Section 4
One of the most famous standardized academic
assessments in the world is born: the Scholastic Aptitude
Test (SAT). The first administration is in 1926. Students
have a little more than an hour and a half—97 minutes to
be exact—to answer 315 questions about nine subjects,
including artificial language, analogies, antonyms, and
number series. Interestingly, the SAT comes after the
similarly named Stanford Achievement Test, which
was first published in 1922 (to differentiate the two, the
Stanford tests are known by their edition numbers, the
most recent version being the “Stanford 10” or “SAT-10”).
In 1927, just one year after the first SAT, the Sunbeam
1000 HP Mystery becomes the first car in the world to
travel over 200 mph. The same year, production of the
iconic Ford Model T comes to an end after more than 15
million cars have rolled off the assembly line.
Although planning began in 1964, the first National
Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) takes
place in 1969. Instead of today’s more well-known reading
and math assessments, the first NAEP focuses on
citizenship, science, and writing. It combines paper-andpencil tests with interviews, cooperative activities, and
observations of student behavior. There are no scores;
NAEP only reports the percentage of students who could
answer a question or complete an activity.
Also in 1969, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin
become the first humans to set foot on the moon. A few
months later, Charles Conrad and Alan Bean become the
third and fourth individuals to take a stroll on the lunar
surface. Back on earth, the first Boeing 747 takes flight.
Although multiple-choice tests were invented two
decades earlier, it’s not until 1936 that they can be scored
automatically. This year, the IBM 805 Test Scoring
Machine sees its first large-scale use for the New York
Regents exam. Experienced users can score around 800
answer cards per hour—the speed limited not by the
machine itself but by the operator’s ability to insert cards
into the machine and record the scores.
Meanwhile, in the world of transportation, the world is
introduced to the first practical jet aircraft. The Heinkel He
178 becomes the world’s first turbojet-powered aircraft to
take flight in 1939.
The SAT’s main rival is born in 1959, when the first
American College Testing (ACT) is administered. Each of
its four sections—English, mathematics, social studies,
and natural sciences—takes 45 minutes to complete for a
total test time of three hours.
That same year, in the skies above, the turbojet powers
a new airspeed record as the Convair F-106 Delta Dart
becomes the first aircraft to travel faster than 1,500 mph.
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
28
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: A brief history of American assessment
Section 4
It’s hard to pinpoint the very first computerized adaptive
test (CAT): A few claim David J. Weiss develops the
first one in either 1970 or 1971; others give this honor to
Abraham G. Bayroff of the US Army Behavioral Research
Laboratory, who experimented with “programmed testing
machines” and “branching tests” in the 1960s; and some
point earlier still to the work of the Educational Testing
Service (ETS) in the 1950s. Regardless, computerized
adaptive testing gains great momentum in the 1970s.
In 1975, the first Conference on Computerized Adaptive
Testing takes place in Washington, DC. By the end of
the decade, the US Department of Defense has started
investigating the possibility of large-scale computerized
adaptive testing.
In the middle of the decade, in July 1976, the Lockheed
SR-71 Blackbird shoots across the sky at a whopping 2,193
mph—setting an airspeed record that has yet to be broken.
Computerized adaptive tests start moving out of the
laboratory and into the real world. One of the first
operational computerized adaptive testing programs
in education is the College Board’s ACCUPLACER
college placement tests. In 1985, the four tests—
reading comprehension, sentence skills, arithmetic,
and elementary algebra—are used in a low-stakes
environment to help better place students into college
English and mathematics courses.
For some students, the ACCUPLACER might be their first
experience with a computer—but not for all of them. In
1981, IBM introduced its first personal computer, the IBM
5150. A few years later, in 1984, Apple debuted the first
Macintosh. This decade also sees the Rutan Voyager fly
around the globe without stopping or refueling, making
it the first airplane to do so. The 1986 trip takes the two
pilots nine days and three minutes to complete.
After nearly 20 years of research and development, the
computerized adaptive version of the Armed Services
Vocational Aptitude Battery—more commonly known
as the CAT-ASVAB—earns the distinction of being
the first large-scale computerized adaptive test
to be administered in a high-stakes setting.* First
implemented in 1990 at a select number of test sites, the
CAT-ASVAB goes nationwide in 1996 in part thanks to
its reduced testing time and lower costs in comparison
to the paper-and-pencil version (called the P&P-ASVAB).
Today, the CAT-ASVAB takes about half the time (1.5
hours) of the P&P-ASVAB (3 hours).
(1996 also sees the advent of the first Renaissance Star
Reading® assessment, a computerized adaptive test that
quickly measures students’ reading levels.)
Another brainchild of the 1970s also comes to fruition
in this decade: The Global Positioning System (GPS)
is declared fully operational in 1995, with 27 satellites
orbiting the globe.
The new millennium ushers in a new era of American
testing. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB)
mandates state testing in reading and math annually in
grades 3–8 and once in high school. While the Improving
America’s Schools Act of 1994 (IASA) had previously
required all states to develop educational standards and
assess students, not all states were able to comply—and
those that did not faced few consequences. This time,
things are different and states must comply with NCLB or
risk losing their federal funding.
The new millennium also sees GPS come to consumer
electronics when the United States decides to stop
degrading GPS signals used by the public. For the first
time, turn-by-turn navigation is possible for civilians.
This decade also sees the introduction of Facebook
(2004), YouTube (2005), the iPhone (2007), and the Tesla
Roadster (2008).
*Some claim this honor should go to the Novell corporation’s certified network engineer (CNE) examination, the Education Testing Service’s (ETS) Graduate
Record Examination (GRE), or the National Council of State Boards of Nursing’s (NCSBN) NCLEX nursing licensure examination, all of which debuted
computerized adaptive tests in the early 1990s.
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
29
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: A brief history of American assessment
Section 4
Have we reached testing overload? A 2014 report titled
Testing Overload in America’s Schools finds that average
students in grades 3–5 spend 15 hours taking district
and state exams each year. Students in grades 6–8
spend even more time, with 16 hours each year spent
on standardized assessments. On average, students in
grades 3–8 take 10 standardized assessments each
year, although some are found to take as many as 20
standardized tests in a single year. Their younger and
older counterparts generally take 6 standardized tests per
year, totaling four hours per year in grades K–2 and nine
hours per year in grades 9–12.
Meanwhile self-driving cars navigate city streets, flying
drones deliver groceries to customers’ doors, the
Curiosity rover is taking selfies on Mars, and you can
order almost anything—from almost anywhere in the
world—right from your phone.
This means a typical student may take 102 standardized
tests before graduating high school, and some will take
many more than that!
When evaluating assessments, keep in mind the history
of assessment in the United States—and all of the
technological innovations over the years and the great
leaps in learning science that have made it possible to
create shorter tests that still provide educators with
meaningful data.
Over 170 years ago, it took more than three weeks to get
from New York to Los Angeles by train and one hour to
finish the country’s first mandated written exam. Today
the trip requires less than six hours in an airplane, but
many assessments still take an hour or longer—and
students take many more tests than they used to.
But things are changing. The passage of the Every
Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015—which replaces
NCLB—doesn’t eliminate mandated assessments, but
it does offer states new levels of flexibility and control
over their assessments. Around the same time, states
across the nation reconsider the benefits and drawbacks
of mandated assessments. Several eliminate high
school graduation exams. Some limit the amount of
time districts can devote to testing. Others discontinue
achievement tests for specific grades or subjects. A few
allow parents and guardians to opt their children out of
some or even all standardized exams.
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
30
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: A brief history of American assessment
Section 4
Sources
Assessment Systems. (2017, January 11). A History of Adaptive Testing from the Father of CAT, Prof. David J. Weiss [Video file]. Retrieved from:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qb-grX8oqJQ
Bayroff, A. G. (1964). Feasibility of a programmed testing machine (BESRL Research Study 6U-3*). Washington, DC: US Army Behavioral Research Laboratory.
Bayroff, A. G. & Seeley, L. C. (1967). An exploratory study of branching tests (Technical Research Note 188). Washington, DC: US Army Behavioral
Research Laboratory.
Beeson, M. F. (1920). Educational tests and measurements. Colorado State Teachers College Bulletin, 20(3), 40-53.
Fletcher, D. (2009, December 11). Brief history: Standardized testing. Time. Retrieved from: http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1947019,00.html
Gamson, D. A., McDermott, K. A., & Reed, D. S. (2015). The Elementary and Secondary Education Act at fifty: Aspirations, effects, and limitations.
RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences 1(3), 1-29. Retrieved from https://muse.jhu.edu/article/605398
IACAT. (n.d.) First adaptive test. Retrieved from: http://iacat.org/node/442
IBM. (n.d.) Automated test scoring. Retrieved from: http://www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/ibm100/us/en/icons/testscore/
Jacobsen, R. & Rothstein, R. (2014, February 26). What NAEP once was, and what NAEP could once again be. Economic Policy Institute.
Retrieved from: https://www.epi.org/publication/naep-naep/
Lazarin, M. (2014). Testing overload in America’s schools. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress.
Luecht, R. M. & Sireci, S. G. (2011). A review of models for computer-based testing. College Board. Retrieved from: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED562580.pdf
McCarthy, E. (2014, March 5). Take the very first SAT from 1926. Mental Floss. Retrieved from: http://mentalfloss.com/article/50276/take-very-first-sat
McGuinn, P. (2015). Schooling the state: ESEA and the evolution of the US Department of Education. RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the
Social Sciences, 1(3). Retrieved from: https://www.rsfjournal.org/doi/full/10.7758/RSF.2015.1.3.04
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2012). NAEP: Measuring student progress since 1964. Retrieved from:
https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/naephistory.aspx
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2017). Timeline for National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Assessments from 1969 to 2024.
Retrieved from: https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/assessmentsched.aspx
Pommerich, M., Segall, D. O., & Moreno, K. E. (2009). The nine lives of CAT-ASVAB: Innovations and revelations. In D. J. Weiss (Ed.), Proceedings of the 2009
GMAC Conference on Computerized Adaptive Testing. Retrieved from:
https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/dab4/36470022fa4819d8d6256727ff869aaf58cb.pdf
Reese, W. J. (2013). Testing wars in the public schools: A forgotten history. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Seeley, L. C., Morton, M. A., & Anderson, A. A. (1962). Exploratory study of a sequential item test (BESRL Technical Research Note 129). Washington, DC:
US Army Behavioral Research Laboratory.
Strauss, V. (2017, December 6). Efforts to reduce standardized testing succeeded in many school districts in 2017. Here’s why and how. The Washington Post.
Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/12/06/efforts-to-reduce-standardized-testing-succeeded-in-manyschool-districts-in-2017-heres-why-and-how/?utm_term=.bf6c68cbe156
US Congress Office of Technology Assessment. (1992). Testing in American schools: Asking the right questions (Publication No. OTA-SET-519).
Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.
Van de Linden, W. J., & Glas, C. A. W. (2000). Computerized adaptive testing: Theory and practice. Dordrecht, Germany: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Winship, A. E. (Ed). (1917). Educational news: Kansas. New England and National Journal of Education, 85(21), 582-586.
This section is part of Tests and Time: An Assessment Guide for Education Leaders, a six-part guide that examines the factors that affect test
length, reliability, and validity; the role of learning progressions in making assessment data actionable; critical questions educators should ask
before scheduling assessments; and a brief history of assessment innovations in the United States. Download the complete guide at
www.renaissance.com/tests-and-time
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
31
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders
Action steps: Checklist for
evaluating assessments
From reliability curves to learning progressions, this guide has covered a lot of ground.
To make it easier to put this information into action, we’ve compiled a checklist that you
may find helpful to use when considering a new assessment solution or reviewing an
existing assessment.
These yes/no questions will help you determine if an assessment fits your needs. “Yes” answers indicate an
assessment that is a good fit; “no” answers indicate a gap where the assessment is a poor fit. There are a few critical
questions where a “no” should immediately disqualify an assessment as an option; they are marked as such.
While this is not exhaustive list of all possible factors to consider, asking yourself these questions before buying a new
assessment or renewing your contract or subscription on a current assessment is a great way to start finding your best
assessment.
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
32
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: Checklist for evaluating assessments
Section 5
Question
Yes
No
Item format and scoring
Is this item format suitable for the content you will be assessing?
(If no, eliminate this assessment as an option.)
Is this the best item format for the content you will be assessing?
Are the items written in a way that minimizes rereading and overall testing time?
Are the items automatically scored by computer?
Are results available immediately after the assessment is completed?
Reliability and validity
Does the assessment meet your minimum reliability standards?
(If no, eliminate this assessment as an option.)
Does the assessment meet your minimum validity standards?
(If no, eliminate this assessment as an option.)
Among the assessment options with similar reliability, does this assessment offer the shortest
administration time?
Does this assessment offer the greatest “return on investment” when comparing reliability and validity
against administration time?
Is the test designed to minimize distractions—such as fatigue, boredom, or stress—that could cause
artificially low scores?
Does the assessment accurately predict performance on other measures, such as year-end summative
state tests?
Computer-adaptive assessments
Is the assessment computer adaptive?
Will the assessment adapt up or down as much as needed to pinpoint a student’s specific skill level?
Can you use the same assessment multiple times during the school year—or even over multiple years?
Learning progressions
Is the assessment linked to a high-quality learning progression?
(If no, eliminate this assessment as an option.)
Is the learning progression aligned to your state standards?
Can educators easily interact with and navigate the learning progression to see prerequisite skills, skills
that can be taught concurrently, and future skills?
Is the learning progression paired with resources to help teach skills, such as instructional materials or
practice activities?
Fit for purpose
Does the assessment support a flexible administration schedule—can it be used on an “as-needed” basis,
without advanced scheduling?
Does the assessment provide easy-to-read reports that you can use to track student achievement and
growth over time?
Will the assessment provide the kind of data you need to answer the questions you have about your
students?
Will using the assessment help you improve teaching and learning?
(If no, eliminate this assessment as an option.)
TOTAL SCORE
If you’d like to see how Renaissance Star Assessments® can meet your assessment needs, we encourage you to contact
us. Please call us at 888-979-7950, email us at [email protected], or use the live chat feature on
our website at www.renaissance.com.
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
33
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders
Recommended reading:
Books, articles, and more
Looking for more great resources? Here are the top recommendations from our
academic advisors, psychometricians, and subject matter experts.
Renaissance Blog
Many sections of this guide were originally published on the Renaissance Blog. The Renaissance Blog is full of
shareable tips and insightful thoughts on pre-K–12 education, with new posts published all the time. Here are some
popular blog posts to get you started.
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•
•
•
•
The difference between proficiency and growth by Dr. Jan Bryan
Giving meaning to test scores by Dr. Catherine Close
Understanding the reliability and validity of test scores by Dr. Catherine Close
The basics of test score reliability for educators by Dr. Catherine Close
What educators need to know about measurement error by Dr. Catherine Close
Rising to literacy challenges with effective universal screening by Dr. Denise Gibbs
The law of the vital few (focus skills) by Dr. Gene Kerns
No datum left behind: Making good use of every bit of educational data by Eric Stickney
4 questions learning data can help teachers answer by Renaissance
Additional Renaissance resources
In addition to the blog, Renaissance provides many other free resources for educators, from eBooks and guides to
recorded webinars. Here are some highlights.
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EdWords™: Assessment Edition, an eBook of education terms
The Perfect District Assessment System, an on-demand webinar by Rick Stiggins
Giving Meaning to Test Scores, an on-demand webinar by Dr. Dianne Henderson
Predicting Performance on High-Stakes Tests, an on-demand webinar by Eric Stickney
How Learning Progressions Show the Way Forward, an on-demand webinar by Diana Blythe, Julianne Robar,
and Rita Wright
A School Leader’s Guide to Using Data to Enrich Classroom Teaching & Learning, a guide with more than 25
strategies for finding and using student data
81,000-student Florida district boosts achievement and state ranking with spot-on K–12 assessments, a success
story about Lee County School District
Better data, better decisions: Building an assessment portfolio to energize achievement, a success story about
Hartford School District
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
34
Assessment Guide for Education Leaders: Additional resources
Section 6
Books
When you’re ready to dive deep into a topic, books are often one of the best options. These are the books and authors
that helped inspire and inform this guide.
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement by John Hattie
Developing Assessment-Capable Visible Learners, Grades K-12: Maximizing Skill, Will, and Thrill by Nancy Frey, John
Hattie, and Douglas Fisher
Unlocking Student Talent: The New Science of Developing Expertise by Robin J. Fogarty, Gene M. Kerns, and Brian M.
Pete
Assessment in Special and Inclusive Education by John Salvia, James E. Ysseldyke, and Sara Witmer
Test Better, Teach Better: The Instructional Role of Assessment by W. James Popham
Educational Assessment of Students by Susan M. Brookhart and Anthony J. Nitko
Assessment and Student Success in a Differentiated Classroom by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Tonya R. Moon
The Perfect Assessment System by Rick Stiggins
The Promise and Practice of Next Generation Assessment by David T. Conley
Using Formative Assessment to Enhance Learning, Achievement, and Academic Self-Regulation by Heidi L. Andrade
and Margaret Heritage
Third-party resources
This guide wouldn’t be possible without the research, studies, and reports produced by hundreds of educators,
education organizations, and others around the globe. Here are our favorites.
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The Glossary of Education Reform by the Great Schools Partnership
Testing Overload in America’s Schools by Melissa Lazarin, published by the Center for American Progress
Is This a Trick Question? A Short Guide to Writing Effective Test Questions by Ben Clay, published by the Kansas
Curriculum Center
Reviewing Your Options: The Case for Using Multiple-Choice Test Items by Michelle Croft, Gretchen Guffy, and Dan
Vitale, published by ACT
The Facts About Subscores by William Monaghan, published by ETS
Essential Components of RTI and Screening Tools Chart by the Center on Response to Intervention
Academic Progress Monitoring by the National Center on Intensive Intervention
Progress Monitoring Within a Multi-Level Prevention System by Lynn Fuchs, published by the RTI Action Network
The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing by the American Educational Research Association
(AERA), American Psychological Association (APA), and the National Council on Measurement in Education
(NCME)
The Role of Interim Assessments in a Comprehensive Assessment System: A Policy Brief by Marianne Perie, Scott
Marion, Brian Gong, and Judy Wurtzel, published by The Aspen Institute
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved.
35
Assessment solutions by Renaissance®
Renaissance Star 360® is the most comprehensive pre-K–12 interim and
formative assessment suite available. Star 360 includes computer-adaptive
assessments for reading, math, and early literacy—all in both English and
Spanish—as well as fixed-form tests for formative assessment.
Renaissance Star Assessments® can be used for universal screening, progress
monitoring, instructional planning, and growth tracking. They feature:
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Highly efficient item designs for quicker testing time—20 minutes or less
Fully adaptive testing experience for learners of all achievement levels
Automatic computer scoring for immediate, accurate results
Easy-to-read reports for tracking student achievement and growth over time
Valid, reliable data that’s proven to predict performance on state tests
Flexible scheduling so educators can assess on an as-needed basis
High-quality learning progressions aligned to state standards
Rich instruction and practice resources linked to the learning progressions
Find your best assessment at www.renaissance.com
©Copyright 2018 Renaissance Learning, Inc. All rights reserved. All logos, designs, and brand names for Renaissance products and services, including but not limited to Accelerated Reader,
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Custom, Star Early Literacy, Star Math, Star Reading, and Star Spanish are trademarks of Renaissance Learning, Inc., and its subsidiaries, registered, common law, or pending registration in the United
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