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Focus on Effective Assessment

A highly developed assessment system includes a balanced approach to using formal and informal assessments, classroom-based evidence showing growth over time, and involving students in the evaluation of their own work. The adoption of a systemic approach enhances the use of assessment data to inform teaching and learning practices. This system should include assessment tools that are congruent with the district's goals and curriculum.

Identifying the assessments given in any school is easy; more difficult is determining why those assessments are administered and how the results are used. Therefore, it is beneficial to think about creating an assessment plan that considers the purpose for assessments, as well as a description of how the results are to be used.

Assessments and instruction have a dynamic reciprocity in both measuring progress and providing informative data to shape effective and responsive instruction (Valencia & Buly, 2004). Valencia and Buly cautioned educators from using the results of a single outcome measure to make instructional decisions about students. COVID-19's interruption of teaching and learning heightens the importance of using a sensitive approach to assessing students at the start of the 2020-21 school year. There is no "one-size-fits-all" assessment – whether screening or diagnostic or summative – that can meet the needs of all stakeholders and satisfy all purposes (Evans, 2020 and Lorie, 2020).  A comprehensive assessment system includes a balanced approach to using formal and informal assessments, classroom-based evidence that shows growth over time, and more involvement of students in the evaluation of their own work.

Ample preparation time is needed for vertical teams of teachers to determine the gaps or limits from the previous year's teaching and learning. Teachers should use the feedback/data already available to them rather than administering a formal pre-assessment at the start of school. It is important to build positive relationships with students and establish a comfortable learning environment during the first 2-3 weeks of school.

Formative assessments embedded in the opening instructional unit will provide teachers with additional data to help identify learning gaps. Formative assessment practices have been shown to significantly raise student achievement and student attitudes toward learning (Ozan & Kincal, 2018). Teachers should consider using more formal assessments, such as screeners and diagnostics, after students have been acclimated to the new learning environment, to identify strengths and areas of instructional need. A thoughtful design of a balanced assessment approach will identify learning gaps and provide data to inform grade level instruction — as well as incorporating both remediation and acceleration along the way. 

The resources below are compatible with any local assessment. Pennsylvania does offer educators two valuable free resources that will be described throughout:

  • The Pennsylvania Classroom Diagnostic Tools (CDT) is a set of online assessments, divided by content area, designed to provide diagnostic information in order to guide instruction, remediation, and/or acceleration.

    The CDT consists of multiple‐choice questions, evidence-based selected-response questions, and technology enhanced items and is designed to provide information to help guide instruction by providing support to students and teachers. CDT reports are designed to provide a picture or snapshot of how students are performing relative to the Pennsylvania Assessment Anchors & Eligible Content and Keystone Assessment Anchors & Eligible Content. CDTs go beyond focusing only on what students should know and be able to do at a particular grade and/or in a particular course. The CDT also provides a snapshot of how and why students may still be struggling; or if a student is exceeding the grade level Eligible Content. These diagnostic reports provide valuable information typically not identified through other types of assessments. Teachers, by using CDT reports, may access additional information through the Learning Progression Map, a resource that allows teachers to pinpoint where students are currently on the learning continuum. The CDT helps identify and provide suggestions for "next steps" in student academic development.

    CDT questions were developed to specifically align to the Pennsylvania Core Standards and/or Pennsylvania Assessment Anchors and Eligible Content. Content assessed on the CDT is similar to the content assessed by the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments (PSSA) and the Keystone Exams.

  • The SAS Assessment Center allows registered users to build an assessment by searching the PDE database of standards-aligned items. Additionally, users can generate a custom assessment item (utilizing the SAS step-by-step process), which can be added to an assessment. View My Assessments allows a teacher to examine any previously created assessments. Assessments can be shared with colleagues.  Using the Check for Understanding function, teachers can create a brief assessment that can be sent to students via an online URL; as students respond, the teacher receives immediate feedback.


Assess: Schools should have a well-articulated plan that describes the assessment tools that will be used at various grade levels across the district. Various assessment tools (progress monitoring, benchmark), results of observations, or other formative data can be used on a regular basis to make important decisions about classroom instruction, grouping, and materials. Recommendations may be made to administer additional assessments, perhaps to specific students (e.g., students who may be struggling). Other data may also be used during this cycle as a means of taking a broader look at why students may be successful or having difficulties. For example, as mentioned by Bernhardt (2014), data about student demographics, classroom processes, perceptions, as well as student outcome data can provide important information.

Access the Pennsylvania Classroom Diagnostic Tools (CDT) Resources.
Access the SAS Assessment Builder.

Analyze: Analyzing data requires that it be organized in ways that make it easy to understand and interpret. Schools can identify specific professionals (e.g., data analysts, literacy coaches, psychologists) to put the data into charts or graphs, perhaps by grade level. Such organization is important as it provides teachers reviewing this date to be able to make important interpretations easily and effectively. During this analysis phase, assessment results can be examined to look for patterns and trends.

Access PDE's Assessment Data Protocol Process. (Word)
Local Assessment Survey Results (PDF)

Interpret: The information gained from interpretation is used to inform instruction. Generally, this interpretation is made by teachers who can identify areas of strength and academic need. Teachers may also present other data (from classroom observations or informal measures) that can be used to validate current results and conclusions. They can make plans about how to use those results to plan instruction. They may also consider the need for additional assessments for specific students, including careful observations in the classroom or additional formative assessments. Interpretation generally occurs during a data team.

Access the sample Remote Learning Rubrics for District leaders. (Word)
Access an annotated guide to PDE Resources.

Instruct: During this part of the cycle, teachers are to apply the results of the interpretation to their instruction. They may make changes in instructional strategies, materials, and so forth. Students may be reassigned to other teachers or groups. Regardless, what is important is for teachers to implement the plan that they decided on during the data team meeting.

Access the high-level focus documents for English Language Arts.
Access the high-level focus documents for Mathematics.
Access the high-level focus documents for Science and Technology.
Access other high-level focus documents for Academic Standards.

Reflect and Monitor: As teachers are instructing, they should be thinking about how the changes in instructional or grouping practices have affected students. Have they had a positive effect? No effect? Negative effect? In other words, they must monitor their own instructional practices and observe students' reactions and responses to them. During this period, they can take notes so that they can share their reflections at the next data team meeting. They can also think about what additional assessments may be necessary to help them plan and teach more effectively.

Access the researched evidence briefs from the Annenberg Institute at Brown University. Briefs currently available include:

Access the PDE Staff and Student Welln​ess Guide.