Take a customizable approach to power equitable student achievement

Illustration of students at laptop computers

While the 2020-21 school year was a case study in building the airplane while flying it, 2021-22 is shaping up to offer its own challenges. This is because the effects of the pandemic on student achievement have produced a classroom of learners who are less unified than ever. Some excelled in the virtual environment, while others began the year with a larger unfinished learning gap than expected.

This disparity has led to equity differences among learners in the same cohort, along with difficulty in identifying which interventions are needed on an individual basis. While interim assessments are often used to help identify and shore up learners' needs, this year's exceptional circumstances suggest that a more personalized approach might be necessary. "Educators today need assessments to address the wide variances in student knowledge," said Jeff Hauger, director of Transcend Assessment System. A new type of interim assessment, Transcend, can better allow educators to meet students where they are through its flexible, customized interface that aids in the equitable recovery of unfinished learning.

Benefits of interim assessments

Most schools understand the value of interim assessments, but they are particularly important in today's environment; the way districts use them since the pandemic began has changed, Hauger said.

Previously, most teachers considered them checkpoints to see how students grew throughout the year and as a measure to predict performance on the state summative assessment. "Currently the issue is not whether students are on level to be proficient, but about understanding instructional learning gaps to identify where students would benefit from additional support," Hauger explained. While instructors will still be measuring growth throughout the year, it's vital to identify where students are now to offer them the assistance they need to fill the void and address unfinished learning in specific areas.

Limitations of conventional assessments

Not all assessments are created equal, and some existing tools might not adequately address current learning gaps. Transcend, however, offers a number of unique benefits that make it particularly suited to today's instructional realities.

First, the test is customized to state standards and personalized to the scope and sequence of each district. In the past, districts have noted that assessments aren't aligned to their local curriculum, which means the results wouldn't necessarily paint the picture they need."Transcend has developed an intelligent test blueprint that's aligned to districts' scope and sequence, each of which may be different," Hauger said. "Districts have the opportunity to work with Transcend to ensure the test items are aligned to their instruction and curriculum. "The very nature of the test also supports equitable standards. As an adaptive assessment, it automatically adjusts difficulty levels, which minimizes test anxiety and meets students where they are instructionally.

Furthermore, the test is tightly aligned to instruction and only includes concepts that students have already learned. Teachers will no longer have to wonder if a student got an answer wrong because they hadn't yet been instructed on it or if it was because they hadn't adequately mastered the subject matter. "Students have the opportunity to show exactly what their skills are, which is important since we know decisions are made based on these assessments," Hauger said. "Transcend meets a need in the market through its design that makes it high touch at scale and ensures reliable, valid and fair results. "Transcend is also designed to be inclusive and accessible to all students, offering accommodations like color contrast, magnification and text-to-speech.

The importance of timely reporting with actionable insights

The value of any test lies in its ability to help students get to the next level, and that's where Transcend excels by offering concrete information on where students are in their personal learning journey. "Robust reporting is critical because it's the conduit from the assessment to the teacher to the type of instruction that needs to happen next," Hauger said.

Dynamic reports allow a district official or educator to make inferences based on different granularities. So, a teacher could look at their entire class or individual students through an item mapping report that shows each question, the standard associated with it, the student's response and the difficulty of the item. With one click, they can view results by different metrics, such as standard or difficulty, to add more complexity to the interpretation.

These reports allow educators to discern, for example, whether a student understands the concept at the baseline and merely stumbled as questions became increasingly difficult or if they haven't mastered it even at a rudimentary level, given that they missed all the related questions.

Results are available within 24 hours, so educators can take the learnings and directly apply them to interventions to begin to course correct. "Insights gleaned through Transcend can help uncover student learning gaps," Hauger said.