Assessing Without Testing: A Classroom-Friendly Approach

Assessing Without Testing: A Classroom-Friendly Approach

In early 2020, a group of teachers from Knox County in Tennessee did something unusual. Led by fourth-grade teacher Hedy Hilts Collins, the educators went to their local school board meeting, where they spoke up about the amount of time kindergarten teachers are expected to devote to testing their young students.

Speaking with a local media outlet, Hilts Collins described the shock of seeing a colleague’s work calendar and realizing that more than 50 of the upcoming school days required kindergarten teachers to administer some form of assessment or testing. In response, she rallied her school’s six kindergarten teachers to—as she phrased it—“start a conversation” at the board meeting. 

According to Hilts Collins, the number of state-mandated tests for Knox County Schools’ youngest students has grown to include a kindergarten report card and various web-based data systems meant to help flag at-risk kids as soon as possible. Although Hilts Collins told the media outlet that she understands the intention behind the increased testing, she contended that the impact associated with the increase needs attention as well.

Hilts Collins is far from the only educator to raise such concerns. Of note, kindergarten teacher Kimberley Asselin described her students' tears and frustration over the nearly “overwhelming” pressure of standardized testing in a 2015 Washington Post article. Building upon Asselin’s experience in the classroom, Washington Post opinion writer Valerie Strauss noted that the steep rise in testing for kindergarten students seems to go against the advice of child development experts, and a majority of educators and assessment specialists believe “many of the testing instruments used for kindergartners are badly designed and not reflective of what kids can do.” Moreover, Strauss pointed out, there is no agreement on how to construct such tests, nor on how to apply the data collected.

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This raises an important question: Is there a better way to assess students and provide teachers with valuable insights while minimizing classroom disruption?

Assessment Without Testing® could be the solution

One possibility lies in models such as Lexia's Assessment Without Testing®. 

This embedded assessment tool developed by Lexia Learning researchers essentially functions as a behind-the-scenes teacher’s helper—and while it is not solely intended for kindergarten classrooms, it could certainly be applied to a kindergarten setting. Here’s a quick look at how Assessment Without Testing® works:

 

  • Through their myLexia accounts, educators can access data reports in a range of ways, including on their phones and tablets.

  • The data centers on students’ individual needs, thereby creating a guide for teachers to tailor instruction accordingly.

  • Students are engaged in online work from which the program gathers information on behalf of teachers. This alleviates the need for teachers to assess each student directly.

  • Information on student progress is communicated through individualized action plans based on specific skills.  

  • Assessment Without Testing® can also help teachers group students by category of need. Students with the highest need for instructional support in specific areas are grouped together, allowing teachers to adjust their time and lesson plans accordingly.

Other approaches to assessing without testing

Looking beyond Lexia's specific test-free assessment framework, TeachThought—an organization dedicated to innovation in education—offered a seven-item guide to assessing without testing. Building upon an intuition-driven set of suggested assessments that go beyond standardization, TeachThought spotlighted teacher observation, the value of inquiry (both teacher- and student-led), and the use of project-based work that allows students to demonstrate what they learned. Some of the strategies pointed to by TeachThought may be particularly useful for students who might otherwise struggle in school; for instance, using Show and Tell to get kids talking gives teachers a chance to assess their speaking and listening skills.

While Assessment Without Testing® is the more data-driven of the two approaches, both underscore the idea that any information gathered should be of use to students and instructors alike. After all, collecting an abundance of extraneous or unnecessary data can cause stress for students and compound time crunches for teachers. 

Lexia Learning’s Assessment Without Testing® emphasizes current data and skills to provide a way for teachers to more accurately map out where students need to go over the course of the school year. Armed with this tool, assessment can become more personalized and less labor-intensive for teachers, thereby freeing up more time to connect with students through authentic and developmentally appropriate teaching,

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Featured White Paper:

Assessment Competency:
How to Obtain the Right Information to Improve Data­‐Driven Instruction

When assessments are properly administered and integrated into instruction, the resulting data can provide valuable information. To be effective, though, teachers and administrators must first understand the purpose of these assessments since they each yield different kinds of data. Read the white paper by Lexia’s Chief Learning Officer, Dr. Liz Brooke, to learn about the types of assessments and how to create a purpose-driven assessment plan.

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