When we go to the doctor, we sometimes go for a regular check-up to make sure our bodies are functioning properly, and sometimes we go to receive help for something that isn’t functioning properly or for something that is painful. We would be surprised if the doctor provided us with prescriptions or other recommendations without first assessing our conditions. Some of those assessments frequently include measuring our weight, body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate. Additionally, the doctor will examine body parts and ask us a series of questions regarding our general health or questions that are specific to a particular condition. Similarly, to understand the condition of a student, a classroom, a school, or a district, we would expect to gather information and conduct measurements that indicate progress or reflect potential needs in different areas. By conducting assessments, we can celebrate successes and identify areas that require attention for improvement or redirection.
Ongoing assessment is a necessary component of both data-driven analysis and data-based decision making. Assessments are used to identify schools, grade levels, and individual students at-risk for poor academic and non-academic outcomes. As part of the implementation of RTI2-A + RTI2-B framework, districts and schools are each expected to complete a self-assessment to evaluate progress and develop plans for improvement. District leadership teams are expected to complete the District Capacity Assessment – Tennessee (DCAT), and school leadership teams are expected to complete the School Implementation Fidelity Assessment (SIFA). Both self-assessments review items related to the essential components of RTI2-A + RTI2-B, Leadership, Data-based Decision Making, Instruction and Intervention, and Assessment.
Ongoing assessment of student learning and behavior provides continuous, vital feedback on the effectiveness of instruction and informs important changes to teachers’ instructional strategies. Ongoing assessment is the collection of data from multiple sources for use during data-based decision making. It can help track and compare individual and/or group performance and help support instruction through flexible access points. Within schools, school leaders and teachers conduct assessments to identify potential risk factors, confirm and identify specific areas of needed instruction or intervention, monitor progress, and check the fidelity of instruction and intervention implementation.
Schools should follow an assessment plan that outlines assessment dates, procedures, and responsibilities for the tools used. At every level (e.g., district, school, student), teams will use assessment data within a data-based decision making process to define, analyze, implement, and evaluate. Assessment tools help to target the identification of school-wide needs and filter down into specific identification of students’ needs.
Assessments can be conducted to identify academic and behavioral needs. The assessments that should be used in tiered systems frameworks include universal screeners, diagnostic assessments, progress monitoring tools, and implementation fidelity tools. Universal Screening is the process of identifying and verifying risk for academic and behavioral difficulties. Diagnostic Assessments are used to identify skill-specific strengths, deficits, and environmental factors that may influence student performance. Progress Monitoring is used to quantify student rate of improvement or responsiveness and evaluate the effectiveness of instruction or intervention. Fidelity Tools measure the extent to which the instruction, intervention, or a plan is implemented as intended.
Just as assessments in the doctor’s office are intended to identify strengths and weaknesses and create a plan for correcting any areas of weakness to improve the quality of life for the patient, in similar fashion, the appropriate use of the various educational assessment tools can do the same for students, educators, and the school or district systems. The trainings and ongoing coaching provided by the Tennessee Tiered Supports Center can provide the necessary guidance to districts and schools in the use of the various assessments and the decision-making process that supports the use of these tools.