How to Assess Student Performance


The LinkIt! Team

Read time:

12 minutes

At LinkIt! we are passionate about student success. For more than a decade, we designed technical solutions to accelerate student performance. Central to our work has been a steadfast belief that providing timely access to relevant and specific student performance data could unlock untapped potential for learning. After all, such data helps educators measure both student progress and their own instructional efficacy, two crucial areas to be supported in order to ensure student success across the board. Of course, there are multiple ways to assess student performance and no one-size-fits-all model for best practices. In general, though, student performance assessments have one common goal: to help students learn and achieve their full academic potential and, ultimately, maximize opportunities for post-graduation career success.

In order to properly assess student performance, it’s important to understand the different assessment methods available, choose the right one for each situation and create a balanced assessment plan that is well-integrated with instruction. The purpose of this guide is to provide a helpful overview of the various assessment methods as well as guidance regarding relevant considerations as you construct (or modify) your assessment implementation plan.

Creating a Balanced Assessment Plan

Having a balanced assessment plan is key to making it an enjoyable and successful process for all stakeholders. In order to create a balanced assessment plan, it is important that we take into account all the different ways in which students learn and perform. By using data from a variety of assessments, including state-sponsored or national normed summative assessments as well as teacher-scored classroom assessments, we can get a more complete picture of what our students know and are able to do. This not only benefits our students but also helps us identify any areas in which they may need additional support.

It’s been our experience that applying both traditional assessment tools along with performance tasks is a really great way to find a balanced assessment plan. Giving students a good mixture of the different forms of assessment is imperative in helping to prevent assessment fatigue and enabling students with different learning styles and abilities with a range of opportunities to experience success.

While the experience of taking an assessment benefits students from the standpoint of generalized exposure and test-taking stamina, the primary benefit is really the data generated by these assessments. Such data provides robust opportunities for assessment reflection, item analysis, student-level goal-setting and offers a path to meaningful and specific student/parent communication. For example, the LinkIt! platform allows teachers to facilitate classroom-level formative assessments - including check-ins, check-outs, unit tests and progress monitoring, along with district-level assessments - including midterms, finals, quarterlies and curriculum-based interim assessments. All of these generate meaningful data that is well integrated with instructional pacing guides and may be consistent with the types of assessment processes that most teachers were implementing manually using hand-scoring prior to the advent of systems like LinkIt!. In short, implementing a balanced assessment plan may largely be a matter of using best practices, including but not limited to mitigating assessment fatigue by ensuring assessments are well-integrated into instructional practices, using fewer high-quality assessments and doing more with the data that results from those assessments.

Types of Assessments

K–12 assessments come in a wide variety of different types, each designed to address different use cases. There is no single “best” type of assessment any more than there is a single “best” tool for building a house, but it is important to understand some of the basic types of assessments and their intended purposes when designing your approach to implementing a balanced plan. In many cases, school and district administrators will either make recommendations or mandate the use of particular assessments on a school- or district-wide basis. In other cases, particularly with less formal assessments, it may be left to teachers to decide which assessment types and specific resources they will implement in their respective classrooms. While this post is not intended to be an exhaustive review of assessment types, some of the most relevant categories are included in the list below for easy reference. 

  • Formative Assessments – highly integrated with instructional processes, these low-stakes assessments are often informal and intended to be an ongoing check of conceptual understanding that enables teachers to quickly modify their instruction. Such assessments are often ungraded and are generally applicable to all curriculum areas as a best practice for instructional improvement (See our blog post ‘Why Formative Assessment is Important’)

  • Adaptive Benchmark Assessments – this category of assessment is typically administered in core subject areas, such as ELA and Math, and administered several times per year. Most often, these assessments are developed by commercial providers and are designed to assess student proficiency relative to certain “benchmarks” of achievement that relate to mastery of the curriculum for any given academic year. Adaptive Benchmarks are online or computer-based and present questions to students based upon their answer choices to previous questions. That is, the assessment “adapts” based upon student proficiency, presenting questions of increasing difficulty until students begin to struggle with the content. Such assessments are often used to predict where students may be likely to score on higher stakes summative assessments that may be mandated at a State level.

  • Linear Benchmark Assessments – Linear benchmark assessments (also called “fixed form”) are typically administered several three times per year, either online or on paper. Unlike adaptive assessments, with the linear approach, all students in the same grade level typically are presented with the same questions. Though linear assessments lack the ability to directly estimate a student’s instructional level, they offer the advantage of being able to provide granular data at the item response level that is comparable across students. Most often, these assessments are designed to reflect the endpoint of the curriculum for any given school year such that most students show significant gains in score from one assessment cycle to the next (i.e. Fall, Winter and Spring assessments). The LinkIt! Benchmark assessment series is an example of this type.
  • Interim/Common Assessments – This style of assessment has characteristics in common with benchmarks. However, typically, these assessments are shorter, summative assessments that cover a set period of time on a school or district’s instructional calendar (e.g. 9 weeks of study). As such, the content of these assessments is tied to instructional pacing guides for a given period and does not reflect the endpoint of the entire year’s learning objectives/standards. For that reason, students' scores do not typically show “growth” from one assessment cycle to the next as each cycle is limited to the content covered within the unit of time covered by the assessment. In many cases, such assessments are developed by teams of educators within the district.
  • Quizzes/Unit Tests/Chapter Tests – These assessments are generally “low-stakes” and may be associated with particular instructional programs. They may contain a variety of item types, such as multiple choice and constructed responses related to content that has been explicitly covered in-class assignments.
  • Diagnostic & Universal Screening – This category of assessments is generally used to identify students that may be significantly behind their peers and/or students that may have special instructional and academic support needs. In many cases, such assessments are able to identify specific learning issues or gaps that may be addressed through intervention processes.
  • Summative Assessments – a broad category of assessments that is primarily associated with the evaluation of discrete “endpoints” of student learning, such as the closing of an academic year. These assessments are typically norm-referenced assessments designed by 3rd party publishers and/or large research organizations and they typically play a role in accountability processes for districts, schools, and even individual teachers. Results from such assessments typically are not available immediately to practitioners and often, only summary data is available regarding overall scores and major curriculum strands. Accordingly, results from such assessments are generally perceived to be less useful from an instructional standpoint than other forms of assessment.
  • Performance Tasks – Most other types of assessment listed above involve asking students questions with “traditional” item types and formats, such as multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, extended response and so on. Performance tasks are a separate, but diverse category of assessments that evaluate student mastery in a more real-world context. This could potentially include undertaking a research project, giving a persuasive speech, writing a short story or essay or even performing in a play or musical recital. Often, such assessments are graded with a rubric and given the utility of such assessments in the classroom setting, they are discussed in more detail below.

Tips for Successful Assessment of Student Performance

One of the best ways to ensure that your students are getting the most out of their education is to perform regular assessments of their progress. This will help you identify any areas where they may be struggling and need additional support, as well as allow you to celebrate their successes. By using a variety of assessment methods, you can get a complete picture of each student’s strengths and areas in  need of improvement. Here are some other things to consider as you plan or refine your approach:

Start Assessments Early-On

We know that a lot can happen between ages 5 - 8. This is when children start to develop reading skills, such as phonological awareness and where they become proficient comprehenders of what’s being communicated in writing assignments. Vocabulary development leads toward greater word fluency and structural knowledge of how language works.

Many students who are not reading on grade level by the end of third grade have much lower odds of catching up, affecting the rest of their years in school in potentially significant ways that continue well into adulthood. Properly assessing student performance early and often during this crucial time is certainly one of the keys to identifying potential challenges before they become significant or overwhelming.

Implementing assessment tools like those found within the LinkIt! platform has been the guiding light solution for many educators in striking the right balance between assessment and instruction and getting students’ performance right where it needs to be. Ideally, in well-designed processes, assessments and their resulting data directly impact instructional practices, enabling them to be modified to meet the needs of individual learners. All too often, assessment can disrupt the instructional process as opposed to supporting it. Making a firm commitment to utilize your assessment data to modify instructional practice is the first key to accelerating learning outcomes for students.

Developing a Rubric for Grading

A rubric is a scoring tool that explicitly represents the expectations for student work product, typically in the context of performance task assessments. In order to develop a rubric for grading, you first need to determine where your students need to be based on their age and grade level. Create a list of learning objectives that outline what you want your students to be able to do by the end of the school year. Once you have your objectives in place, it will be easier to create specific criteria that align with those goals and establish numerical equivalents to each level of performance. Most often, rubrics are based upon a four or five-point scale, with five points representing the most advanced level of performance. You can use a variety of assessment methods such as essays, research projects, debates, class participation and collaborative work to gather information about how well your students are meeting the objectives set forth in the rubric. Assessment and scoring platforms like LinkIt! offer a variety of tools for building, sharing and storing rubrics, as well as authentic examples of student work, and may be a useful tool to manage performance task evaluation at a large scale.

Use Data and Hold Data Meetings

The benefits of data-driven decision-making are clear, both in the classroom environment and from a large-scale administrative perspective. We urge all educators to embrace data as a way to continuously improve their teaching practice. We believe that traditional classroom assessments can be supplemented with “big” data analysis in order to provide educators with an even more accurate picture of student strengths and weaknesses at the individual and group levels. With this information, teachers can individualize instruction for each student and add efficiency to existing practices such as lesson planning, grouping, differentiation and supporting collaboration in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). 

Teachers who are using LinkIt! are really noticing a difference in their students. Through the data in the reports, they can tell which kids are understanding the lessons and which aren’t. With the information garnered, teachers can and should be holding data meetings with their students. These meetings can act as the opportunity to help students with their goal-setting. Students should be able to see the reports for themselves and help establish expectations for their own progress in specific learning objectives. Then the students can set goals for themselves based on how much they want to commit to achieving by the next benchmark.

This is the route that Jayme Orlando, Principal of Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District took with the teachers at her school. She says, “We started this because we wanted the students to understand where they fell with different standards and skills. We also wanted them to take these assessments seriously and to realize that they do matter.”

Positive Impacts of Assessing Student Performance

Providing an excellent education and years of academic support are the best ways to help a child have a successful future. While it is impossible to predict the future, these students have the best chance of achieving whatever they set their minds to. We should all be grateful for the teachers and mentors who provide a foundation for success by customizing their instruction to meet the needs of individual students.

For most educators, cultivating this essential skill set takes time, dedication and commitment. It also requires the right tools and techniques. There is no doubt that assessment practices that support student learning and growth are one of these critical tools, particularly when supported by a technology platform that enables rapid scoring and ongoing data analysis. The act of assessing helps to identify areas in which students need additional support, allows educators to track the progress, and can even motivate students to be more engaged in their learning. While there are some potential drawbacks to assessment, including the potential loss of time spent on instruction, these generally pale in comparison to the advantages associated with the implementation of thoughtful, consistent assessment processes that make a firm commitment to using the resulting data to advance student learning.


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