Interim assessments are a powerful tool, helping teachers and administrators better understand, track, and evaluate student writing performance and growth over the course of the school year. If you’re considering implementing interim assessments or writing benchmarks at your school, the key to success is upfront planning.
But before we dive into what to do (and what not to do!), let’s start with some basics.
What are Interim Assessments?
There are many different ways to define what constitutes an interim assessment, but The Glossary of Education Reform provides a concise and effective definition: “An interim assessment is a form of assessment that educators use to (1) evaluate where students are in their learning progress and (2) determine whether they are on track to performing well on future assessments, such as standardized tests or end-of-course exams.”
While some argue that there is a subtle difference between interim assessments and benchmark assessments, we’ll be using these terms interchangeably in this blog post. You’ll find that they are often called different things at different schools and districts but they serve the same purpose.
For our purposes in this guide, when we talk about interim or benchmark assessments, we’re talking about the more formal, on-demand writing assessments that schools administer at set points throughout the year (generally once a quarter).
Benefits of Interim Assessments
Interim assessments deliver important information to teachers on student progress and growth.
These data snap shots help teachers understand where students are in that moment of time, including areas of strength (what a student is doing well) and areas for growth (where they may need extra support or help). They also allow teachers to see a student’s trajectory (where each child stands in relation to grade-level learning goals, skills, and standards and how quickly he or she is progressing towards those targets).
This information can be equally valuable for other key stakeholders - school leaders, instructional coaches, parents, and of course, students.
NWEA, a leading K-12 assessment provider, outlines a number of key benefits of interim assessments:
To measure student achievement - where students are starting and growth over time
To identify patterns and trends in learning for particular students or groups of students
To target additional resources for students and teachers – examples of this include placement into intervention or talented-gifted programs for students, and professional development opportunities for teachers
For principals and district administrators, the data are useful for determining flexible groupings, tracking progress toward critical milestones – for example, are our third graders on track to be fluent readers by the end of the year?; evaluating program impact and predicting outcomes for state accountability tests
For parents, interim data can help them understand how their child is progressing, what areas he or she needs extra help in – and where he or she is doing well
We also believe that interim assessment data is important for students, our most important stakeholder! Providing students with quantitative data and qualitative feedback on their performance helps to foster self-reflection and goal-setting. It’s a critical component for engaging students as owners and directors of their own learning.
Planning Tips for Interim Assessments
Now that you understand what interim assessments are and why they matter, it’s time to start planning. Having worked with hundreds of schools and tens of thousands of students over the past four skills years, we are excited to share our knowledge and expertise.
Map out your assessment calendar. We recommend planning three to four assessments throughout the year. Why? Fewer than three and you won’t be able to sufficiently measure progress over time; more than four, and you run the risk of over-testing. Typically, a writing benchmark will be one essay-style assessment equal to roughly 40 minutes of writing (plus an extra 15 minutes of reading if the prompt is text-dependent). You can also expand the assessment to include a few short response items if you want to see multiple writing samples from your students. Map out an assessment calendar that works best for your school’s calendar and writing goals.
Decide if the assessment should be typed or handwritten. One big factor to consider is the format of your state or district’s end of course exam. Whenever possible, try to simulate the real testing environment during formative assessments so students can gain confidence and valuable practice. It’s also important to consider what resources you will need to have in place to support each type of assessment whether it be pencil and paper or computer testing. You’ll want to work out the operational details well in advance so that your students’ primary focus on testing day can be their writing.
Choose an appropriate prompt and rubric for each grade level. A writing benchmark is often an argumentative writing piece or literary analysis where students are asked to read and respond to a short story, passage or poem. Be sure to choose or design a rubric that is appropriate for both the prompt and grade-level so scoring is consistent and you can track year over year student progress. You may also want to think about aligning the prompt and rubric to states or end of course exams, as appropriate. A few tips:
We recommend no more than 4 to 5 rubric components. Anything beyond this can become overly complex for teachers to score and for students to understand and use. You can read more about this in our Ultimate Guide to Rubrics or check out some of the standards-aligned rubrics we offer for free online at RubricCreator.com.
Norming and calibration are super important. Your instructional leadership team will want to spend time coming to a consensus on what, for example, a 4, 3, 2, and 1 response looks like for each rubric component at each grade level and provide exemplars or anchor papers so that scoring is consistent across teachers and grades. Here are a few tips for successful norming:
Schedule a set meeting time and place.
Distribute and review the prompt, rubric, and student work samples.
Individually score sample student work using the rubric.
Present scores individually and identify common discrepancies as a group.
Discuss the grey areas that led to discrepancies in scoring.
As a group, come to a consensus on how to apply the rubric to student work to ensure consistency.If available, compare your scoring to an expert’s scoring to calibrate.
You can read more about norming and calibrating here.
How to use Results from Interim Assessments
This is the most important part! Teachers need time to score the assessments, and more importantly, time to collaboratively discuss and analyze the data, pulling out trends and insights and using their learnings to inform go-forward lesson planning and instruction and targeted student extensions and revisions. Instructional coaches and school leaders play an important part in the data analysis and feedback loop, too. Here are a few best practices:
Schedule ample collaborative time for teachers to review the data, such as a professional development day or “data day”.
Engage key instructional leaders (ex: grade level leads, department chairs, instructional coaches, and assistant principals) to support and guide teachers in the data analysis process.
Set up a framework so that teachers are able to record and share their insights and observations within their department or grade level teams.
Set goals! Use the data to outline key growth targets between now and the next interim assessment, as well as the strategies and support needed to achieve them.
Curious to learn more? Read on to learn how ReGeneration Schools implements a full-day PD after each round of interim assessments.
Looking for a helping hand?
While incredibly valuable, interim assessments can be operationally difficult to execute and prohibitively time-consuming to evaluate.
Often, teachers do not have the time or capacity to norm, calibrate, and score these assessments on their own. Or worse, teachers spend days scoring assessments and there is no time for the analysis and action planning that drives student achievement, rendering the scores meaningless.
Plus, when students learn there is no consequence to their performance (aka they never see a score or receive feedback), performance suffers and the importance of the assessment is diminished.
What The Graide Network can offer:
Complete, accurate, and fast scores. Our typical turnaround time is 3 to 5 days. All of our Graiders go through extensive training plus assessment-specific norming and calibration processes so you receive reliable, objective data in a timely fashion.
Specific, personalized feedback. The added bonus of working with The Graide Network is that you’ll receive not just scores, but specific, actionable feedback. This qualitative data provides important context to explain quantitative scores. Holistic feedback on your class as a whole plus individual feedback for every student lets you clearly see where students are excelling and where they need more support.
Rich data reports for teachers and administrators. We provide detailed data reports at the student, class, teacher, and grade level, helping to identify key student performance trends and insights and making it easy to track student growth over time.
Happy teachers! Scoring interim assessments is time-intensive and challenging. We take this burden off teachers so they can shift their time and energy to the most important tasks of data analysis, collaboration, and action-planning.
Ongoing support and expertise. Over the past 5 years, we have had the blessing of partnering with hundreds of schools across the county to help develop, improve, and achieve their writing goals. We love being able to share our writing expertise and assessment know-how with new school partners.