Sometime soon, you’ll be asked to administer a benchmark assessment to your students. (MAJOR EYE ROLLS! (For real- The acronym BA is far too close to BM!) What exactly is a benchmark assessment for? All through your teacher preparation in college, you heard the terms formative assessment and summative assessment. Both of those are vital parts of teaching students. But what they didn’t talk about as much was interim assessment.
A benchmark, or even a campus common assessment, falls under the category of interim assessment. Interim assessment is just that important time between formative assessment and summative assessment. Just as it sounds, interim assessment pauses between formative and summative assessment to gather a quick snapshot of how things are going at that exact moment. A benchmark, my friends, is NOT summative assessment! So don’t freak out!
PURPOSE OF BENCHMARKS
Purpose of Benchmark Assessments
Benchmark assessments always seems to come at the worst time! Can I hear an AMEN? Because you aren’t always aware of what they are designed to assess, they can feel like a complete waste. The larger the district, the more it feels this way! Benchmark assessments can also make you feel bad about yourself as a teacher. (I’m raising my hand for this!) Most districts will have charts and graphs displaying school and teacher results and how they all compare against each other. It’s no wonder that a lot of teachers hate when it’s time to give a benchmark assessment!
But benchmark assessments really do have a purpose! They’re designed as a stopping point for teachers to look at what they’ve been doing , gauge their success, and map out the future plans for their instruction. Administered correctly, a benchmark assessment or a campus common assessment should be more formative then summative.
You may not get a choice of how and when you want to give these tests, but chances are, you do get some control over what you do with your students after the test has been taken.
Benchmark Assessment Data Tracking
Whatcha gonna do with all that benchmark data? The worst thing you could do is administer the test and not learn anything from the results! The district and campus will be gathering their own data, but you BETTER be gathering data for yourself too! It isn’t always a matter of correct and incorrect questions. The data can tell you where your students’ instructional needs are. For example, in math, students may master the algorithms of multiplication and division, but get lost in deciphering the story problem. In this blog post, I’m going to share with you some strategies to help both YOU and YOUR students get the most out of your benchmark assessment results.
VISUAL DATA WALK
A visual Data Walk will show you trends. It will show you the questions students missed plus the questions that students think are the most difficult to answer. This knowledge is powerful stuff in shaping your upcoming lessons to help students master the content.
The Visual Data Walk starts as students begin taking the test. As you are passing out the test to the students, also hand them 5 sticky notes. Explain to the students that as they are taking their test, you want them to think about the difficulty of each question. Tell them that after the test is over, you would like for them to write each of their 5 hardest questions on a sticky notes. On each note will be the question number and the reason why it was so difficult. Students do not have to put their names on their reflections.
Create Your Question Posters
After you have collected all of the students’ tests, write each question number and the corresponding skill on one single piece of paper. Use 11×14 sheets to make an even larger “poster.” Or you can edit/print the pages that are included with the free resources in this post. Then you will post each page around the room or down a hallway leaving some space between each one so that students have room to move around. If you want an even better visual, group the posters by skill! If you have 5 questions that are assessing multiplication representations, place those five posters near each other. This helps visually see patterns by skill! You can even cut and paste the actual question from the test onto the poster. When everyone is finished with the test, have the students place their sticky notes on the correct posters you hung around the room.
After the test has been graded:
When is the test has been graded, have students place a sticker on every poster that corresponds with the questions they missed. This helps the students know that they are often not alone when it comes to solving difficult questions. I use inexpensive dot stickers. You can grab thousands of them for just a few bucks on Amazon.
This entire strategy is anonymous. No students should feel shame over their success with the benchmark. If you are afraid that a student is embarrassed by placing their stickers on the posters, just do it for them.
Once all the stickers and sticky notes have been placed around the room, you can easily see which questions were the most difficult for the students, which were the most missed, and which may have seemed easier than they actually were. Use these results to help adjust your teaching for the needs of your students. Be creative in looking for other data too! For example, you can use a different color sticky note to poll the students about a different test attribute.
The Visual Data Walk strategy gives great data about the test. But it’s also important that students are able to see what they missed and correct any misconception or any gap that caused them to get the question on the benchmark assessment wrong. This is where individualized review comes in.
When I first started teaching, after we would take a test, I would have all of the students come to the carpet. We would start at the beginning and go through every question. I didn’t want anyone who missed a question to not learn from their mistakes! It didn’t take long before I realized that it only took a few questions before the students became disengaged with the whole thing. When I started doing individualized review, the students began getting better results out of the activity.
How to Individualize Test Review
There are a couple of different options for individualizing review. The first would be for you to work out and solve the problem on a piece of scratch paper. Then you could take a picture and your work that you could share with the students. This is a relatively quick way to individualize your benchmark results.
But if you want students to get the most out of their review time, you can record yourself solving the problem with a program like screencastify or even with your iPhone and some scratch paper. You simply solve 1 problem at a time and save it as its own video. (SEE VIDEO BELOW!) You’ll find that as you’re creating your video, it’ll feel a lot like it does when you are going over questions with your whole group. But now, only the students that need to hear your lesson have to sit through it.
Once you have each of your questions on a separate picture or being taught in a separate video, you can use the magic of Google to make it easily accessible for all of your students. Couple these videos with a reflective piece, and your students are good-to-go!
LEARNING FROM MISTAKES
Learning From Mistakes
The purpose of having students review the questions they missed on their benchmark assessments is to ultimately give them an opportunity to learn from their mistakes. As students are working through their individualized review, I require them to complete a reflection piece. It’s a simple form that prompts them to reflect on the reasons they missed the problem and gives them an opportunity to show what they have learned through your subsequent instruction. If you want to go a step further, you can track down another question or two that students can answer that assess the same skill in a little different way. This helps you see if students still need additional instruction.
Grading Benchmark Assessments
To Grade or not to grade. Many teachers ask whether they should assign a grade to their students based on their benchmark assessment or their campus common assessment. Ultimately, it’s up to you and the policy your district may have. If you think about it, a benchmark assessment is an assessment that falls somewhere between formative and summative . If you count it as a daily grade, it holds the same value as many other daily activities that you would do. You do want to be careful when assigning it as a major grade. That’s because it’s usually the district that has created the assessment. They’re creating it based on the scope and sequence that they developed before the school year started . You know your class best. Maybe you needed to slow down in certain parts of the school year. Maybe you haven’t even taught some of the material that is on the benchmark. If you are required to count the assessment as a major grade, think about making adjustments to account for the review and new learning that has taken place through the individualized review.
MAKING THE MOST OF IT!
Making the Most from District Benchmark Assessments
When it comes time to take a district assessment, don’t stress out too much about it! Remember that its purpose is to give data about the academic strengths and weaknesses that are present in a single snapshot of time. Perhaps you have some weaknesses that are revealed through the data. That’s OK! Just use the information that you’ve gathered to elevate the students from where they were to where they’ll ultimately be at the end of the school year. That’s when the real summative assessment takes place.
Make sure you grab the free resources to help you prepare for the next benchmark assessment you take and the data that you gain from it!