Previous Grade Content
States must decide what grade-level test to give to each student. One option is to give students the end-of-year test from their previous grade (e.g., fourth-graders are given the end-of-year third-grade test). This would allow teachers, schools and parents to understand where students stand on previous-grade content and identify content areas where students are struggling (via sub-scores).
The interpretation of scores generated by fall testing will be quite different than it would have been if administered in the spring. For example, when third-grade math is assessed in the spring, the scores capture students’ knowledge of third-grade math and, therefore, whether they are prepared for fourth-grade math. If these tests are given in the fall, however, then what is being assessed is the distance learning from the spring and any additional learning students gained from summer activities, or the learning gaps that occur from loss of instruction during the spring and summer. Under the current circumstances, the assessments are likely to measure some of each, depending on students’ experiences.
If the fall assessment shows that students are not prepared for the next grade’s curriculum, schools could hold students back a grade or provide changes to the school’s overall curricular scope and sequence. It’s unknown if testing vendors would have the fall data available quickly enough to make those critical decisions and adjustments in time, however. It’s also unlikely there would be a strong appetite for holding back students a grade as learning loss and thus preparedness for the next grade will vary based on things outside of the students’ control, such as quality of distance learning, online access and parent engagement. (For a deeper look into the implications on student promotions, see the third blog in this series to be posted on Friday.) A more likely scenario is that teachers will be expected to help students who experience large learning loss “catch up.”
For example, if students are performing low on specific third-grade content, fourth-grade teachers could revisit the third-grade curriculum to fill in those gaps before moving on to on-grade material. Or, teachers could determine which topic areas from third grade are critical for learning fourth-grade content and concentrate on shoring up only those gaps.
Given the likely learning loss from decreased in-person instruction this spring and summer, fall assessments cannot effectively evaluate students’ end-of-year knowledge of previous grade’s content. If they are administered in this manner, expect to see less growth, no-growth or a decline in student scores compared to what would have been expected without the instructional interruption. Using these scores as if they represent spring scores would be a misrepresentation of state education trends.