In Defense of Assessment to Support Differentiation

Assessment has come under no small degree of scrutiny and criticism recently. From legal challenges to the No Child Left Behind Law, to articles in esteemed publications, to questions regarding courses of study that “teach to the test,” there is a sense in educational circles that we have gone too far. There even is an undercurrent to abandon all testing altogether. However, assessment can be a powerful tool and need not be the enemy when used in a balanced and appropriate way.

A well-designed formative assessment, not a high stakes summative test, can play a vital role in learning about a child’s academic progress as well as to help differentiate instruction. A formative assessment is a benchmark assessment of skills and concepts a student already has mastered. It targets what a student is ready to learn and provides diagnostic data. This information helps teachers plan future instruction that is tailored to meet the individual needs of a student as well as for the class.

At our school, we have found an engaging, adaptive, computer-based formative (criterion-referenced) assessment for our youngest students, K-grade 2, designed for a 21st century learning environment to assess early literacy and mathematics. For the past four years, we have been using “Children’s Progress Academic Assessment (CPAA)” to help us differentiate learning. The instantly available on-line reports enable us to make effective instructional decisions for students with a wide range of abilities without losing valuable instructional time. Of course, no assessment tool can replace a teacher’s observation of a child’s growth and progress. It is one more piece of information that when used thoughtfully, can help teachers plan, guide and focus instruction for more advanced students as well as those who are experiencing difficulty. To learn more about the special features of this web-based 21st century assessment, check out their website,

This entry was posted in 21st Century Learning, Assessments, Lower School. Bookmark the permalink.

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