Friday, February 18, 2011

How to Create and Use Benchmark Assessments to Improve Student Achievement

The following guest post was submitted by April Davis.
Schooling is as much about learning as it is about testing how much we’ve learned. Benchmark assessments are testing tools that are used throughout the year, as opposed to final examinations, which are taken at the end of each school year. Also, benchmark assessments test much more than academic knowledge – most of them test skills and knowledge in subjects like Reading and Mathematics, and some even test proficiency in oral and written communication skills, analysis and interpretation of logical problems, a basic understanding of how to carry out laboratory tasks, dramatization of certain scenarios, how to create memory maps, and even testing typing and keyboarding skills. In general, benchmark assessments are conducted many times in a year (once every few months or even once a month) to help educational authorities to assess the level of proficiency of a student, and compare their performance on these tests to others of their age group and academic level in the district or the state. The exams and tasks are standardized, as are the methods for grading and marking them.
Benchmark assessments were introduced as a way to help improve student achievement – those who were found to be lagging behind after each test could be given extra coaching or taught additional skills, depending on their performance in the different categories of the test.
Benchmark assessments like the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) are designed to:
  • Follow student progress
  •  Identify strengths and weaknesses
  •  Identify gaps in curriculum and instruction
  • Fine-tune curriculum alignment with state (or district) wide standards
  • Gather information that can be used to improve student performance
  • Identify students who may need additional support services or remediation

So if assessments are to be really helpful in improving students’ proficiency and achievement, the following points must be remembered when creating, administering and drawing conclusions from the exams:
  • The tests cannot take into account all the variables involved in a school setting – according to researchers Sue Henderson, Anthony Petrosino, Sarah Guckenburg, and Stephen Hamilton, all of Learning Innovations at WestEd and authors of a study that led to the publishing of two reports by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES),Measuring How Benchmarks Assessments Affect Student Achievement and “A second follow-up year for Measuring How Benchmark Assessments Affect Student Achievement”, variables such as leadership, student motivation, teacher training, and how schools use the benchmark data meant that a minimum of three to four years of testing was required before any student achievement (or lack of it) can be measured with some degree of accuracy. 
  • The tests must be unambiguous, with each question clearly understandable and relevant to the student’s level of knowledge and learning.

This guest post is contributed by April Davis, she writes on the topic of Accredited Degree Online . She welcomes your questions and comments at

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post. Getting staff at my university to benchmark program objectives and unit learning outcomes and how best to go about assuring ourselves that these have been achieved by the student is one of the key challenges we confront as we attempt to assure our stakeholders of the quality of our awards.