Definition/Types of Assessment
In order to fine tune instruction for the mainstream of students and for discrete populations of students, schools have relied on a variety of approaches to assessment. From full scale state required assessments to smaller group given assessments to the individually given tests, probes and surveys, schools are dependent on the information gained in order to plan quality instruction. In the framework of RTI, all forms of student assessment have value in making educational decisions.
Traditionally, tests have been used in education to inform instruction, measure progress on the skills tested, and establish a student’s eligibility for special education. Tests were used specifically for national accountability of schools and their subpopulations under NCLB in 2000 and measured a student’s ability to read, write, calculate, and problem solve in each main content area of reading, math, writing, social studies and science. Although test scores could be reported for individual students, entire classes or campuses, districts and/or subpopulations of students, assessments also claim to measure how well the curricula is being taught at each campus. These assessments take considerable time to administer, at considerable cost to the states; however, the advantage is that these assessments hold states, school districts, local school campuses accountable for effectively teaching the state curricula to all students.
Universal Screening Assessments
One of the first steps in the RTI approach is to give universal screening assessments to all students, generally three times a year. Screening assessments usually take one to seven minutes, depending on the area they are measuring. These tests provide simple probes designed to measure the student’s individual abilities in reading, writing/spelling, calculations, and problem solving. These assessments are very quick to administer and can determine if the student is performing at grade level (Kaminski & Good, 1996).
Those students whose scores fall significantly below grade level will trigger a need for a more targeted intervention in the area where they have scored low. Screening tools are the same as progress monitoring tools (also referred to as curriculum based measurement, classroom based measurement, or simply, timed probes). This type of assessment has been well researched (Howell & Nolet, 2000; Kaminski & Good, 1996). Research indicates the probes are very reliable in their ability to predict which students will or will not succeed on outcomes assessments.
In order to use the scores of Curriculum Based Measurement (CBM) in a strategic fashion, it was necessary to know how those scores would normatively plot out across grade levels. Several universities have spent the last 25 years researching normative acquisition of the skills of learning to form an idea of what should be expected for students at each grade level (Deno, 1985; Fuchs & Fuchs, 2006). These norms now allow us to tell which students can read, write or calculate at grade level commensurate to their peers. The screening process allows schools to find students who are below grade level in a skill area and then use the norms to determine the students’ standings in the percentile ranks. It is the first time in America that we have the ability to look beyond a student’s failure in the outcomes test in order to determine WHY the student has failed. Generally it is because they are unable to read or calculate well enough to pass their general curriculum requirements.
Diagnostic assessments fall into two categories: standardized and informal. A combination of both types is often used to determine a student’s eligibility for specialized programming such as special education or English as a Second Language programs. In the formal or standardized assessments, a student is given a battery of tests which have several sub-tests that measure a variety of skills and abilities. These tests must only be given by qualified staff and will reflect scores that are based on norms researched to be specific to the test given. Once stored, these tests provide a profile of abilities and skills. This type of assessment generally takes a significant amount of time to give. Interpretation of the profile must be delegated to specific staff members who are highly skilled in deriving conclusions from testing data. Educational decisions are then made for eligibility to specialized instruction such as special education or English as a Second Language programs (Fletcher, Coulter, Reschly & Vaughn, 2004).
Informal types of assessment can also review a student’s sub-skills. These assessments can be as common as spelling tests, decoding surveys, or math calculation tests. They are very inexpensive, easy to give, and can be administered by a certified teacher with very little training. The results of these assessments will break down a student’s skill deficit area into its component parts on a hierarchy in order to plan instruction. The norms associated with the screening tests and probes can be used alongside the informal diagnostic tests and surveys to generate a profile of abilities and skills. Interpretation of these profiles is very easy and clear as to what the student needs for instruction in deficit areas. Educational decisions using this type of assessment places students into appropriate instructional groups to remediate skill area deficits that will affect progress in state required curricula. The advantage of using these types of diagnostic tests is that a student is able to get the appropriate instruction from Tier 2 interventions that are available in the general curriculum without the need to be “placed” into special education (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2006; Fuchs & Deshler, 2007).
Using informal diagnostic assessment along with progress monitoring probes will produce a profile of student instructional needs in tandem with the student’s response to the needed instruction. This system of assessment is vital to the success of RTI. The result of this data forms instructional groups (Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3 or Tier 4) and monitors the effectiveness of the intervention given along with the trajectory of student growth.