One of the most challenging parts of my work as a High School Administrator was coaching my teachers and staff on the importance of making decisions based on assessment data. During my initial one-on-one meetings with my teachers and staff, I would ask them, “What assessment data are you using to drive your decision-making and instruction to meet the needs of your students? Most times, I would get a blank stare, or as my nephew says, I would hear crickets. Other times I would receive a response like this: “I did not need a test to tell me; I just know my students.”
As educators, it is easy to think we just “know” our students, and I was once guilty of doing this with my own students to determine who needs support. However, I have learned that my “knowing” is not enough; instead, we must apply data-based decisions to ensure we effectively support our students beyond mere opinions and gut feelings. We also must be willing to learn about the available assessments and how they guide our work in supporting students.
As a best practice, assessment data should be used at the high school level to guide daily instruction, school initiatives, scheduling, and staffing. In reality, this is often not the case — and students fail because of it. Making data-based decisions based on high school assessments begins with the entire school community understanding what these assessments are and why they are so important.
Universal Screeners are typically given three times per year to students. Beginning of the year, middle of the year, and end of the year to evaluate the efficacy of core instructional programming. Screeners are used to identify students who may be at risk for undesirable learning or social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes as well as students who are not meeting benchmarks and schoolwide expectations.
In high school, many schools use early warning systems to identify students at risk for not meeting desired educational outcomes, credit completion, and college and career readiness.
An early-warning indicator uses research-based indicators, such as attendance or course grades, to identify students at risk. All methods of screening should include the use of cut scores or benchmarks to support risk identification.
Once this data has been collected, educators have a clearer understanding of which students need additional support and in what areas, whether academic, social-emotional, behavioral, or all of the above.
Diagnostic assessments are used to collect data on what students already know about the topic. Diagnostic assessments are typically comprised of multiple-choice or short-answer questions that assess a student’s current knowledge base, feelings, thoughts, or views on a topic/issue to be studied in the course. The goal of the assessment is to get a snapshot of where students currently stand intellectually, emotionally and/or ideologically. This allows educators to make informed decisions on how to best support and teach the student.
Diagnostic Assessments are often given both before and after a lesson or time period of learning. Students are given identical pre- and post-tests in order to display growth, stagnancy, or regression in learning. This method allows teachers and students to see their learning progress by comparing pre- and post-tests results.
Formative assessments provide data about student learning in the midst of instruction and help teachers determine if the instruction is effective and/or when to adjust instruction. Formative Assessments are a variety of observations and evaluations of student comprehension, learning needs, and academic progress during a lesson, unit, or course. Formative assessments help teachers identify concepts that students are struggling to understand, skills they are having difficulty acquiring, or learning standards they have not yet achieved so that adjustments can be made to lessons, instructional techniques, and academic support. They also support the evaluation of equity in instruction for individuals or groups of students.
Formative assessments used within an MTSS may include both formal and informal measures. Formal measures could include homework assignments, in-class work, or group activities. Many teachers are familiar with informal measures of learning that provide immediate feedback about student learning, such as observations of behavior, checks for understanding, checklists, or writing samples. Effective teachers use both formal and informal formative assessment to monitor their students' progress during instruction so that they can reteach or adjust their instruction as needed.
Summative Assessments provide data at the end of student learning and are based on district and state standards and benchmarks. Summative assessments are used to evaluate student learning, skill acquisition, and academic achievement at the conclusion of a defined instructional period, such as at the end of a project, unit, course, semester, program, or school year. Summative assessments are used to determine whether students have learned what they were expected to learn. This type of assessment provides the data that is reported for school report cards and that families and the general public are privy to.
Effective educators use summative assessments to measure the effectiveness of instructional delivery and practices and will make adjustments to improve in the future to best support their students. Summative assessments are also important because the scores can be used to make high-stakes decisions about graduation, grade promotion, and student programming in regard to MTSS. In addition, these formal assessments also provide critical insight into equity gaps within instruction and access to subgroups.
Not all assessments are the same. Understanding the different kinds of assessments and specifically, the data they provide is key to the successful implementation of MTSS at the high school level. Educators can and should use data from a variety of assessments to understand their student's needs, deficits, and strengths, and to make informed decisions and adjustments to their daily instruction. This is true at the campus, classroom, and individual student levels.
Data is only valuable when actions and decisions are being made that align with it. The guided problem-solving cycle uses data from assessments to support students effectively and positively impact their outcomes academically, behaviorally, and social-emotionally.
Not only should this data guide instruction, but it should be used as a way to connect with colleagues and students. Data analysis and problem-solving should serve as the foundational purpose within learning communities. An effective Professional Learning Community structure involves collaboratively planning and making decisions on how current instruction impacts students…according to the data, not just “knowing” our students!
It is also necessary for students and families to understand the importance of these different assessments. Students and families have a right to know about assessments and their impact on each student’s goals, growth, and success. Seeing the data and how progress over time can motivate students, respects their agency, acknowledges their strengths, and treats them as partners in improving and growing. These conversations help build meaningful relationships and allow students to take ownership of their learning and growth.
💡 Related Resource: How To Promote MTSS Data Literacy in Your District
The entire school high school community should have a basic understanding of assessment data and how it can (and should!) be utilized to identify and solve problems within MTSS, ensuring that every student gets the support they need to graduate. Here are some of the ways in which different members of the school staff can use assessment data to drive progress:
Teachers use assessment data to:
Specialists/Interventionists use to data to:
Administrators use assessment data to:
Counselors use assessment data to:
Students use their assessment data to:
Families/Parents use student assessment data to:
Universal screeners and diagnostic, summative, and formative assessments help form a more complete and accurate appraisal of our students’ growth than just impressions (as insightful as we sometimes might be!). This is especially true in high school, where students can fall through the cracks without any individual teacher realizing the scope of the problem. Assessment data can guide the decision-making process to better support the whole child and ensure all students get the help they need.
Assessment data provides a roadmap to support your students. Having a map is much better than trying to get to a destination with no direction or mere intuition. Utilize assessments and the data they provide to help make your work easier and more effective in supporting your high school students through MTSS:
Eventually, you will be successfully navigating all your students to success. Remember, effective educators depend on universal screening along with diagnostic, summative, and formative assessment data to implement the essential components of MTSS.
To make it easier to understand their functionality and the importance of the data that is needed to guide instruction and daily work to support your students, you can go to https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/WWC to find valid and reliable strategies, assessments, and guides.
Check out these resources for using MTSS at the Secondary Level:
MTSS in Secondary Schools: Major Challenges, and How to Overcome Them
|Branching Minds Strengthens MTSS in Secondary Schools|
A strong MTSS at the secondary level develops a positive school culture, strengthens data-driven instruction, achieves equity of student support, and ensures a pathway to graduation and greater success in life.
Branching Minds helps by addressing the specific needs of the secondary educator to:
LaTisha Cole is an expert Educator with 12+ years of experience in various capacities within the educational realm including serving as a teacher, MTSS Coordinator, and Administrator. Her passions within the education system include: making high-quality education and resources accessible to all and removing socio-economic disparities and racial inequities that impact students' and families' educational opportunities and outcomes. She is dedicated to working with educators, parents, students, and community members to ensure every stakeholder has a valuable role in ensuring every child receives an equitable and excellent education experience