A key feature of EdReports reviews of instructional materials is robust information about assessments embedded in the curriculum. These types of assessments are important, and a 2021 study released by RAND reported that the majority of school leaders interviewed found “that incorporating assessment tools into an instructional material helps meet teachers’ needs” by, for example, “in collecting student data, measuring student progress and achievement, identifying students’ areas of need, and driving future instruction.”
Too often though, these assessments are overlooked as a resource to help gauge student progress aligned to what they’re learning. As schools reopen after a year of interruptions and closures, they could be an invaluable tool to help teachers utilize their core curriculum to scaffold or accelerate learning to ensure students are able to consistently access grade-level content.
Our review tools consider the inclusion of aligned assessments as essential for any quality curriculum. With districts set to receive unprecedented amounts of federal funds over the next few years, schools may be considering investing in new curriculum or purchasing additional assessments. Before any decisions are made, it’s important for educators to first explore what may already be included in their existing instructional materials.
Local priorities and needs must be weighed as individual districts make curriculum decisions. However, there are universal features that signal a quality curriculum-embedded assessment. These components are reflected across our review tools, and particularly in our usability section (gateway 3). Our educator reviewers look for qualities that include, but are not limited to:
Quality assessments should measure the progress of students in relation to grade-level standards. By reviewing assessments within materials, we are able to see which standards are being addressed—essentially, whether or not what’s being taught aligns to those standards and whether the content is actually on grade level. One of the ways in which we are able to tell if a curriculum has off grade-level work is to examine what students are actually evaluated on. First and foremost, assessments should reflect what we actually want students to learn.
Quality assessments are valuable because of the kind of information provided to teachers and how this data shapes a teacher’s approach to instruction. Where are students struggling? What should be emphasized and how? The best assessments support teachers with suggestions of what to do with the results they have gathered including strategies that connect directly to the standards-aligned content in specific lessons and units.
Assessing students is not an event but rather a process that should happen over time, at regular intervals, in order to inform instructional decisions. That’s why assessments woven into the curriculum can be such a vital tool for teachers. These allow for regular and consistent monitoring of student learning and progress rather than a single stagnant statement on where a student’s learning is in the middle of or at the end of a school year.
We know that each student comes to a classroom with different experiences, different needs, and potentially different gaps in learning. Quality assessments support accommodations for individual students in both how the assessment is conducted (e.g. does a particular student need extended time?) and how to provide the support students need depending on the results of the assessment.
If you’re unsure about whether or not your materials include embedded assessments, we recommend first locating the title of your program on EdReports.org. We’ve reviewed more than 90 percent of the K-12 core curriculum market for math and English language arts. This is a great place to learn if your current materials, or the materials you’re adopting, may offer what you’re looking for.
If your materials have not been reviewed by EdReports, you can still apply the assessment criteria found in our review tools to your current curriculum. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the purpose of assessments should be to support students toward college and career-readiness. If your instructional materials are not standards-aligned, it may not matter that they come with an embedded assessment.
The components that identify the quality of embedded assessments are reflected across our review tools, and particularly in our usability section (gateway 3). In gateways 1 and 2, where we review for alignment to the standards, assessments are analyzed in several indicators and may be used as evidence throughout the review.
As we continue to deepen our presence in instructional materials, EdReports is also examining other levers that affect student learning. We see a future in which high-quality curriculum and assessments work hand-in-hand, supporting teachers to better track student learning and progress. With almost all schools returning to in-person learning exclusively this fall, we must continue our work of empowering educators with the resources they need to ensure all students thrive in school and beyond.