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Myth: Benchmark assessments = good classroom diagnostics

by Anne-Evan Williams, LGL Director of Educational Development

Benchmark assessments measure student growth against a series of benchmarks established for a grade level.  These assessments can identify which academic benchmarks are successfully being met by students, but usually CANNOT reveal to the teacher why students are not achieving certain benchmarks.  Benchmark assessments provide accountability at the classroom level, which is then rolled up to the school level.  They are designed to identify curriculum gaps.  But if the curriculum is being covered, they do not tell you why the student may not be meeting the benchmark. Only full diagnostic assessment is able to determine the "why" by breaking benchmarks down into more fundamental skills and analyzing patterns across multiple measures. 

For example, a math student misses the algebraic word problem benchmark.  Why?  Was he or she not able to read the question written in English?  Does he or she suffer from poor math facts skills?  Does the student not understand the basic math that may be necessary to solve the problem?  Or was it a problem-solving skill of not being able to extract the math sequences from the word problem? 

In reading this is even clearer.  Two students miss a series of questions after reading a paragraph.  The questions cover the main idea and drawing inferences.  Standard benchmark testing would say to teach them these two explicit tasks.  But in reality, the reasons could be any of the following:  A) the student didn't have the vocabulary to understand the passage; B) the student struggled in decoding and thus missed the meaning of the passage; or C) the student is a super reader and can read fluently but doesn't really process what he or she reads.  In all three cases, simple benchmark testing would force the student to go through "main idea" and "drawing inferences" lessons.   But in two out of the three cases above, this may be the incorrect prescription. 

Tags: benchmark assessment, diagnostic assessment, reading assessment

  1. Rebecca
    Reply 01/15/08

    I am so glad to see you post this explanation! If more people understood the purpose of the different kinds of testing, there would be far less confusion, not to mention wasted resources.

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