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November 1, 2020

Mid-Year Student Assessment Cheat Sheet

For some teachers, mid-year assessments bring to mind dreaded state or school mandates. However, whether you have a choice in giving them or not, mid-year assessments can be incredibly useful for making the second half of the school year more successful and productive for both yourself and your students.

Mid-Year Assessments: The Big Picture

Before we dive into the particulars of mid-year assessments, let’s review the different types of assessments and their uses:

  • Diagnostic: Teachers typically give diagnostic assessments at the beginning of a unit or school year to see what students already know about a topic. Unlike formative assessments, diagnostic assessments measure what students know prior to any teaching on a subject.
  • Formative: Educators use formative assessments while teaching a lesson or unit to check in and see how well students understand what they’re learning. Formative assessments might take many forms: polls, low-stakes quizzes, exit tickets, drawing or writing a few sentences about what students have learned, or students putting a green or red card at the corner of their desk to signal that they understand (or don’t).
  • Benchmark or Interim: A benchmark assessment (also called an interim assessment) is given to a large group of students in an effort to quickly track and compare the progress of a whole grade level, school, or district.
  • Summative: When a class arrives at the end of a unit, semester, or school year, it’s time for a summative assessment. Summative assessments measure how much students have learned compared to external standards set by you, a school administrator, or government body. Examples include exams, papers, projects, portfolios, etc.

As you can see, the different types of assessments can sometimes overlap in their definition and purpose. In many ways, mid-year assessments act as formative assessments, helping teachers understand what students have mastered so far in the school year and where to start next semester. However, because of their more comprehensive nature, and the fact that teachers often wrap up units at this time of year, mid-year assessments might look more like summative assessments. On top of that, schools and districts might use these assessments as benchmarks for comparison across different teachers, prior years’ performances, or other schools.

Regardless of exactly how you might categorize mid-year assessments, they have two primary purposes to keep in mind as you design and administer them:

  • Assessing what students have learned
  • Helping you understand how to improve students’ academic trajectory

Now let’s review what mid-year assessments look like in practice.

Mid-Year Student Assessment: Best Practices

Depending on your state and your school’s policies, you may have some restrictions on the type of mid-year assessment you offer. Below are some tips from Lumos Learning on how to make the most of your assessments. We’ve broken them down by whether or not you have control over the assessment’s design and delivery (although you’ll likely find bits of wisdom in all of these best practices, regardless of your teaching circumstance).

If You’re Not the Designer

  • Give students opportunities to practice for the assessment. You can ease a lot of anxiety and prepare your students to perform well by giving them a preview of the assessment. For example, instead of your regular class warm-ups or homework assignments, you might give your students questions that mimic what will be on the assessment.
  • Collaborate with peers. You don’t have to do all your prep alone. Talk to your fellow teachers to get ideas for how they’re doing mid-year assessments, including how they’re preparing their students, administering the assessment, and reviewing the results. If you’re the one designing the assessment, consider swapping with a fellow teacher to make sure you’re maximizing every question or assignment criterion.
  • Resist the urge to start fresh after the test. After a big assessment, it’s tempting to forge ahead to fresh material. However, given the somewhat formative nature of mid-year assessments, make sure to pay attention to the parts students didn’t do well on and plan to review those concepts next semester.

If You Are the Designer

  • Mix up methods of assessment. Traditional multiple-choice or essay tests aren’t bad, but they might not give you a well-rounded view of how your students are doing. Consider using multiple forms of assessment, such as adding an in-person questioning component to a multiple-choice test or requiring students to present their portfolios in addition to submitting them in writing.
  • Give feedback and results a week before the mid-year break. There’s always a danger that students will forget key concepts over a long break from school. To help mitigate this effect, make sure to reinforce learning one more time before students leave. One effective way of doing this is to go over assessment results together and have students reflect on why they missed certain questions and how they might improve next semester.
  • Break up assessments. Sometimes, testing on a large amount of material isn’t effective. Students may “cram” to get ready for the assessment but then forget large amounts of information after it’s over. Instead, consider “chunking” content by giving two or three smaller assessments throughout the semester rather than just one large one at the end.
  • Include students in the assessment-making process. Giving students a sense of ownership over their learning is often very motivating. Mid-year assessments are no exception. If possible, give your students a voice in the assessment design, whether it’s suggesting questions or picking the exact format (see next section for ideas).

Creative Ideas for Summative Assessments

If you have some time and freedom to design your own mid-year assessment, you don’t necessarily have to assign a traditional exam or paper in order to understand your students’ progress. We Are Teachers shares some ideas for fun, unconventional end-of-semester assessments:

  • Establish a class YouTube channel. Knowing how to record and edit a video is a valuable skill in today’s culture. Give your students the opportunity to practice this skill by assigning them to record a video about this semester’s content. Students might work individually or in groups to find a creative way to present key concepts you assign to them for their video. Then you can compile the whole class’s videos together onto one YouTube channel that your students can use to review class material.
  • Create a subject-specific social media profile. Most of your students are probably on social media (or want to be). Use their interest in these platforms to help them review and present content in a creative way. To start, you might give students a list of vocabulary, major figures, and key concepts they must cover. Then they can choose how, for example, an Instagram influencer might post about each item on the list.
  • Design a video game. We know that gamification is a great learning tool. Usually, the teacher is the one providing the game, but turning the tables can be just as effective. Have students design a video game, mapping out how players can “level up,” earn points or items, discover new lands, or fight bad guys using your course content. Make sure to provide guidelines for the material students need to cover, but then allow them to let loose and stretch their creative muscles (including drawing concept art or writing some code if they’re really ambitious).
  • Plot a road trip. If the only way to learn about your class concepts were to visit physical places, where would your students send people? For example, if students are learning about different types of climates, they might plot a trip that takes tourists to places with every climate. Or if students read books from several different authors this semester, they might “visit” each author’s hometown to learn about their books. This activity obviously might not work well for some subject areas, but it can be a fun way to encourage students to learn more about different places and cultures.
  • Build an app or wiki. A good app or wiki page organizes information in a way that’s easy to browse and highly user friendly. Creating an organizational structure like this requires the designer to know the information backward and forward, and that’s why this is a great exercise for a mid-year assessment. Students might not actually build an app, but they can map out the different buttons and pages and specify what content will go where, including creative ideas for how to display different types of information.

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