Governance, State Advocacy

What Are Through-Year Assessments? Emerging Trends in Statewide Assessments

What Are Through-Year Assessments? Emerging Trends in Statewide Assessments

Leaders rely on data from annual statewide assessments to answer big picture questions, make informed decisions, and advance equity goals. Yet parents and teachers have long raised concerns about the time, stress, and limited value of these tests for supporting learning. Below, Rachel Wallace, DQC’s spring 2022 graduate intern, explores one way some states are changing testing systems to potentially better align with the needs of students and educators. With prolonged flexibility for the 2021–2022 school year, DQC will continue to monitor how through-year assessments fit into states’ efforts to determine the best assessment and accountability practices.  

Last month, Florida adopted a new law to replace the current Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) system with a “coordinated screening and progress monitoring” (CSPM) assessment system starting in the 2022–23 school year. Under this new law, students will take shorter “progress monitoring” assessments at the beginning, middle, and end of every school year instead of a single summative assessment in the spring. These tests will measure student progress in English and math across the school year, while also providing a final summative score in each subject.   

Proponents in Florida are framing this change as an end to high-stakes standardized testing—but it actually follows a growing trend of through-year assessment systems. Here, DQC sets out to explore how through-year assessments fit in with traditional systems, potential advantages and disadvantages to the through-year system, and how through-year systems operate in some individual states.    

Through-year assessments, also known as progress monitoring systems, combine interim and summative assessments into a single, cohesive testing system. Students take multiple tests throughout the school year, which are shorter in length than typical statewide assessments and provide information that teachers and families can use to support student learning during the school year. Students still receive a final, summative score in each subject at the end of the year, which leaders can use to inform high-level decisions and satisfy federal accountability requirements.  

In theory, through-year assessment systems may offer the following significant advantages over traditional assessments: 

  • More timely results. Florida’s new system, for example, will provide scores to teachers and parents within one to two weeks of administration.  
  • More actionable data. Because teachers and parents receive results at multiple points during the school year, they can identify students’ more immediate needs and make adjustments to ensure they remain on track to achieve learning goals. 
  • Potential to better advance educational equity. Through-year assessments produce within-year growth data, which helps teachers and parents see how students are progressing from where they started the school year, instead of just looking at how they perform in the spring. This growth data allows educators to meet students specifically where they are in their learning journey, building on strengths and skills regardless of overall achievement. Growth information can also be used more broadly to help leaders identify which schools are going above and beyond to support student learning, as well as those in need of additional resources.  

However, some practitioners and experts have questioned whether through-year assessment systems can deliver on this promise in practice, citing the following concerns:  

  • May not actually reduce testing time. Even though each individual test is shorter than traditional assessments, through-year assessment systems may result in more annual testing time than a single end-of-year test.  
  • Teachers may not be able to actually use the data. In Florida, teachers’ unions testified that the addition of new progress monitoring data would overwhelm educators who are already lacking sufficient time and supports, making data use more difficult. Intentional supports, including professional learning on data literacy and decisionmaking, could assist in making this data practically useful.  
  • May not completely change the high-stakes nature of standardized testing. Currently, there is no through-year assessment that provides instructional information and summative data in a single test, necessitating some individual scores to still be used for accountability purposes. Currently, Florida’s new system will use data from the last progress monitoring assessment as a summative score for accountability and reporting requirements, as well as to determine outcomes like third grade promotion and high school graduation.   

Despite these outstanding questions, at least 11 states have begun to transition to through-year assessments (AK, FL, GA, KS, LA, ME, MT, NE, NC, TX, VA). Some have leveraged federal grant money to develop and implement these new systems (AK, GA, LA, NE, NC). At least two other states in addition to Florida have established through-year assessment systems through legislation (TX, VA). With these changes, there has been some initial positive feedback. In Louisiana, 77% of teachers identified their innovative assessment program as a better measure of student performance than the traditional Louisiana Educational Assessment Program. Teachers in Georgia also highlighted the ability of through-year tests to assist students in real time, helping them to prioritize growth during the school year. 

As always, the success of any assessment system depends on how it is implemented. Policymakers interested in through-year assessments must consider what supports teachers and parents will need to use the data effectively. State leaders should also continue to engage with experts to ensure the tests are valid, reliable, and in line with all federal assessment requirements. DQC will continue to monitor the roll-out of these new test systems. In the meantime, check out DQC’s Guide to Assessments for Non-Assessment Experts to learn more about the different types of assessment and what each can highlight about student achievement.