STEM Education & Training TIG Week: Moving Beyond National Assessments: One Positive Impact of COVID-19 by Tom Withee and Marcia Nation

Greetings from Tom Withee, Goshen Education Consulting, and Marcia Nation, Nation Evaluation Consulting. We came into evaluation from other career paths and now are evaluating formal and informal STEM education programs from our respective bases in Edwardsville, Illinois and Tempe, Arizona.

COVID-19 upturned K-12 education in many ways, and these impacts will resonate into the future, particularly for students. We are here today to strike a hopeful note about the impact of COVID-19 on the reliance on national and state assessments, like the SAT or NWEA MAP, for measuring annual student progress toward education objectives.

Like many pre-K-12 education evaluators, we have used data from national and state student assessments for program evaluations. Some funding agencies view these data as the most credible evidence of program impact. We recognize the pros and cons of these methods of assessment and how focusing on standardized test scores can impact students, teachers, schools, and communities.

However, COVID-19 disruptions to schools and learning meant that it was more difficult to administer national and state assessments and that such assessment scores were not being used for state “school report cards.” We have seen a few funding agencies suggest that program evaluations use alternative measures of growth. One pool of readily available alternative measures are Common Formative Assessments.

Bailey, Jakicic and Spiller explain Common Formative Assessments as “team-designed, intentional measures used for the purpose of monitoring student attainment of essential learning targets throughout the instructional process.” Common Formative Assessments have the added bonus of allowing teacher teams to examine their practice and evaluate different teaching strategies.

Rad Resource

For a crash course in how schools can develop and implement Common Formative Assessments, check out Professional Learning Communities at Work by Richard DuFour.

Cool Trick

Many K-12 public schools are already implementing Professional Learning Communities that incorporate Common Formative Assessments. Check with your school team if they are already using Common Formative Assessments or Student Learning Objectives.

The STEM TIG is interested in exploring how and when evaluators can move beyond traditional measures around student progress. These alternative measures are more targeted toward the school culture and can be adapted for marginalized populations. Look out for AEA 2022 conference sessions and posters from our members that present their thinking journeys in moving beyond traditional assessments.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting STEM Education and Training TIG Week with our colleagues in the STEM Education and Training Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our STEM TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

1 thought on “STEM Education & Training TIG Week: Moving Beyond National Assessments: One Positive Impact of COVID-19 by Tom Withee and Marcia Nation”

  1. Greetings Tom and Marcia,

    Thank you for sharing this post.

    My name is Monique and I am a Master’s degree student specializing in professional education. I found your post very interesting because I have been noticing a shift in how curriculum is being delivered and assessed. It seems that we are increasingly moving away from traditional methods and more towards an approach that is rooted in a holistic framework. I believe that this is a step in the right direction. Recently, I was introduced to Kirkhart’s Theory of Influence. In this theory, Kirkhart (2000) distinguishes the difference between a linear approach to evaluation where emphasis is placed on the standard process, versus the holistic approach where various influences are examined for their ability to impact the outcome (i.e., unintended influences, time etc.). This can also be attributed to the education system and how assessments are used. These assessments only produce a linear evaluation of a student’s capabilities and only represent one aspect of the entire education program. They do not factor in influences such psychological behaviours (i.e., anxiety), health, environmental conditions etc. which are some of the factors that could impact the results of a student’s performance and the outcome of the program assessment.

    I like the idea of the Common Formative Assessments because it is both cyclical and holistic. It involves determining if learning objectives are met by conducting many assessments throughout the instructional process. This moves away from measuring a student’s ability by conducting an evaluation that only represents a single snapshot in time. In addition, this type of assessment allows the educators to engage in reflective practice which is beneficial because it supports student development. I believe that the holistic approach to evaluation is a great way to identify the success of an educational program and identify the true potential of all students.


    Kirkhart, K. E. (2000). Reconceptualizing evaluation use: An integrated theory of influence. In V. Caracelli and H. Preskill (Eds.), The expanding scope of evaluation use. New Directions for Evaluation, 88 (pp.5-23). San Francisco; Jossey-Bass.

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