As we head into the 2021-2022 school year, educators are engaging in a lively debate about the right strategies to combat learning loss and unfinished learning.

One size will not fit all: students will rebound in different ways from learning interruptions caused by the pandemic. Some may be undergoing learning loss, where previously learned skills and concepts atrophy due to disuse (or disinterest). Others experienced unfinished learning, where grade-level concepts needed for their next steps were not or could not be covered effectively during remote instruction.

Outside factors compound these differences. Pre-existing achievement gaps, issues of online equity, learning disabilities, home and family situations all mean that a personalized approach is crucial to recovering student learning momentum. So what’s a teacher to do?

Using Assessment Data to Regain Student Learning Momentum

Fortunately, you don’t have to choose one method and shoehorn all students into that approach. Assessment data can help target instruction for groups and personalize instruction for individuals if you use the right assessment data.

Summative Assessments

Annual state summative assessments can provide you with some baseline insights for incoming students, specifically about what students measurably attained by the end of the previous school year. Although these assessments typically do not provide detailed data about individual skills, nor do they point to instructional remedies, you can use them to identify broader achievement gaps and measure progress against grade-level standards.

Tips for using summative assessment data:

  • Identify which of your incoming students are at-, above-, or below grade-level.
  • Create “mini” cohorts for each category, then broadly define how you intend to address learning in the new school year (remediation, acceleration, or a combination).

Interim Benchmarking and Growth Assessments

Interim assessments are typically given three times a year to get benchmark data in the Fall and to track growth in Winter and Spring. Like summative assessments, they provide a point-in-time view of student achievement at specific intervals. While you should not use them to deliver frequent, classroom-based testing for immediate instructional adjustment, you can gain a wealth of initial and mid-year data to identify a strategy and check progress.

Tips for using interim assessment data:

  • Compare the Fall benchmark data to the summative data from the previous year to uncover specific topics where each student has:
    • Lost learning (the student did well on the summative for that topic but did not do well on the benchmark)
    • Demonstrated unfinished learning (the student did not do well on either test).
  • If the interim testing system provides skill-level reporting (Scantron’s solutions do), use that reporting to refine your summative cohorts into study groups on specific topics.
  • Identify which topics you can safely accelerate (i.e., students have demonstrated unfinished learning) vs those you must remediate (i.e., students have clearly lost learning on standards they previously attained.

Classroom Assessments

With classroom testing, you can measure student understanding in the moment of or immediately after instruction on topics. Test as often as you’d like, from in-class polling or daily quizzes to end-of-unit exams or anything in between. Make sure your test items are aligned to your state standards for an effective, real-time look at student progress against those standards.

Tips for using classroom assessment data:

  • For students or groups where you have chosen to remediate, determine whether the remediation was successful.
    • Yes: Move the student(s) to different study groups or a new cohort.
    • No: Adjust instruction then administer the test again.
  • For students or groups where you have chosen to accelerate, determine whether they have mastered the new material.
    • Yes: Move them on to the next topic.
    • No: Adjust instruction then administer the test again.

A Note About Instructional Adjustments

Students are more than just their test scores, and they may do well or poorly on any test due to factors beyond an educator’s control. Be sensitive to a student’s circumstances when determining whether to remediate or accelerate and when deciding on the adjusted instructional steps to take.


As an educator, you can glean information from all assessment data, if you understand its purpose and intent. We live in a data-rich world—isn’t it time we use that data to our advantage in the classroom?

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