This week, congressional staffers and others had a too-infrequent opportunity to hear from teachers about the role of assessments in education. During a Hill briefing, teachers with Teach Plus spoke from their diverse perspectives, but they all echoed a common theme: High-quality assessments — ones that are aligned to curriculum, measure growth among students at all achievement levels, and ask complex questions — are an invaluable tool for instruction. Here’s what they had to say:

Education_Trust_086-2-300x200Annual, standardized assessments allow for comparability across schools and districts. When Alexandra Fuentes, a high school biology teacher, moved a few miles away, she was shocked at how different the end-of-year assessments were. She said this hindered her ability to compare student knowledge and understanding from one school to the other, and it made her wonder how those differences affect students, who are expected to demonstrate learning in various ways depending where they live. For Micah Miner, a social studies teacher at a juvenile detention center, uniform assessments are even more important for his students, who come from and go on to different types of schools. The standardized assessment sets clear expectations for students no matter which school they attend when they transition out of his facility, he said.

Assessments tell teachers where to target student interventions and provide additional support. When “Michael” joined Ashley Smith’s fourth-grade class this year, he had fallen behind academically at a low-performing school. But she used his assessment data to identify where he needed the most help and which kind of interventions would serve the most benefit. “The gap is starting to close for Michael,” Smith told Hill staffers. “However, if we do away with assessment, I’m not sure he’ll continue to grow in future grades.”

Assessments help teachers monitor student progress to ensure they’re growing. Dwight Davis, an assistant principal, strives to do for his students what his favorite teachers did for him: to find out what they know and push them to go where they can. In his classroom last year, assessments helped him differentiate his instruction to meet the demands of a particularly challenging class — one with 18 students, 12 of whom have Individualized Education Programs. Using assessment data, he set goals for each student and taught to those goals. Without assessments, he said, it would have been much more difficult to individualize instruction for each student and to ensure that they were all making progress.

The bottom line for these teachers? Assessments help them do their jobs — and they don’t want to lose this valuable instructional asset. “Assessment is a tool to fine-tune our instruction. Are there people who take the wrench and use it as a hammer?” Davis said. “Yes. But that doesn’t mean we get rid of the wrench.”