A Flow Chart for Success: Connecting Assessment to Instruction

by Fritz Geissler, M.Ed., and Donni Stickney, M.Ed.

Teachers throughout the nation are mandated to use research-based instructional strategies. According to the U.S. Department of Education (2004), No Child Left Behind (NCLB) emphasizes the implementation of educational programs and practices that have been scientifically researched and clearly yield high results. NCLB requires that educators use these research-based strategies as they are shown to aid students in learning and accessing the curriculum. Selecting the appropriate strategy to address each student concern is a crucial component to ensure student progress.

The first step in choosing an appropriate strategy is to clarify the student's needs through assessment. Pretests identify the student's prior knowledge and mastery of the necessary sub-skills in the curriculum. Classroom-based instructional assessments identify what students know, what they can do, and how they approach new material (Gravois & Gickling, 2002). A common mistake is to implement a research-based strategy that does not correctly match the student's need. An example would be using a strategy to increase a student's fluency by rereading passages and timing improvement (Instructional Consultation Teams: Training Manual, 2006, p. F8). However, if the underlying cause for poor fluency is a decoding deficit, the mistake could result in limited achievement gains for the student. This example highlights the importance of using assessments that will accurately inform instruction, target interventions, and monitor progress. Teachers effectively meet their students' needs through high-quality instruction that includes ongoing embedded assessment (see Figure 1).

After teachers have clarified the student concern and implemented an instructional strategy, the next step is to analyze the student's progress. When done correctly, this analysis provides the information necessary to determine the success of the strategy being used. Progress monitoring begins with collecting baseline data that shows where the student is performing prior to the intervention. Then short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals are developed. Data continues to be collected frequently to monitor student progress and to determine if the intervention is successful. An important component of this continuous assessment is providing the student with specific, corrective, and timely feedback regarding progress toward the goals (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001). If the student makes expected gains, the strategy is continued until the goal is attained. However, if the student is not reaching goals, the teacher must determine if the instructional strategy has been implemented with fidelity. Next, the educator decides if additional assessment is required to ensure that the student concern has been correctly identified. If additional assessment concludes that the strategy does match the student concern, then the teacher may add additional strategies or increase the frequency with which the current strategy is being used. On the other hand, if assessment indicates a different student concern, then a new research-based strategy needs to be implemented. This continuous cycle of assessment, data collection, and analysis is crucial to determining proper instructional strategies and ensuring student success.

According to a study by Black and William (1998), low achievers benefit from the use of improved formative assessments more than other students. This reduces the range of achievement while raising achievement overall. Using formative assessments to guide classroom instruction has direct implications for districts seeking to reduce achievement gaps by students with disabilities and other subgroups targeted by NCLB (Chappuis, Stiggins, Arter & Chappuis, 2004). Assessment is no longer viewed as the narrow measurement process of aggregating scores for grading purposes, or for comparing one student to another across different intellectual and achievement domains. Instead, it is viewed as a means of determining how a student is actually learning and thinking about what is being taught. Assessment is about asking relevant questions and gathering relevant data to identify what a student knows and needs, and about matching and managing curriculum and instruction to ensure ongoing student success (Instructional Consultation Teams: Training Manual, 2006, p. 12).


Black, P., & William, D. (1998). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(2), 139-148.

Chappuis, S., Stiggins, R.J., Arter, J., & Chappuis, J. (2004). Assessment for learning: An action guide for school leaders. Portland, OR: Assessment Training Institute.

Gravois,T., & Gickling, E. (2002). Best practices in curriculum-based assessment. In A.Thomas & J. Grimes (Eds.), Best practices in school psychology (pp.1-13). Washington, DC: National Association of School Psychologists.

Instructional Consultation Teams: Training manual. (2006). College Park, MD: Instructional Consultation Labs.

Marzano, R.J., Pickering, D.J., & Pollock, J.E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

U.S. Department of Education. (2004). No Child Left Behind: A toolkit for teachers. Jessup, MD: Education Publications Center.

Additional Resources

Instructional Assessment: An Essential Tool for Designing Effective Instruction (Considerations Packet) may be requested from the T/TAC website at http://www.wm.edu/ttac/packets/consideration.html.

The Forgotten Art of Formative Assessment, by Christopher R. Gareis, Ed. D. February/March 2006, T/TAC Newsletter, http://www.wm.edu/ttac/corner/2006febmar.html.

Date: September/October 2006