Research and Reflections

Illuminating Interims

What makes a good interim assessment program?

If you look up the word “interim” in the dictionary, one definition is “a temporary or provisional arrangement; stopgap; makeshift.”

But based on the blossoming industry of interim assessment, there isn’t anything “temporary” about it.  Interims seem like they are becoming commonplace in schools.  And lots of vendors have jumped on the bandwagon to develop them.  Just as with instructional materials, the quality of interim assessments can vary. What follows is a quick reminder of what to consider as you choose an interim assessment program, think about the implications of one that has been chosen for you, or even as you design your own.

 What IS Interim Assessment?

Joan Herman, from The National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST) at UCLA, has provided a clear definition of interim assessment. She defines it as,

“Medium scale assessments falling between formative and summative assessment that serve to

(1) evaluate students’ knowledge and skills relative to a specific set of academic goals, typically within a limited time frame, and

(2) inform decisions at both the classroom and beyond the classroom level, such as the school or district level.

…interim assessments are administered periodically over the course of the school year, typically under the purview of the school or district, and scores are aggregated for use at multiple levels—for example, classroom, school, and district.”

What Should You Pay Attention To?

Let’s think about the key terms in that definition, and how they should drive your considerations for interim assessments:

  • Specific set of academic goals: Interim assessments should be designed to provide information about whether students are progressing toward mastery of a chosen set of goals. In other words, they need to be built to align to your state standards! For example, look at the texts for the literacy assessment.  Do they seem high-quality and appropriately complex for the grade level?  For both math and literacy, look at the questions.  Can you recognize what standard to which the item is aligned to or does it seem generic (not text-based for literacy) or unaligned to state standards?  You want to be able to measure the academic goals you’ve been striving toward all year for your students!
  • Classroom and beyond the classroom level: Interim assessments can serve multiple purposes, and the intended purpose for the assessment should factor into its design. Is your district using the assessment to “predict” future success of students who take summatives? Is your district trying to evaluate a curriculum by measuring how well students are moving toward mastery after using the materials?  Or are individual educators trying to glean information that will inform instruction in the classroom? Which interim should be used depends on the primary use case for your district, as the design of the assessment determines what data is reported out.  Make sure to look at the student (or class/school/district) score report to ensure that the data provided align to the stated use-case for your district. Always thinking about the decisions that are made both in the classroom and beyond will keep the purpose of the assessment front and center.
  • Administered periodically:  To measure student progress or evaluate a curriculum program, you need a few check points. Giving interims at specified times of the year allows for teachers to see continued progress (or continued struggles), sometimes at the individual student level, or rolled up to the classroom or even district level. Interims allow for more structured measurement of progress. Being judicious in regard to frequency is important for many reasons (e.g., avoiding over testing, ensuring kids are still motivated, maximizing instructional time).  When you look at interim assessments, then, consider the logic behind the administration periods.  Do the time frames fit with the main purpose of the assessment?

Alignment, purpose, and timing of interim assessments are all important considerations. But what about the Shifts? Of course we want to see interim assessments addressing the Shifts as well.  For example, in literacy, the texts should still be of high quality and appropriately complex, and students should be expected to use textual evidence. For math, the assessments across the year should focus on the Major Work of the Grade and represent a balance of conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and application.

Interim assessments are likely going to be around a long while so establishing some expectations for them is a must, just as we do for other materials our students are exposed to. The things you’ve heard about high-quality summative assessment apply to interim assessment as well: They should provide useful, actionable data in a reliable way and be worthy of student time and attention.


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About the Author: Laura Hansen is a Senior ELA/Literacy Specialist on the Advisory Support team at Student Achievement Partners. Prior to joining the team, Laura served as Executive Director at ETS, where she was directly involved with many state testing programs. Before that, Laura was a classroom teacher in Texas for nine years, emphasizing reading strategies and best practices in her classroom. While in the classroom, Laura also worked as a scorer for the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards. She holds a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education from the University of Texas at San Antonio and a Lifetime Teacher Certificate with Reading Specialization for the state of Texas.