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Curriculum Q & A Blog, Question 25

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    Katie Shenk

Do you have questions about teaching the EL Education K–5 Language Arts Curriculum? We've got answers!

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Question 25: Why is it so important to test drive the assessments in the curriculum?

In this post, we continue our focus on assessments, but shift to discussing the importance of test driving summative assessments in the curriculum. If you need a refresher on the overall assessment structure, types, and purposes of each assessment, check out this blog post, Question 23, that’s specific to grades K-2 and this one, Question 24, that’s focused on grades 3-5. 


What’s a test drive? 

 The summative assessments in the curriculum are designed to assess students’ progress towards standards. And the ongoing formative assessments that happen in every lesson offer you important evidence of how students are doing leading up to those summative assessments. Therefore, it will be an important part of your planning process within the module lessons to look ahead to the end of unit assessments (Grades K-2) and the mid-unit and end of unit assessments (Grades 3-5) and take them for a test drive. In other words, take the assessment yourself! 

Our team decided that, before starting a new unit, we would take each assessment just as we ask students to do. When we test drive, we monitor the decisions we make as readers, writers, and thinkers. We then discuss our decisions and often find that where one of us gets stuck, another is able to help. Through our collaborative conversations, we are able to articulate exactly what we are looking for kids to do in the assessment and the concrete steps needed to get them there. Because we are working backwards, we look at and lift the lessons that will guide our students in reaching the end goal. We feel more confident in our work as teachers and our students become more confident in the work that they are doing.

Veronica Carrejo, 2nd/ 3rd grade team lead, Centennial Elementary

Why is test driving important? 

Test driving the assessment will give you insight into the knowledge and skills students will need to be successful. Taking the assessment yourself will also allow you to identify the obstacles your students may encounter when they are given the task. During this step, be sure you know which standards are being assessed and how each question pushes you to demonstrate your knowledge and skills with reference to the specific standard (Check out the K-5 Curriculum Maps section on our curriculum website to get a sense of where standards are formally assessed throughout the year at your grade level).   Connecting the dots between the standards, the assessment, and the flow of the lessons leading up to it will guide you as you look for evidence of student progress in ongoing formative assessments.

Planning high quality purposeful lessons is one of the most important tasks for all our teachers. One of the pitfalls we sometimes get into is planning by the seat of our pants. We have all been there and done that as our days are full and it can be hard to stay planned up in advance. However, purposeful lessons come from knowing where we are headed. We achieve this clear vision by test driving our assessments so we always know our end outcomes for students. When we are crystal clear on how students will demonstrate mastery our planning becomes more relevant, impactful, and effective!

Amber Clark, Principal,  Bea Underwood Elementary

When do I test drive? 

For a test drive to be most impactful, it’s important to do it before beginning a unit or series of lessons leading up the assessment. This will give you time to consider the details of the instructional scaffolding leading up the assessment and make adjustments as needed based on anticipated student needs.

Since my teachers have been test-driving the assessment, they are able to scaffold the learning and adapt the materials (i.e. graphic organizers, writing templates, workbook pages, etc.) for students because they know the end goal of the module. Teachers are better able to strategically plan throughout the module while still maintaining the integrity and rigor of the lessons.

Allison Reigel, K-2 Literacy Academic Dean, West Park Elementary School

How do I test drive?

Many teachers find that following a predictable test drive routine alongside colleagues is most supportive and beneficial. We have outlined some key steps below:

1. Become a student of the standards:

  • For each assessment, Identify the standards being assessed
  • Clarify the thinking required by each standard.
  • Determine what mastery of each standard looks like.

 2. Take a closer look at the assessment

  • Read the assessment prompt.
  • Analyze the answer key and/or rubrics.
  • Take a look at the assessment texts and other supporting materials (e.g., recording forms, graphic organizers).

3. Have a go! Take the assessment as written. As you do so, ask yourself these key questions:

  • What challenges do I anticipate students might face?  
  • What content knowledge did I need to successfully complete this task?
  • What skills and knowledge did I need to successfully complete this task?
  • How does this assessment build on previous learning?  

4. Review the arc of lessons that lead to this assessment. Use your Unit-at-a-Glance chart or, if time permits, skim through the lessons.  

  • What ongoing assessment opportunities are there for students to demonstrate their progress toward meeting these same standards?

Test driving the assessments in advance allows teachers to fully understand what students need to learn, how to monitor learning and what supports or extensions individual students need along the way. By having a common language, clarity in our work, and collaboration from multiple support systems, we are better equipped to offer personalized learning to our students. Nancy Metrovich, Instructional Coach, Center for Family Learning

An Invitation

Feeling inspired to give it a try? If so, here’s a Test Drive Task Card that we’d encourage you to use in collaboration with your colleagues. Plan to spend between 45 and 60 minutes engaging in the process the first time around, but you’ll get faster once you get the hang of it. We think you’ll find it to be a high-leverage planning process that is well worth the time.

We’d love to have your stories to share in a follow up blog post.  Please share your test drive insights and questions via email at

For more general information about our curriculum, check out our website or our book Your Curriculum Companion: The Essential Guide to Teaching the EL Education K–5 Language Arts Curriculum