So You Want To Build An Assessment System? (Part 1)

School children playing on a hexagon dome structure

“What intervention(s) do you recommend for struggling students?” This is a question I have been fielding more and more these past couple of years. The question is typically followed by an explanation about how a particular student has been involved with an intervention for multiple years with little success. Too often I have heard stories about unsuccessful interventions. Often, I was certain that a different intervention was needed, and while that was sometimes the case, there was a crucial middle step that needed to occur first.  Districts need to have the right assessment data to inform which intervention would accurately target the needs of the student.

Response to Intervention (RtI) or Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) is a decision-making framework of evidence-based practices in instruction and assessment that addresses the needs of all students. Universal screening of students is a cornerstone of this framework that school districts across the nation have generally accepted. It has been my experience that most educators are adept at using this data to identify struggling learners. The next step in the process is where many districts I consult with, begin to flounder. I often refer to it as the “You Get What We Got” phenomenon. After identifying struggling learners, groups are formed and teachers or related personnel instruct with the reading/math interventions that the school has. Sometimes this works, but most times it leads to the round-hole, square-peg problem.

Our Journey

In my own experience of working with districts in 20+ states, I have seen an emerging pattern where districts need assistance understanding and creating a comprehensive and balanced assessment system. While the “You Get What We Got” phenomenon may sound like an intervention problem, the root of the problem is really in the lack of adequate assessments that lead to those intervention decisions. To illustrate what I mean, I would like to share the journey I have taken with a particular district I will call Any Town USA.  This is a high performing district located in the Northeast that has approximately 10,000 students. They have six elementary schools that have been implementing RtI for reading in grades K-4 for the past five years. These schools are typically rated near the top in performance each year. The district’s mantra, however, is there is always room for improvement. Over the years they have noticed that their success rate with significantly struggling readers is not as high as they would hope. This is where they, and other districts as well, often ask what intervention they should be using.

A Perfect Storm Begins To Form

The assessment system utilized by this district was disjointed at best. They had transitioned to and from a number of commercially available universal screening measures. Classroom teachers had other instructionally relevant assessments available, but there wasn’t much uniformity across the buildings. The specialists and special education teachers often relied on assessments that they had been taught to use during their college years. As you can see, a perfect storm was on the horizon not only with assessment for Tiers 2 and 3 for struggling learners, but also with assessment at Tier 1 for all students. Other than universal screening, assessment at Tier 1 is often overlooked. They too certainly overlooked it, and its impact became evident as they began to figure out how to weather this storm.

In part two of this three part series, the full impact of this ineffective assessment system is recognized by district leadership and a plan begins to form. Discover how the leadership determined the district’s assessment needs and the thoughtful planning process that was involved.


If you are interested in exploring further to see what Pearson is doing regarding assessments, here are links to different webpages:

Full report about balanced assessments

Portal to access free assessment resources

Balanced assessments infographic

When is it best to assess infographic



About the Author
Scott Piotrowski

Scott Piotrowski

Scott Piotrowski has over ten years of experience in education. He has been a Certified Aimsweb Trainer (CAT) since 2007 and conducts trainings in both the

United States and Canada. In addition, he has worked as a School Psychologist and currently is a district-level Response to Intervention (RtI) and federal grants coordinator. He has been an aimsweb district and school manager in the districts he has been employed in.

Scott received his Master’s degree (MA) in School Psychology at Northern Illinois University and his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Fredonia.

Scott brings with him actual applied experience in Rti and aimsweb, having lead their implementations in his own districts. In addition, he has consulted with numerous other districts across the country, on their own implementations.