Interim and benchmark assessments are typically given more than once per year with the purpose of providing both teachers and administrators with information on student learning to inform educational decision-making. In the USA, these assessments arose from the larger educational accountability movement of the 1990s and 2000s. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and data-driven decision-making efforts relied on educators both to have access to appropriate and meaningful data and to be able to interpret such data (Brunner et al. 2005) in order to improve teaching and learning. End-of-year summative tests provide little instructionally useful information (Perie, Marion, and Gong 2009), creating a perceived need for additional (and more frequent) measures.
Interim assessments are expected to provide actionable information to both teachers and school and district administrators. Administrators are intended to use the results for school-level curricular planning, identification of professional development needs, and resource allocation. Teachers are intended to use the results to modify instruction to improve student learning. Most of these assessments have several of the following characteristics:
They are administered to students periodically (i.e., typically more than once per year).
Administration is required by the school or district.
The constructs assessed tend to be those targeted in end-of-year summative assessments (i.e., English Language Arts, mathematics, and science).
The assessment forms and their items resemble those of end-of-year summative assessments.
The assessment results are provided to students and educators within a short enough time frame as to be instructionally useful, but generally do not provide instant feedback.
It is expected that the data from the assessments can be used at the classroom level as well as aggregated at the school or district level (Perie et al. 2009).
Use depends on the individual capacity of the user, the context of use, and supports for use. The most important supports to promote use of interim assessments are: alignment with standards and curriculum; availability and accessibility of technology; professional development for interpreting results and modifying instruction; and time to use the assessments as intended.
The extent to which, and in what ways, interim assessments impact teaching and learning is still an open question, and the research on the effectiveness of these assessments is sparse. When assessments are aligned to learning standards, they can serve to focus teachers’ and students’ attention on important content (Clune and White 2008). However, if teachers do not receive support, training, and/or mentorship in how to link assessment results to instruction, teaching is unlikely to improve (Goertz et al. 2009; Shepard et al. 2011). Studies using quasi-experimental and randomized-control designs have both found small or statistically non-significant effects on student learning.
As use of these assessments has become more widespread, researchers have called for users to evaluate them based on their unique value over other assessments and on the total cost of implementation, including displaced instructional time (Perie et al. 2009). Potential benefits should be compared with what teachers already know about their students from other types of assessment (Abrams et al. 2015).