ISA Mathematics and Writing Formative Assessments: Using Student Data to Inform Continuous Organizational Improvement

By Nathan Dilworth

ISA's Senior Mathematics Specialist


ISA has designed mathematics and writing formative assessments that are grade level appropriate for 9th and 10th graders and aligned to the Common Core State Standards and the skills and knowledge students will need to succeed in college.

  • The ISA math assessment consists of a multi-part algebra task for 9th graders and a geometry task for 10th graders. The assessment aims to measure students’ performance in five specific math dimensions: (1) problem solving, (2) reasoning and proof, (3) communication, (4) connections, and (5) representation.
  • The ISA writing assessment consists of a single prompt that asked students to take a position on an issue and write an essay that presents a logical argument. It assesses student performance on five writing dimensions: (1) content and analysis, (2) command of evidence, (3) coherence, organization and style, (4) control of conventions, and (5) conclusion.

The domains assessed are aligned with the Common Core State Standards. The assessments provide schools with a baseline of student skills in writing and math in order to track student progress over time; useful diagnostic information about student skills in key college preparatory gateway skills in writing and math; and self-assessment tools. ISA coaches work with school teams to analyze the student performance data to determine priority areas for instruction and then to develop instructional strategies that will address those priorities. Because students are assessed in the fall and the spring, the school can determine what student progress has been made on the dimensions measured, and then track back to their instruction to learn which strategies seemed to be effective and ineffective in achieving results.

Because teachers score their students’ assessments, teachers get a close look at how their students are thinking and see for themselves the patterns manifested in their classes. ISA facilitates scoring workshops for teachers so that they learn how to use the ISA math and writing rubrics and they learn how their colleagues interpret the same work they are scoring. This process helps teachers and schools develop a common definition of high quality as well as simply passable work.

Students’ scores are entered in the Online Assessment Reporting System (OARS), a web-based assessment data entry, management and reporting system that is customized to the ISA assessments. Every school has a password-protected page on OARS that allows teams to enter, view and generate reports on students’ performance on the assessments. ISA’s strategic partner, NCREST at Teachers College Columbia University, provides each ISA school with data reports on students’ math and writing performance and gains in performance overall, as well as OARS-generated reports which show individual student performance and gains on the assessments. The system also provides information on sub-group achievement.

The assessments can help schools identify areas in which students have demonstrated strengths, target areas in which students need support, and consider how instruction can support student growth for a class, subgroup of students and/or individual student. This knowledge can also be used for continuous organizational improvement: e.g., schools can identify professional development necessary for teachers to implement new instructional strategies and organizational changes such as extended time or the creation of math and writing labs; and it can help a school think about how existing resources might be more effectively directed to the student math and writing outcomes the school desires. To learn more about ISA’s math and literacy formative assessments, contact us.