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The Adaptive Assessment Advantage

  • 18 January, 2022
  • Reading Time: 4 mins

Assessments have always played an important role in the educational process. Teachers teach, learners learn, and assessments help measure whether or not learning objectives are being met. Traditional testing employs a one-size-fits-all approach to determining a student’s aptitude and understanding of factual information. Every student who takes the exam sees the same set of questions. Yet, today learners succeed through hands-on, personalized learning experiences. Our world is constantly changing, and the approach regarding assessments needs to change. The solution to this: adaptive assessments.


Adaptive Assessment: What Is It?

Adaptive assessments, sometimes referred to as computer adaptive testing (CAT), are tailored specifically to each student by providing a customized set of questions based on their performance on previous items. In adaptive assessments, the test’s difficulty adapts to the student’s performance. For example, if the student answers the question correctly, the next question will be more difficult. If the student gets the question wrong, the next question will be easier. Unlike traditional assessments, the number of correct answers and the difficulty of those questions assist in calculating the score.

Adaptive assessments are challenging the way of traditional thinking regarding how to measure student achievement. Geoff Masters, Chief Executive of the Australian Council for Educational Research, writes that the future of learning will be based on “identifying and responding to individual progress and learning needs, rather than on traditional group-based solutions.” As schools seek to better personalize learning, they should consider turning towards adaptive assessments, as they provide many advantages over traditional tests.


5 Benefits of Adaptive Assessments


1. Shorter Tests

Research has shown that adaptive assessments can reduce test time by 50% or more. Adaptive assessments quickly narrow in on the actual skill level of the test taker. As a result, the assessment delivers a wide range of questions near the student’s ability level, reducing the number of questions that a student must answer. This allows for the test to be completed in a shorter amount of time, without sacrificing reliability or accuracy. The reduction in testing time can be better used for increased instructional and learning time.


2. Quicker Feedback

Adaptive assessments immediately provide results to students and teachers. The speed of feedback means that teachers can see how the class is performing right away and differentiate instruction. Real-time data insights allow for instruction adjustments based on current events rather than when it is too late to make a difference. Teachers benefit by spending more time acting on the results rather than on the analysis. This will play a critical role in providing educators with the information needed to improve learning outcomes in the classroom.


3. Positive Testing Experience

Students in the same year of school are at very different points in learning. There may be students who know even more than the answers to the questions, but traditional testing does not allow them to showcase such knowledge. On the other hand, there may be students who answered some questions wrong but could demonstrate what they know with slightly easier questions if given a chance. Adaptive tests tailor questions to each student’s knowledge and abilities, so they don’t need to struggle with questions that are too hard or waste time on questions that are too easy. Students at all levels will be encouraged to try harder if they have a better test-taking experience if the test is challenging but not overwhelming.


4. Test Security

Test security is vastly improved because no two students receive the same test. Adaptive assessments pull questions from a large test bank consisting of hundreds of questions. For that reason, each student receives a unique combination of questions. This pattern significantly reduces the opportunity to share answers as compared to a typical exam in which students receive the same questions in the same order.


5. Improved Accuracy

Students are graded on a scale that accounts for the difficulty of questions answered, as each student is asked a different set of questions. In traditional testing, regardless of the question’s complexity, everyone gets a point for a correct answer. However, adaptive assessments give more weight to harder questions than easier questions. This way of scoring provides instructors with a more accrual picture of a student’s ability level.

Now more than ever, it is crucial for schools to meet every student’s learning needs, especially since school closures during COVID-19 contributed to a widening achievement gap. For students, adaptive assessments provide questions that are appropriate for their abilities, resulting in a positive testing experience and tailored instruction needed to improve learning based on results. For teachers, adaptive tests give the information needed to effectively and efficiently personalize teaching. Many vendors offer adaptive learning and assessment technologies to schools; however, it’s important to make sure that the technology contributes to the overall goal of impacting student achievement at every level. Adaptive assessments can be an invaluable tool in the classroom and will no doubt drive the future of learning.




Sean Strathy

With a passion for the teaching and learning process and a continuous desire to learn about new technology, Sean helps organizations deliver better learning outcomes that are accessible, affordable, and measurable. His expertise is in staying on top of ed-tech trends so that his clients can innovate and improve student outcomes.

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