On the Importance of 2021 Statewide Summative Assessment Results

Statewide summative assessments are important; they provide an important metric into the effectiveness of our educational system. And while they are important, they are also limited in what they can tell us about this system. Summative assessments are typically a one-time event that measure a small but important set of English Language Arts or Mathematics standards. These assessments are efficient and reliable; but they do not tell the whole story.


A curious person could spend a lifetime digging into Nebraska’s statewide 2021 assessment results. There is rich information to be gleaned about fractions, main ideas, and antonyms. Countless analyses could be conducted and checked to slice and dice the data an infinite number of ways. But if that curious person only had the data from the spring 2021 assessments, and they produced thousands of analyses and wrote hundreds of journal articles about that data, they would miss the point.


They would miss the story. The assessments measure important information that students should know but again they measure only a small fraction of the information that students need to know.  These assessments measure what they do in precise but limited ways.


A quick look at the 2021 NSCAS assessments results could easily be interpreted to say that Nebraska students did not learn as much ELA and Mathematics content as students did in previous years. First, that would not surprise any educator or parent when they think back to 2020-2021. It is likely true that there is evidence to suggest that students did not learn as much ELA and Mathematics content as students did previously.  But the limited nature of those assessments would fail to tell us what students, teachers, parents, and communities learned and overcame in 2020-2021.


Here are some of things those assessments did not measure.

  • Resilience to learn despite a pandemic
  • Ingenuity to find new ways to interact remotely and learn digitally
  • Curiosity to find a new hobby or to learn about a new subject while in quarantine
  • Consideration to be willing to wear a mask all day, every day
  • Dedication to establish repetitive rigorous routines to keep spaces safe
  • Cleverness to troubleshoot new digital devices and software to connect us
  • Patience to wait in line six feet away from everyone
  • Compassion to find new ways to manage learning in order to protect those vulnerable to disease
  • Inventiveness to find new games to play at recess that followed social distancing guidelines
  • Tenacity to investigate every lead during contract tracing to limit potential exposures
  • Resolve to protect students and communities while continuing to do the already difficult work of teaching and learning.
  • Flexibility to pivot based on the newest scientific information about COVID19
  • Relationships that make all the difference in the world to students and families

The statewide assessments do not measure how much our students and educators overcame and what they learned in the process. The data will provide additional evidence to direct our current and future efforts. They tell us that there is still much to learn and a need for improvement; but educators already knew that.


(Dr. Jeremy Heneger is the Director of Statewide Assessment at the Nebraska Department of Education. He holds and Education Doctorate from Doane University and is a 20-year veteran Nebraska educator)