An interim assessment is a form of assessment that educators use to (1) evaluate where students are in their learning progress and (2) determine whether they are on track to performing well on future assessments, such as standardized tests or end-of-course exams. Interim assessments are usually administered periodically during a course or school year (for example, every six or eight weeks) and separately from the process of instructing students. (In education, the term assessment refers to the wide variety of methods that educators use to evaluate, measure, and document the academic readiness, learning progress, and skill acquisition of students.)
Defining interim assessment is complicated by the fact that educators use a variety of terms for these forms of assessment—such as benchmark assessment or predictive assessment—and the terms may or may not be used synonymously. It should also be noted that there is often confusion and debate about the distinctions between formative assessments and interim assessments, and educators may define the terms differently from school to school or state to state.
Generally speaking, interim assessments fall between formative assessment and summative assessment, and understanding their intended purpose requires an understanding of the basic distinctions between these two assessment strategies.
Formative Assessment vs. Summative Assessment
Formative assessments are used collect detailed information that educators can use to improve instructional techniques and student learning while it’s happening. Summative assessments, on the other hand, are used to evaluate learning progress and achievement at the conclusion of a specific instructional period—usually at the end of a project, unit, course, semester, program, or school year. In other words, formative assessments are for learning, while summative assessments are of learning. Or as assessment expert Paul Black put it, “When the cook tastes the soup, that’s formative assessment. When the customer tastes the soup, that’s summative assessment.” It should be noted, however, that the distinction between formative and summative is often fuzzy in practice, and educators may hold divergent interpretations of and opinions on the subject.
Like formative assessments, teachers may use interim assessments to identify concepts that students are struggling to understand, skills they are having difficulty mastering, or learning standards they have not yet achieved so that adjustments can be made to lessons, instructional techniques, and academic support. But unlike formative assessments, interim assessments—depending on how they are designed and used—may allow for the comparison of student results across courses, schools, or states, and they may be used by school, district, and state leaders to track the academic progress of certain student populations. The distinction here is between assessments that are used on a daily basis by individual teachers during the instructional process (formative assessments), and either standardized or “common” assessments that are used by multiple teachers, schools, districts, or states, which allow students results to be compared.
While there is no official definition for interim assessment, and it may be defined differently from place to place, the following examples will serve to illustrate two common types of assessment likely to be considered interim assessments:
- A preliminary test developed by a company, organization, or consortium—such as the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium—that is intended to evaluate how well students are prepared for a standardized test that will be administered on a future date. In this case, results from the interim assessment would be used by school leaders and teachers to better prepare students for the future test.
- A common literacy assessment or rubric that teachers develop to evaluate student learning progress in relation to expected reading standards. In this case, the assessment would be used by multiple teachers in a school or district, and it would be used in advance of a summative literacy assessment. What is “common” in this example is both the assessment being used and the reading standards it is based on. Results from the interim assessment would be used to better prepare students for future assessments.