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Why you should be using benchmarks to monitor and support student writing


Preparing students to express their thoughts effectively in writing has long been a priority—and arguably a challenge—for educators. Writing skills are strongly linked to postsecondary student success. Still, recent NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) assessments revealed that 72% of students leaving high school are not ready for college-level writing.

There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all when it comes to education, so benchmarks have become an important tool for today’s educators to monitor and improve individual student writing progress. 

We know every student in a given class will not perform at the exact same level academically, socially, or emotionally. Benchmark assessments help pinpoint those students who are on track, who are not there yet, and who are further along than expected. They provide an opportunity to gather crucial instructional insights. Based on benchmark data, teachers can tailor instruction and identify the next steps for whole, small-group, and individual learning.

Schools often administer benchmarks in the fall or at the start of the school year, again in the winter, and finally ahead of the spring testing season. At the start of a new school year, benchmarking helps identify students’ academic strengths and weaknesses, while benchmarking throughout the year provides information to guide instruction and sets up students for success on end-of-year summative and high-stakes assessments. 

The results can be empowering to both teachers and students. While teachers leverage benchmark data to monitor progress and inform instruction, students also benefit from taking ownership of their learning. Benchmark data helps students recognize what they need to focus on, and they often experience a confidence boost when they can see improvement in subsequent benchmarking results. 

However, more assessments require more time from teachers to administer and evaluate the assessments, and then, of course, there’s data management. When we’re talking about writing assessments, even more time is required to prepare and score student writing to collect useful data. 

So, schools must collect data and monitor student writing progress. The benefits are clear for both teachers and students, but what about the correlation to teacher workload?

Enter ThinkCERCA’s Benchmark Evaluation Service offering. We reduce the load on teachers while providing impactful reading and writing benchmark assessment opportunities for high-impact learning year-round. 

ThinkCERCA streamlines the assessment and evaluation process and then guides you through the data to identify trends, develop strategies, and implement actionable steps to improve student learning. Our Growth Planning Tool provides direct instruction and skills lessons teachers can assign based on each student's growth focus, assigned by professional scorers when they complete benchmark evaluations for each student submission. 

With Benchmark Evaluation Services, students, teachers, and district leaders receive the benefits of benchmarking, including reading and writing data, high-quality feedback, and recommendations for instructional next steps, without a significant increase in workload. 

Our professional evaluators are certified teachers who have gone through a rigorous selection and calibration process. Our rubrics follow a simple framework with common CERCA language, so teachers can utilize scoring data and feedback to immediately help students understand the process of critical thinking and academic writing. 

Working in tandem with Benchmark Evaluation Services, our outstanding professional learning support, and award-winning instructional resources are the reason why we are industry leaders in student learning outcomes. 

Leslie Hill Hirschfeld
Leslie Hill Hirschfeld

Leslie Hill Hirschfeld is a former high school English and Journalism teacher with over a decade of experience in education. Prior to entering the education field, Leslie worked as a public relations professional and writer, and she strives to combine her years of communications and teaching experience to run day-to-day benchmark evaluation services at ThinkCERCA.