Assessment Uplugged: From Interactive Systems for Getting Instant Student Feedback, to Software That Lets Educators Jot Down Observations on the Fly, Mobile Assessment Tools Provide Immediate Impact

Article excerpt

Not long ago, there were scant options for gathering useful educational assessment data. You know the drill: student "fill-in-the-bubble" sheets are completed, collected, sorted, shipped out to the testing company, scanned, scored, compiled, and analyzed. Months later, the results, static and out of date, are returned to the school.

Today, however, the world of assessment is booming with new hardware and software tools that generate more useful educational data faster and easier. The common thread in these solutions is mobility, via the use of a handheld device, to gather data and transfer it to a desktop computer or server. Primary school teachers, for example, are using handhelds to take running records of individual students' reading for both benchmark and ongoing progress monitoring. Middle and high school educators are giving multiple-choice and short-answer exams that are automatically graded and downloaded into 1 their grade books.

Used wisely, these technologies can help reduce assessment time, provide assessments closely aligned to curriculum and standards, and close the gap between data gathering and educational decisions. In short, they make assessment dynamic, relevant, and timely. The following questions will help you determine which system is right for your district.

Key Considerations

[check] What type(s) of data can be generated?

Observational assessment, instructional games, diagnostic testing, and district-wide comprehensive testing are a few examples. Some systems are turnkey platforms supporting a broad range of assessments and curricula, while others are individual products that generate a single data type, such as DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) measurements. The resultant data is only helpful if it matches your district needs, so choose accordingly. And it's not just the type of data that is important, but also the depth. Some systems only capture summary data, while others report item level data; the latter is very useful for deeper diagnostic analysis and for informing instruction and professional development.

There is also the issue of audience. Whether the data is for teachers, local administrators, state administrators, parents, or a mix of those audiences will determine the information you require. For example, Promethean's ACTIVote system yields instructional-specific data useful to classroom teachers, while GoKnow's GoObserve can provide reports customized for special education Individual Education Plan teams.

[check] Does the system integrate with classroom programs?

Mobile assessment technology, in an ideal world, expands instructional time and improves instruction, but if the system you purchase doesn't integrate easily with the existing curriculum, then it will not get used.

Look for the product that will be reasonably painless to implement, a best match to your existing curriculum and standards, and compatible with your staff's technology expertise.

[check] How is the data stored and reported?

Once data is collected, it needs to be stored for analysis and reporting. Some systems, such as Wireless Generations mCLASS and eInstruction's CPS, are truly enterprise systems that have sophisticated technology allowing secure Web-based access to all synched data, while others are just storing data on a local PC. Similarly, some solutions, including Reveal Technologies' iRespond, are designed to facilitate formal reporting of data to other enterprise systems or for federal programs (e.g., Reading First), while others report only to the teacher or a grade book.

[check] How is security handled within the system? It's important to know that your data will be safe. There are a vast range of technologies to safeguard the assessment process both at the point of assessment and across the entire data management chain, including teacher system controls, encrypted wireless transmissions, direct synching to desktop stations, and password-protected databases. …