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 Months later, the results, static and out of date, are returned to the school.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.
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 Buying Considerations
Q. What type(s) of data can be generated?
A. 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.
Q. Does the system integrate with classroom programs?
A. 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.
Q. How is the data stored and reported?
A. Once data is collected, it needs to be stored for analysis and reporting. Some systems are truly enterprise systems that have sophisticated technology allowing secure Web-based access to all synced data, while others are just storing data on a local PC. Similarly, some solutions are designed to facilitate formal reporting of data to other enterprise systems or for federal programs, while others report only to the teacher or a grade book.
Q. How is security handled within the system?
A. 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 syncing to desktop stations, and password-protected databases. The level of security you require is proportional to the stakes of the assessment, so pay for only what you really need.
Q. What is the system's scalability?
A. Chances are that you will phase-in mobile assessment implementation over a number of years, so make sure the solution you buy can grow with your needs. …