Thursday, September 27, 2012

Let's Get Real About Assessment...and Technology

Before we begin, let me first say that I am not an assessment expert. There are many people who could talk circles around me when it comes to assessment. But I have witnessed many different assessment practices, have been involved in many assessment conversations, and have been through my share of assessment for learning training. These experiences and my own teaching experiences have shaped my opinions on assessment.

For the past two days, I was involved in vendor presentations for assessment systems. These companies, which will remain nameless, all showcased systems that did essentially the same thing. Each system gave us way to test students and get data back on a variety of standards. Some of the technology that was on display was simply awesome! From the easy to use interfaces, to the types of multimedia questions that could be used, to the tracking abilities, and to the types of input devices that could be used, these systems showcased some great assessment technology! As a tech guy, you would think this would be all great but it was not. 

Seeing all the technology and what it could do, just made me reflect on where we are now in terms of assessment. If a system like these are going to succeed, there are going to be changes that have to occur in our everyday practices.

1. Standards replacing letter grades - With assessment systems, the greatest strength is the ability to tie questions to standards. From this, teachers can get the data to see if students are meeting the standards. From this data, teachers can adjust their instruction and truly differentiate to meet the needs of their students. Notice that I have not talked about a percentage or a letter grade. Unfortunately, we still need grades for that grade book so a letter grade can be given at the end of the quarter. Are we ready to make the jump to standards based learning and reporting or will we not take advantage of a new assessment system and just use it to grade tests for us?

2. Teachers as data analysts - When I started teaching, the only data I remember having is the yearly standardized test data. I had my grades from my grade book and my observations, but I did not have the capability to easily collect target data on my students. Now with an assessment system, teachers have assess to tons of reports. To make the most of this system, teachers will need to learn how to pick the best report and interpret the data. These are new roles and we know that change does not come easy. It is a change in practice and an additional responsibility. How are we going to make this work?

3. Teachers as assessment experts - It made me smile during these meetings when I heard some other teachers talking about assessment practices after seeing the presentations. By seeing the possibilities, it caused the participants to reflect on their current assessment practices. I was hearing discussions on formative and summative assessments, what types of assessments were best to be used with an assessment system, etc. With greater assessment and data analysis tools, we as teachers need to become assessment experts to take advantage of the system to get the right data. It is now not good enough to be instructional experts, we need to be assessment experts too.

When it comes down to it, any system we choose is only going to be as good as our assessment practices allow it to be. Are we willing to change and step out of our comfort zone? 

Just like anything else, the technology can be great but it is all in the application. I am excited by the possibilities!


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