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Check Engine Light: Local Assessment Tune-Up

Diagnostic Information As a district or school site administrator, you may be tasked with looking at how your assessment system is working to improve instruction and whether your teachers are using the data provided by the system. To check if a “tune-up” of your local assessment system is needed, consider surveying teachers for specific information that allows for positive change. Here are some topics to guide data collection efforts.

  1. Formative assessments. By now, everyone has heard about the potential for formative assessment to improve student learning. Ask your teachers whether the formative strategies that are supported by the district are working well. If so, what factors contribute to success? If not, ask for specifics about how the plan has gone wrong. If the assessment data cannot be used to improve instruction and learning, a system warning light should be flashing.
  2. Sources of assessment questions. Ask teachers about how they develop the assessments they are using, and you may learn where to focus scarce resources. Perhaps the district is purchasing item bank access that has limited usefulness or curricular materials that do not provide adequate formative items. If teachers are developing their own questions, you may need to provide training about how to write strong assessment items that are aligned with local content standards.
  3. Assessment-related professional development. Are your teachers comfortable with using the information they receive from assessments, or do they feel like they are drowning in pointless data? Have they noticed a glaring assessment problem that needs to be addressed with training? What is (or is not) going well with assessment-related professional learning communities (PLCs)? Let your teachers help you pinpoint the professional development they need.

Survey Development Tips Once you have decided which type of information you need, ask your survey questions in ways that follow good survey principles ([i]). The more focused and specific the questions, the more likely it is that the responses will point toward action items. Thanks to technology, there are many options for surveying teachers. Many student information systems have survey functions. Pen-and-paper surveys still work well and may be easier to distribute and collect, for instance, during a faculty meeting. Informal data collection methods, such as having conversations with teachers, can be useful as long as you are systematic about recording with whom you talked and how they responded. If you only ask some people or only take note of some responses, you will not have complete data and teachers will be less likely to see the results as valid. Data Analysis and Follow-Up You do not need to hire a consultant to tell you what your diagnostic information means. Frequency tables in a standard spreadsheet provide useful summaries for multiple choice or Likert scale questions. Reviewing the answers to open-ended questions will show you the range of teacher responses as well as the depth of feeling about the subject. Response patterns will provide the diagnostic information that will allow you to tune up your local assessment system. No one enjoys spending energy on making thoughtful replies to a survey only to realize that the responses were never put to good use. Let your teachers know how you intend to use their responses and then follow through. Keep communication channels open as you discover ways to improve your local assessments and to help your teachers use the data. As a bonus, your teachers will be contributing to the improvement process.

[i] Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching, “Writing Survey Questions,” (blog), Grand Canyon University, 2017, https://cirt.gcu.edu/research/developmentresources/research_ready/designing_surveys/writing_questions

5 Tips for Managing Low-tech Assessments with High-tech Tools

In an article recently published by eSchool News, our President and CEO, Caroline Fahmy, shares her insight with districts seeking to streamline their online test management systems. “While most large-scale assessments are moving toward online delivery, many still integrate a traditional pencil-and-paper element. In today’s digital world, paper may seem comparatively low tech, but there are high-tech tools available to help manage all that paper.”

Click here to read more.

Performance Task Assessments

How Assessment Improves Learning

The topic of assessment in education is complicated. We think assessments have gotten a bad rap over the years—perhaps for good reason, perhaps not. In this article, we explore different ways that assessments can play a crucial and positive role in supporting successful learning.

Quality assessments can

  • Improve long-term recall for students
  • Inform instruction or curriculum
  • Provide evidence of learning
  • Provide the opportunity to reduce test anxiety in students and help build content mastery

By approaching the topic of assessment more broadly, school and district leaders can help students and their parents to understand better the benefits of assessment.

Assessments can improve long-term recall

A 2013 research review concluded that practice testing and distributed practice, or practicing over longer periods of time, were two of the most effective strategies to improve long-term recall ([i]). Practice testing is a form of retrieval practice—the act of calling information to mind. The Learning Scientists, Megan Smith and Yana Weinstein, explain that “…if you practice retrieval you’re more likely to remember the information later, and also more likely to be able to use and apply the information in new situations” ([ii]).

Assessments can inform instruction

Formative assessment, or assessment for learning, is what teachers do in their classrooms to gather information about how students are learning. It can be formal, like a quiz, or informal such as a verbal question and answer session with students. Teachers can incorporate formative assessments such as these into both traditional and project-based learning classrooms across all content areas.

Teachers must understand what students know, what they can do, and what they still need to learn. Everyday formative classroom assessments can provide that information. Researcher Thomas R. Guskey finds that the “best classroom assessments also serve as meaningful sources of information for teachers, helping them identify what they taught well and what they need to work on” ([iii]).

Performance Task Assessment

Assessments can provide evidence of learning

All stakeholders—educators, parents, students, and administrators—need evidence that students are actually learning. A balanced system that includes formative and summative assessments provides the best evidence for what students are learning ([iv]). Many formats of assessment questions, from multiple-choice to constructed-response to performance-based, may be used. A system of well-constructed formative and summative assessments allows students to demonstrate their abilities and knowledge and then reflects how close they are to meeting educational goals and standards.

Evidence from assessments can be directly beneficial to students. When assessment activities are aligned with instructional activities and content standards, teachers can provide students with information about which concepts and skills they need to learn. Then teachers can use assessment results to help students understand what they already know and what they still need to work on ([v]).

Assessment practice can lower test anxiety and help students to master content

Reduced test anxiety is one of the potential benefits of practice testing. High-stakes statewide assessments can make students nervous. However, preparing students using low-stakes assessments with similar formats and questions can be instrumental in making them feel more comfortable when they are in formal assessment settings.

Furthermore, practice testing does more than teach test-taking skills and calm nerves. Frequent in-class practice can help students understand their mastery of the content, which, in turn, can help reduce test anxiety. As students prepare, they will become more comfortable answering different types of questions and, therefore, develop proficiency with learning goals ([vi]). As one expert argues, “This isn’t just a matter of teaching students to be better test takers…effortful, varied practice builds mastery” ([vii]).

[i] Bradley Busch, “What every teacher should know about … memory,” The Guardian, October 6, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2017/oct/06/what-every-teacher-should-know-about-memory.

[ii] Megan Smith & Yana Weinstein, “Learn how to Study Using… Retrieval Practice,” (blog), The Learning Scientists, June 23, 2017, http://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/6/23-1.

[iii] Thomas R. Guskey, “How Classroom Assessments Improve Learning,” Educational Leadership, February 2003 issue, http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb03/vol60/num05/How-Classroom-Assessments-Improve-Learning.aspx.

[iv] Stephen Chappuis, Jan Chappuis and Rick Stiggins, “The Quest for Quality,” Educational Leadership, November 2009 issue, http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov09/vol67/num03/The-Quest-for-Quality.aspx.

[v] Thomas R. Guskey, “How Classroom Assessments Improve Learning,” Educational Leadership, February 2003 issue, http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb03/vol60/num05/How-Classroom-Assessments-Improve-Learning.aspx.

[vi] The Effortful Educator, “Assessment Isn’t a Bad Word,” (blog), October 12, 2017, https://theeffortfuleducator.com/2017/10/12/assessment-isnt-a-dirty-word/

[vii] Henry L. Roediger III, “How Tests Make Us Smarter,” (blog), The New York Times, July 18, 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/20/opinion/sunday/how-tests-make-us-smarter.html

How Today’s Standardized Tests Get Made

In an article recently published by EdSurge, our Director of Research, Evaluation, and Psychometric Development, Mark Moulton, Ph.D., shares his thoughts with author Stephen Noonoo on the connection between psychometric analyses and standardized testing. The author delves into some of the common misconceptions in testing and Mark helps demystify the methods that make tests fair for all students.

Click here to read more.

Welcome to Our Blog

Here at Educational Data Systems, we’ve gathered quite a bit of knowledge over our 40+ years in business. And we’re pretty passionate about what we do, so we’ve decided to share some of what we’ve learned with the community.

Besides, our PR company said it would help “position [us] as thought leaders” and “drive inbound traffic via content marketing.” Well, that sounds great, but we’ll let them worry about that so we can focus on creating articles that help to educate and inform on what we know best: data, education, educational data systems… You get the idea.

On a regular basis, members of our staff will write some interesting content that we hope will be useful to educators or anyone else interested in educational assessment and/or planning, which are two main areas of our service offerings.

We’ve been administering the largest K–12 English language development exam in the country since 2009, and are doing some pretty innovative things with geographic information systems (GIS) technology that allows for more accurate enrollment forecasting, boundary planning, and reporting. But we’re going to leave the specifics of our products and services to the rest of our website and use our blog to share interesting and innovative information and ideas.

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